How can one define a healthy diet?
A healthy diet is a diet that helps to maintain or improve overall health. A healthy diet provides the body with essential nutrition: fluid, macronutrients, micronutrients, and adequate calories. We often think of diet as a specific weight loss plan but it should be seen as the types and amount of food we eat.
What quantity of food does the body need to have a healthy diet?
A healthy diet should provide us with the right amount of energy (calories or kilojoules), from foods and drinks to maintain energy balance. Energy balance is where the calories taken in from the diet are equal to the calories used by the body. We need these calories to carry out everyday tasks such as walking and moving about, but also for all the functions of the body we may not even think about. Processes like breathing, pumping blood around the body and thinking also require calories.
So, foods and drinks provide the calories we need to go about our daily lives, but consuming more calories than we need over a period of time will cause weight gain. This is because, any extra calories we consume but we don’t use, will just be stored as fat. Being overweight as a child increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers in adulthood. So, maintaining a healthy weight is really important for health.
How much energy you need from foods and drinks depends on many different things, such as how active you are.
A healthy diet is not complicated, and contains mostly fruits and vegetables and includes little to no processed food and sweetened beverages. The requirements for a healthy diet can be met from a variety of plant-based and animal-based foods, although a non-animal source of vitamin B12 is needed for those following a vegan diet.
Choosing from all five main food groups in the right proportion is the key to a healthy diet.
Examples of whole grains are wholemeal bread, pasta, and cereals, in which each grain includes the germ and bran.
To make sure the grains are whole grains, look for the word “whole” or “whole grain” on the nutritional information on the packaging.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Choosing a variety of colors can help maximize the intake of nutrients.
Juices labeled “100 percent” are considered part of this food group, but eating whole fruits or vegetables is better, as it will provide more fiber.
Vital for repairing tissues in the body, many protein-rich foods also contain high levels of minerals like iron, magnesium, and zinc.
Excellent sources of protein include meats, fish, and eggs. Beans, nuts, quorn, and soya are protein options for those on a vegetarian diet.
A calcium-rich diet promotes healthy bones and teeth. Dairy products are good sources of calcium. Low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese are recommended.
Fats are important for brain health, energy, absorption of certain vitamins, and for skin, hair, and joint health.
Saturated fats are present in cream, fatty meat, and fried foods. Too much saturated fat can lead to heart disease.
Unsaturated fats are present in avocado and oily fish. They help reduce the “bad” cholesterol in blood.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that healthy fats should make up less than 30 percent of total calories.
Sugars occur naturally in some foods, such as fruits, or they can be added as a sweetener. Too much sugar can lead to weight gain, heart problems, blood sugar imbalances, and other health issues.
Here are some points to note when considering a healthy diet
Manage portion size
People of different ages, genders, and activity levels need different amounts of food, but many people take in more energy than they use. Researchers believe there is a between large portion size and obesity. Paying attention to what a serving is, how many calories are in a serving, and how much you are eating can make the difference between obesity and maintaining a healthy weight.
Eat fresh and avoid processed.
Processed foods are thought to make up 70 percent of the average American diet.
Fresh foods are more likely to be “nutrient rich,” while processed foods are often “energy-rich,” with added fats and sugars.
Whole foods, such as fresh fruit, are a good source of vitamins and minerals.
Processed foods not only contain added ingredients, including dyes and preservatives, but the processing itself can destroy nutrients causing serious health issues.
Some processed foods contain little nutritional value. Consuming a high proportion of processed foods can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Limit added sugars
Naturally occurring sugars include fructose, found in fruit, and lactose, in dairy products.
Adding sugar to foods and drinks enhances the flavor but adds little or no nutritional value.
Swapping cakes and cookies for fruit, and halving the sugar added to coffee and tea can reduce sugar intake.
Replacing sweetened sodas with sparkling water, and drinking alcohol in moderation can further reduce excess calories.
Replace animal fats in the diet
Animal produce is often high in saturated fats. These are difficult for the body to break down, so levels of harmful cholesterol in the body can rise, potentially leading to heart disease.
Unsaturated fats are found in oily fish and nuts, and these are more health, taken in moderation.
To reduce the amount of unhealthy fat in the diet:
- choose low-fat meat
- cook meat and chicken without the skin
- grill or boil meat instead of frying
- use vegetable oil rather than animal fat
- replace some meat servings with oily fish, nuts, beans, or legumes
Decrease Sodium and increase potassium
Potassium counteracts the harmful effects of salt. Bananas, tuna, and butternut squash are good sources of potassium. Too much can lead to irregular heart rhythms, so supplements are not recommended.
Limiting the intake of processed foods will reduce sodium intake, as salt is often added during processing.
For flavor, try replacing salt with herbs such as basil, rosemary, garlic, oregano, paprika, and cayenne, or low-salt condiments such a yellow mustard.
Include calcium and vitamin D
Calcium is crucial for strengthening and maintaining the bone structure. Vitamin D enables the body to absorb calcium.
Good sources of calcium include:
- dairy produce
- collard greens
- white beans
Dietary sources do not provide enough vitamin D for the body. Sunlight is necessary to help the body synthesize vitamin D.
Exposing some bare skin to the sunlight each day will help maintain levels of calcium and vitamin D.