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.
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.