What is a healthy eating pattern? What does a healthy food pattern look like?
Americans of all ages are eating too little of some important nutrients and too much of detrimental nutrients that are harmful to our bodies. This dietary behavior has caused the rates of chronic health conditions to rise in the United States. This is due to their food choices over time. The choice of food intake individuals make over time, food pattern, lies at the root of this problem. In proper definition, a food pattern shows the combination of all foods and beverages consumed by an individual over a period of time. Food patterns don’t just show a combination of what individuals eat and drink, it also represents the overall health status of a person. Traditionally, more focus is placed on the relationship between individual nutrients and their effects on our health. However, a single nutrient does not make or break our health, it’s the overall food pattern that has a significant impact, as the food and beverages we consume overtime work together in relation to our health (Mayo Clinic, n.d.). About half of all adults in the U.S population—117 million individuals—have one or more preventable chronic diseases, many of which are related to poor quality eating patterns.These include cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and poor bone health (healthgov, n.d.). Thus, it is important to adopt a healthy food pattern. Healthy eating patterns refer to the amounts, variety and nutrient density of foods and beverages, and the quantity of how much they are consumed (Davis et al, 2019). Healthy food patterns aim to help people get the nutrients they need within an appropriate calorie level (2000 calories per day), prevent or reduce the risk of certain diseases throughout your lifetime, and maintain optimal health. Knowing what a healthy food pattern looks like and the ways in which unhealthy food patterns impact on our health would helps us live a healthier lifestyle.
Humans need a wide array of essential nutrients that are vital to our health and work to reduce our risk of chronic health challenges. As such, an individual’s pattern of eating should include foods where we can get the range of nutrients we need, that will protect our health, and limit disease risk. These foods are known as nutrient dense foods, and are recommended by the U.S government for us to eat and drink. Nutrient dense foods are foods with a mix of high nutrient content and relatively low calories. They include a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, low-fat dairy, protein foods and healthy oils. While it limits saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium (Mayoclinic.org, n.d.). Research has shown that foods within a typical american diets, such as processed meat, pre-packaged foods, butter, fried foods, high-fat dairy products, eggs, refined grains, potatoes, corn and high-sugar drinks, play a role in the development of diseases such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer (familydoctor.org, 2019). As such, the intake of foods consisting of multiple vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, lean proteins, and other naturally occurring ingredients are considered nutrient-dense, puts us at a reduced risk of getting those diseases, and protects our health.
The image above shows a comparison between two different kinds of meal patterns, typical american diet and suggested meal. The typical american diet pattern consists of foods including saturated fats, added sugars, added salt, and other kinds of unhealthy ingredients. While the suggested meal food pattern contains more nutrient dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins. Taking a closer look at the dinner aspect of both food patterns, we observe that both patterns included similar amounts of food for each type of food. However, the suggested meal’s dinner contained 49% more of Vitamin A, than the dinner in a typical American diet. “Vitamin A is central to immune homeostasis in the gut, coordinating both innate and adaptive immunity. It stimulates the migration of immune cells including dendritic cells, T cells, and B cells to the intestine and helps inform their function.”( Lyer & Vaishnava, 2019). This tells us that the intake of vitamin A plays a role in reducing the susceptibility of humans to infections and diseases as it involved in the development and regulation of the immune system. As such, the suggested meal’s dinner, which contained nutrient dense, was a more healthier option as it helps limit disease risk and protect our health.
In order to properly get the range of nutrients we need to be healthy from nutrient-dense foods, eating a variety of foods and drinks is important. Food variety means eating various foods from each of the five food groups. These five food groups include vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, proteins, fats. “Varying our diet allows us to get the full range of nutrients we need–even those science hasn’t discovered yet.” (Dupont, 1992) A food variety within a food pattern is good because it keeps our bodies healthy in different aspects and it helps reduce the risk of some diseases (betterhealth, n.d.). It is also important to choose a variety of foods across all food groups because different foods provide different types and amounts of key nutrients. Not just eating across food groups but also a mix of foods within each food group. Each of which act on different parts of our health and seek, once again, to prevent us from some diseases. Also, exposing yourself to a variety of different nutritious food choices allows you to expand your palate and make your meals more interesting.
I tracked the meals I consumed over the course of three day. I recorded the kind of meals they were, how much of it I ate and how many calories it generated. I did this inorder to determine how my meals vary in terms of food groups.
l had a starbucks chicken sausage & bacon sandwich and a starbucks double bacon sandwich for breakfast. Then for lunch, I had a chick-fil-a chicken combo which included a chicken sandwich with pickles, medium fries and a medium coke. In total, the amount of calories was 1960 calories.
I didn’t have anything to eat for breakfast. I began with lunch. I had a Wendy’s Jr. Baconator Combo. Again, this included the sandwich with bacon & cheese, fries, and a drink. This was the only food I had this day and it contained 1350 calories. The only other thing I consumed was a coke soda which contained 220 calories.
On day 3 I also skipped breakfast. I had more of a mid day meal, this consisted of the chick-fil-a sandwich, fries, and a drink. Then I ended the day with eating some vanilla oreo cookies. This contained 1260 calories.
There wasn’t much of a variety in the foods I consumed over the three day period. The foods were repeating similar ingredients and in most cases they fell within similar food groups. For instance on day 1, I had chicken sandwich with fries and a drink. This was basically the same things I ate on the second day and the third day. The chicken sandwich mainly consists of grain, from the bread & fries, and protein, from the chicken, so there are two food groups. Similarly on day 2, there grains from the bun & fries and there was protein from the meat in the burger. Overall, this isn’t an example of food variety because I wasn’t only eating from 2 of the food groups when I should be eating from all of them. Then, within the 2 food groups, I wasn’t a variety of foods. In addition, these foods weren’t nutrient dense.
While eating nutrient dense foods across various food groups, we should also make sure we are eating them in the right amounts based on one’s dietary patterns. The quantity of food one eats affects their health and diseases. However, how much one should eat is based on what works for them and their health. Eating the right amounts ensures that we get more of the good nutrients and less of the bad nutrients that work to enhance our wellbeing and reduce the risk of diet-related diseases. For instance, for an average person, whole grains should make up for a sizable portion of your plate—about 30 percent (FOH, n.d.). Going above or below this amount might account for a displacement in your health.
Healthy eating pattern is important for good health. To get a healthy eating pattern you should eat a variety of nutrient dense food across all food groups and in the right amounts for you. Although, eating patterns can be adapted to an individual’s socio-cultural and personal preferences, a problem can still arise as people have different definitions of nutrient density, variety and quantity within their socio-cultural and personal preferences. This could affect the healthy eating pattern. A way to avoid this will be to make regular visits to a nutritionist or constantly keep yourself informed.