7 benefits of healthy eating – and easy ways to reap them

From a healthier gut to a longer life, following a healthy balanced diet could be the key.

From a healthier gut and a strong immune system to longevity, you could gain all of this and more simply by following a healthy diet. As Sophie Medlin, a consultant dietitian and chair of the British Dietetic Association for London, puts it: “The benefits of healthy eating are endless.” 

But what exactly does eating healthily look like? A healthy balanced diet involves eating the right amount of each of the five food groups. These are: fruits and vegetables; starchy carbohydrates; protein; dairy; and oils and spreads. The amount you need from each food group is individual and can vary depending on several factors. For general guidance, the Eatwell Guide gives a recommendation of how much of your diet should be made up of each. Stick to this and you could start to notice positive changes to your health. 

A couple eating a healthy meal together.Credit: Shutterstock/PeopleImages.com – Yuri A
You can gain numerous health benefits simply by eating healthily.

1. Supports healthy ageing

Healthy eating can reward you with a longer life

“The prevalence of high blood pressure, dementia and other health problems increases with age, but these are largely preventable through diet,” says Medlin. Both Medlin and Dr Sunni Patel – a culinary medicine expert and nutritional therapist who has a PhD in the risk factors of type 2 diabetes and heart disease – note that a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables can help to lower blood pressure and prevent chronic diseases. These can include heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. “Dairy is [also] important in a healthy balanced diet, providing many nutrients essential for good health,” says Medlin. She explains that the high potassium content of dairy foods can help to lower blood pressure. 

Including a variety of whole foods, and limiting processed and unhealthy foods, can also boost energy and vitality by providing essential nutrients – such as vitamins, minerals, fibre and protein – for maintaining optimal health and preventing nutrient deficiencies, adds Patel. “This is needed to keep an active lifestyle and maintain physical and cognitive function as we age.” 

One study showed that by making healthier dietary choices, it can have a positive impact on healthy ageing and life expectancy. 

Heart shape filled with healthy food on top of a heart rate line.Credit: Shutterstock/udra11
Following a healthy balanced diet can prevent heart disease and promote longevity.

2. Helps to maintain a healthy weight

Go for healthy foods that help you to feel full

Maintaining a healthy weight goes hand in hand with ageing healthily. “It can reduce the risk of chronic diseases and improve overall quality of life,” says Patel.  

Whether you’re trying to lose weight or to keep your weight stable and avoid putting more on, it’s important to do it in a healthy way. “It’s important that we feel satisfied after our meals and are left with enough energy to complete daily tasks,” says Medlin. She says that “while some people find that adjusting carbohydrates is an effective way to manage their weight, others may find that any dietary restriction (including carbohydrate restriction) exacerbates cravings or is unsustainable”. 

This is where eating enough fibre can help, but most of us aren’t getting the recommended 30g (1oz) per day. “High fibre foods, such as some vegetables and fruits and wholegrains, tend to take longer to digest and leave us feeling fuller for longer,” says Medlin.

Protein is also vital – both plant based and meat forms. Protein and vegetables help to manage our appetite. As we age, it is better to have a slightly higher BMI (body mass index – a measure that helps you work out if you’re a healthy weight for your height) and maintain muscle mass through a high protein diet [when protein intake is higher than the recommended 0.75g of protein per kg of body weight per day] and regular resistance exercise, which is vitally important for long-term health and prevention of disease and illness.” Despite this, research shows that following a high protein diet long-term might not have beneficial effects or could even be harmful. This area needs more research. 

3. Promotes good gut health

A balanced diet high in fibre can support your digestion

Patel explains that a balanced diet rich in fibre from fruits, vegetables and wholegrains nourishes the beneficial bacteria in the gut and helps you to have regular bowel movements, reducing the risk of digestive issues, such as constipation and diverticulitis. 

Medlin adds: “Wholegrains are really important for our gut health, but we often get caught with this by eating oats, rice and wheat on repeat rather than having a variety of grains. Look for mixed grain porridge recipes, use multigrain bread and try quinoa, barley and other grains.” 

Food placed inside an illustration of an intestine.Credit: Shutterstock/POLIGOONE
Eating healthily includes getting enough fibre to support your gut health.

She also says that dairy foods that undergo fermentation, such as yogurt and some cheeses, can benefit digestive health. This is because they are lower in lactose and contain good gut bacteria. Because many cheeses are high in fat and salt, it’s still important to consider how you eat these foods and how often. For example, limit consumption of cheese on top of fast-food burgers and pizza that are already high in refined carbohydrates, salt and saturated fat, and instead go for low-fat yogurt, kefir or low-fat cheeses such as cottage cheese. 

4. Supports a healthy immune system

Following a balanced diet rich in plant foods can aid immune cells

Unsurprisingly, “there is no ‘magic bullet’ food which can single handedly fight illness,” says Medlin. Instead, “it’s vital to keep our diet well balanced”. The nutrients of a varied diet high in plant foods and low in ultra-processed foods aid the health and function of all cells within the body, including immune cells 

“Our gut houses 70% of our immune system,” continues Medlin. “Eating plenty of plants supports our gut bacteria, which, in turn, supports our immune system.” 

Patel says: “This is particularly important as we age and become more susceptible to infections and illnesses.” 

5. Aids brain health

Feeding your gut with healthy foods can benefit your brain

Just as a healthy gut microbiome – the trillions of microorganisms (bacteria, viruses and fungi) that live in your digestive tract – supports our immune system, it is also thought to supply many benefits to the brain. “The bacteria in our gut play an active role in communicating back and forth with the brain, known as the gut-brain axis,” says gut health dietitian Dr Caitlin Hall. “When we keep our beneficial gut bacteria healthy by feeding them with polyphenols (natural antioxidant compounds found in plants), prebiotic fibres and fermented foods, we produce important substances that protect our brain. 

“A healthy diet can have wide-reaching effects on the brain, including mood, stress, memory, cognitive function, and risk of neurodegenerative diseases as we age, like dementia.” 

Elderly man completing jigsaw of a head.Credit: Shutterstock/LightField Studios
A healthy diet may help to improve cognitive function and memory.

Hall’s top five foods to support brain health: 

  1. Oily fish, including salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines, tuna and herring, are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s have powerful anti-inflammatory effects in the body, and play a role in early brain development, through to memory and learning in adults. Try our fish curry to up your intake. Not a fan of fish? You can get your omega-3s from chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts and hemp seeds.
  2. Wholegrains are rich in iron, magnesium, B vitamins, energy and most importantly, dietary fibre. The fibre from wholegrains has links to better blood sugar control and more consistent energy across the day. Poor glucose control is closely linked to irritability, anxiety and stress.
  3. Green vegetables such as kale, spinach, green beans and broccoli are rich in brain-healthy nutrients like vitamin K, folate, lutein and beta carotene. Research suggests that leafy greens, in particular, may slow cognitive decline in older age.
  4. Nuts are great sources of protein, healthy fats and fibre. Walnuts are particularly beneficial for brain health and have been linked to higher cognitive test scores.
  5. Beans and legumes are packed full of prebiotic fibre. They feed your beneficial gut bacteria, helping to produce brain-healthy substances like short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs communicate with the vagus nerve, which runs between your gut and your brain, to positively influence mood, stress and anxiety. 

6. Encourages healthy bones and teeth

Include nutrients in dairy foods within your balanced diet

Eating foods to support our bones and teeth is drilled into us from an early age. This is just as, if not more, important as we get older, because we are at increased risk of bone deterioration. “Calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus, found in dairy products, are important for bone building and healthy teeth,” says Medlin. “Calcium is also in leafy greens and soya products,” she adds. However, it’s important to note that “even if we match non-dairy calcium milligram for milligram, our risk of bone fractures increases if we remove dairy from our diets”. 

Getting enough vitamin D is also important as it regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, but Medlin explains that many of us don’t achieve this. “It’s important we spend time in the sun [safely, by using sun cream and not staying in it for too long,] to get enough Vitamin D that way, and also through foods such as oily fish and egg yolks.” 

7. Supports muscle function

Healthy eating can keep you strong

Range of foods containing protein surrounding a sign that says the word 'protein'.Credit: Shutterstock/Tatjana Baibakova
Eating healthily involves getting enough protein to promote strong muscles.

Bones and teeth aren’t the only things a healthy balanced diet can strengthen. It turns out, it can boost building muscle too. “Our muscle mass has direct links with healthy ageing, so maintaining this is important,” says Medlin. “Sarcopenia is the process of muscle loss, which happens as we age. 

She adds: “It’s vital we eat enough protein and nutrient-dense foods to support our muscular skeletal system.  

“A study looking at diet and muscle function found that a dietary pattern higher in vegetables, wholegrain cereals and animal protein, than a diet lower in these foods, was associated with greater skeletal muscle mass over 15 years. The same study found that an anti-inflammatory diet, also rich in vegetables, fruit and wholegrain cereals, was associated with greater skeletal muscle mass and better muscle function, compared with a pro-inflammatory diet, over a 15-year period.” 

Medlin says: “Our diet is linked to hundreds of bodily functions and plays an extremely important role in our overall wellbeing.”

Discover some more of our expert tips on how to eat healthier and make nutritious food choices.

Expert bios

Sophie Medlin
Consultant colorectal dietitian and director of CityDietitians  

Medlin has worked with people with digestive problems for more than 10 years, in the NHS in research, in the media, and in her private practice. She is passionate about making good gut health accessible to everyone. 

Dr Sunni Patel PhD, MBA, PGDip (Cul Med)
Culinary medicine and nutritional therapy expert

With more than 15 years of healthcare experience and 10 years working in senior corporate roles, Patel has a passion and proven success for bringing wellness into everyday life. He is also founder of health coaching and food education platform Dish Dash Deets and has a PhD on the risk factors for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 

Dr Caitlin Hall
Gut health dietitian

Hall has a PhD in neurosciences and gut microbiology. She is passionate about the real-world applications of gut-brain axis research, including microbiome-based interventions that improve physical and mental health. She works as chief dietitian and head of clinical research at myota – a gut health company specialising in prebiotic fibre blends. 

Gemma Harris

Written by Gemma Harris she/her

Updated:

Gemma Harris has been a journalist for over seven years and is a self-confessed health and wellbeing enthusiast, which led her to specialise in health journalism. During her career, she has worked with top editors in the industry and taken on multiple high-discipline fitness challenges for certain outlets. She is particularly passionate about nutrition; after being diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome in 2016, she discovered her fascination for gut health and founded thegutchoice.com – a dedicated space for providing a hopeful outcome for people with gut issues. Gemma’s core aim is to help others through her writing.

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