What Does a “Healthy Diet” Mean?

The word diet has taken on many meanings throughout the decades. The word itself has been twisted into many different meanings, and now when people see or read the word diet it can bring up all kinds of emotions, both positive and negative. At the end of the day, the word diet simply means the food we eat on a regular basis.

We know that the food we chose to eat can have an impact on our overall health. This does not mean that a cookie or a piece of candy or even a whole candy bar doesn’t have a place in the list of foods we eat. What matters is how often and in what quantities we consume these foods versus other types of foods.

We know that when our food choices consist of mostly highly processed, highly refined foods, with very little whole foods mixed in, this pattern of eating over a long period of time has the potential to play a role in the development of certain chronic diseases, including some cancers. To help reduce someone’s risk, it is often advised to follow a “healthy diet,” but this can be very vague. How do you really know if your diet is healthy?

First and foremost, a healthy diet should conjure up thoughts of grandma’s cooking or for the younger set, great grandma’s cooking — wholesome, whole food-based, home-cooked meals. Sadly, cooking from scratch is often a thing of the past, as convenience wins out for time-strapped cooks. Cooking with actual potatoes and keeping the fiber-rich skins on for mashed potatoes instead of using a powdered mashed potato mix from a box takes more time, but the satisfaction, flavor, and nutrition of the final dish are worth the extra effort.

When we experience a home-cooked meal, we as humans innately understand that we are nourishing our bodies and our spirits. Consuming food that is close to the earth — meaning food that is close to how it looked when it came out of the ground or was picked from a tree — is always better than food that has been overly processed and unrecognizable from its original, natural form.

If cooking from scratch is new to you or an old friend you haven’t called in a while, we are here to support you in your efforts to reconnect with actual food and our hope is that this website serves as a launching off point where you have access to many easy, whole-food recipes so you can rekindle your old friendship or forge a new friendship with cooking.

Here are some tips on how to incorporate more whole foods and bring in more home-cooked meals into your life. This will increase the nutrient content of your overall diet so you can take the steps to help reduce your risk of cancer or a cancer recurrence.

​Start small and build up gradually – Rome wasn’t built in a day and you can’t expect dramatic, sustainable changes overnight:

  • Start by setting a goal to cook three meals per week that are whole-foods-based and grow from there. Alternatively, choose one day a week to eat plant-based and slowly add more plant-based days as you feel comfortable until you’ve consistently reached this dietary pattern four to six days of the week.
  • Consume the “rainbow of color” throughout the day and vary your food color choices with each meal. Aim to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes from each color of the rainbow each day with the long-term goal of four to six days of the week.
  • Make at least half your grains whole grains. Start easy – you can mix half whole grains with refined grains (think half brown rice with white rice) until you are used to the flavor profile of whole grains. Be patient with yourself, transitions can take time!
  • Find ways to eat more plant-based protein sources including legumes (e.g., beans, peas, lentils), nuts, seeds, and whole forms of soy foods like soy milk, tofu, tempeh, and edamame. Aim for one day a week where your meals are vegetarian.
  • Use healthy oils such as olive oil for most of your cooking needs. Be sure to use a neutral-tasting, heat resistant oil such as sunflower or canola oil when cooking with high heat.
  • When plating your meal, consider filling up two-thirds of your plate with plant foods and one-third of your plate with animal-based foods. Consume animal foods in moderation, including seafood, lean meats, and eggs. Animal-based foods can be thought of as condiments and not necessarily the main attraction of a meal.

Cooking from scratch, if incorporated slowly, can prove to be rewarding on multiple levels of your life. Not only will you been eating a more nutrient-dense and higher fiber diet, which will provide added protection against developing chronic diseases, you will also be making the choice to slow down life, if just for a little bit, and enjoy and cherish the one thing that can truly nourish our bodies, minds, and spirits — food.

Browse all our recipes for delicious, healthy ideas and get more tips on incorporating healthier foods into your diet.

Kate Ueland, MS, RD, CSO, specializes in oncology nutrition, primarily working with breast, ovarian, renal, and melanoma cancer patients throughout all stages of the cancer journey at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) in Seattle, WA. As Cook for Your Life’s nutrition advisor and editor, Kate ensures all culinary content adheres to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and follows science-based guidelines. 

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