You’ll often hear about the importance of following a healthy diet, but do you know what a healthy diet really is? There’s more to healthy eating than upping your fruit and vegetable intake. Here’s what you need to know about eating well and how to get the nutrients you need.
How is Healthy Eating Defined?
A healthy diet is about both quality and quantity. When trying to eat healthily, these are the two key points you need to keep in mind:
- You need to be eating a range of foods to keep your diet balanced.
- You need to eat the right amount of food for how active you are.
What Foods Does a Healthy Diet Include?
Nutritionists generally split food into five main categories, which are:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Starchy foods such as bread, potatoes, pasta and rice
- Dairy foods and milk
- Non-dairy sources of protein, including meat, fish, beans and eggs
- Foods high in sugar or fat
A healthy, balanced diet should include foods from all of these categories, as missing out any entire food category means missing out on essential nutrients – with the exception of the fifth category. However, the five food groups shouldn’t all play an equal role in your diet.
Fruit and vegetables are what you should be eating the most of. You should be aiming to consume five portions a day, and remember that potatoes do not count as part of this – they’re classed as a starchy food. You also need plenty of starchy foods, which provide you with energy, but keep in mind that some are healthier than others. Choose wholegrain varieties where possible as they contain more beneficial nutrients, and eat potatoes with their skins on in order to get more fibre from them.
Dairy foods and non-dairy sources of protein should be consumed in smaller quantities, but still make up a significant part of a healthy diet. Choose lower-fat milk and dairy foods, which allow you to get plenty of calcium without raising your fat intake too much. When it comes to meat and fish, avoid eating large quantities of red meat and try to include fish – particularly oily fish – in your meals at least twice a week. Oily fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help to keep your heart healthy.
Foods high in sugar or fat should be consumed in very small quantities. Eat them as an occasional treat rather than all the time.
You can learn more. Listen to Dr Chris talk about this subject.
How Much Food is the Right Amount?
Research shows that most people eat more than they need to, which causes many people to become overweight or obese – especially if they are not active enough. To avoid unnecessary weight gain and health problems, you should keep an eye on how many calories you consume. As a general rule, men need around 2,500 calories each day and women need around 2,000.
However, the amount needed varies a little between individuals depending on factors such as size and how physically active you are. If you do a lot of exercise or your work keeps you very physically active you may need more calories to maintain a healthy weight. If you do very little physical activity – for example, you are housebound – you may need to eat fewer calories.
Other Healthy Eating Tips to Bear In Mind
Eating a good range of foods in the right quantities is great, but there are some additional tips that are good to follow if you want to make your diet as healthy as possible. Keep in mind the following tips:
- There are good fats and bad ones. You should limit your intake of saturated fats, and try to opt for healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats instead.
- Keep your salt intake to a minimum, which means no more than 6g a day. Remember, salt is present in many foods – not just the ones you add it to.
- Drink plenty of water. Aim for 6 to 8 glasses a day.
- Don’t skip breakfast. A healthy breakfast is an important part of a balanced diet and is what gives you the energy you need for the day.
- A healthy diet should be paired with regular physical activity.
Other things to consider for a healthy diet
The foods we choose to eat on a daily basis have a profound effect on our health and our body’s ability to fight disease, particularly as we get older. Fruit and vegetables are key to this. We all know we should make sure we have our “five a day,” but do we really know why? Yes, they contain vitamins and minerals to help lead a healthy lifestyle, but, more importantly, according to the NHS, evidence now shows eating your five a day can reduce the risk of developing serious diseases, including cancer. The World Health Organisation guidelines also recommend you should have a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables every day to lower the risk of serious health problems.
The NHS says: “There is evidence that people who eat at least five portions [of fruit and vegetables] a day have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.”
Superfoods with Healing Powers
We have all heard the saying: “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away.” But the fact is, fruit and vegetables really can act as medicine for our bodies.
US inventor Thomas Edison, once said: “The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.”
Edison’s words may seem a little extreme, but science is continually discovering more and more instances where our greens are proving to have a profound effect on our body’s ability to fight disease.
The British Dietetic Association and the NHS have teamed up to explain some of the powerful health values of what are known as the superfoods, which contain specific healing properties. They include fresh produce such as dark green leafy vegetables, as well as brightly coloured vegetables and fruits. These are loaded with anti-oxidants, the most powerful fighters of free-radicals; rogue cells which can introduce disease into the body and cause cancer.
Vegetables and fruits, as well as whole grains and legumes contain nutrients, pectin and substances that strengthen the immune system and destroy free-radicals before they have chance to get a hold. Brightly coloured peppers, for example, contain antioxidants, which can prevent or delay some types of cell damage. Garlic is also a powerful fighter of infection, while chilli can give your metabolism a boost.
Fruit and Veg for Good Gut Feeling
Making sure our bodies maintain a good balance of friendly bacteria in our gut is important to helping us build up our immune system to fight disease. Charlotte Palmer is a UK nutritionist and founder of Food Specialist, which provides health and well-being expertise to businesses. She says an optimal balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut “forms the foundation” for physical well-being. Fruit and vegetables, which feed this friendly bacteria, such as bananas, leeks and seaweed, should therefore be included in our diet.
“A large body of research has demonstrated how the optimal balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut forms the foundation for physical, mental and emotional well-being,” Palmer says. “Including foods such as chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, plantains, seaweed, bananas, garlic and leeks will help feed the friendly bacteria.”
Fermented Foods for Better Health
In addition to fruit and vegetables, Palmer says fermented foods, which are those produced or preserved by microorganisms, such as bacteria, can have great health benefits, particularly for the gut.
Palmer says traditional foods such as Kombucha, Kefir, sourdough and sauerkraut (sough cabbage) are experiencing a bit of a “renaissance” in the UK as a “growing awareness of the importance of gut health points the spotlight on their benefits.”
“Fermented foods have been used in ancient cultures for health benefits for thousands of years,” she says, “Adding fermented foods to your diet is another way you can look after your digestion and overall health.”
Add Healing Foods to Your Diet
Introducing fruit and vegetables and other healthy food options to your daily diet is quite easy, yet the difference to your health and well-being is immense. Even after many years of eating foods of poor nutritional value, it’s never too late to switch to foods that heal. Here are some simple suggestions how.
- Include a piece of fruit with your breakfast. For instance, slice up a banana and try it with your cereal.
- Try almonds or mixed seeds and a satsuma for a good mid-morning snack.
- At lunchtime make a side salad to eat alongside your regular lunch. This could include mixed leaves, such as watercress and rocket, with a few segments of orange.
- At dinner, try a jacket potato, or baked sweet potato, instead of chips and wholegrain rice instead of white rice.
- Dinner is also an opportunity for adding a couple of green vegetables. But try steaming rather than boiling them, so they don’t lose all those all-important nutrients.
- For a quick and healthy dessert, try mixing in some nice chunks of pineapple or blueberries to a creamy Greek yoghurt.
Making an effort to follow a healthy, balanced diet is something everyone should do. Eating well helps you to maintain a healthy weight, boosts your energy and mood, and reduces your risk of various diseases. It has a real positive impact on both your body and mind, so there’s no reason not to practise healthy eating habits.