Not only is a balanced vegan diet key for maintaining a healthy weight, it is also essential for fighting off chronic illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and other weight-related conditions. Chicago Healers practitioner Dr Helen Lee, DC, offers the following five tips on what and how to eat to achieve optimal health and well-being. Here's how to make your foods work harder for you!5 Diet tips for optimal health1. Choose fresh foods in natural forms
Dr Helen Lee, founder of Touch of Life Chiropractic
in Hoffman States, Illinois, stresses the importance of whole foods. "When grocery shopping, aim to purchase foods with easily identifiable ingredients that appear very near to the way they are found in nature," the health expert says. "Foods which have the least amount of processing, seasoning, curing and frying offer the most nutrients to the body."2. Eat a wide variety of foods
"Since different foods offer different nutrients, a varied diet is key to good health," says Dr Lee, who is part of the Chicago Healers
, the nation's premier integrative health care network. "Fruits and vegetables of similar colors can provide similar health benefits, so aim for a colorful plate at meal time. Orange vegetables contain often contain beta-carotene, green vegetables provide calcium, as well as vitamins K and A, and deeply colored fruits (such as blueberries and pomegranates) are full of antioxidants."3. Eat slowly and in moderation
Sounds like common sense but how often do you actually practice this? Eating slowly is part of eating in moderation as well as allowing your body to fully benefit from the nutrients in the foods you eat. "Hormonal messages signaling that the stomach is full can take up to 20 minutes to reach the brain, resulting in overeating," explains Dr Lee. "Eating more slowly will allow these messages to be sent to the brain as the stomach becomes full, rather than after. Slowly eaten and thoroughly chewed foods additionally allow the body to absorb the full amount of beneficial nutrients during digestion."4. Pay attention to your meals
Dr Lee warns against multi-tasking while you are eating. Paying attention to your foods not only adds pleasure to your mealtimes, it also promotes healthy digestion. Next time you sit down to eat, think about this: Your nervous system is comprised of two parts -- the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. "Focusing solely on eating allows the body to switch from the 'working' mode of the sympathetic nervous system to the digestive mode of the parasympathetic system, allowing for optimal digestion," says Dr Lee. 5. Drink water throughout the day
Something so easy to do is one of the most significant factors in your health. "Water is crucial to all aspects of healthy body functioning," explains Dr Lee. "Drinking water throughout the day keeps the body hydrated and working at its full potential." To boot, staying hydrated can even keep you from eating when you aren't really hungry; thirst is often masked as hunger, so the next time you get an urge to snack, drink a glass of water and see if the need to eat passes.More vegan lifestyle tips!