A healthy diet is a balanced diet. The purpose of eating healthy is not to starve yourself or to keep yourself deprived of your favourite foods, but to make yourself look and feel better while improving your overall health. A healthy diet helps protect against malnutrition in all its forms, as well as noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), including but not limited to such diseases as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Learning to eat healthy isn’t just about consuming the right foods, but also knowing how much and when to eat. A healthy diet will not only help prevent illnesses, but it will help prevent mood swings, forgetfulness and boost your energy levels. Poor diet, on the other hand, can contribute to a bunch of health risks like:
- Being overweight or obese
- Heart disease and stroke
- High blood pressure
- Tooth decay
- High cholesterol
- And much more!
You are what you eat!
What you eat goes into your system and affects the “mechanism” by becoming a part of it. Changes can either be good or bad for your health, depending on what you eat. These changes can affect the way you think, the way you feel and the way you act. For example, by consuming a large amount of sugar you are likely to get mood swings as the sugar levels change in your body. After consuming fast food you are likely to feel tired as your digestion slows down and most of your energy goes to digesting the food. Also, fast and fried foods tend to be much lower levels of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients while being higher in calories due to the high amounts of added sugar or fat in them.
What should be included in a healthy diet?
Drink plenty of water! Water doesn’t just help us to stay hydrated but it also helps our bodies flush our systems of waste products and toxins. Dehydration can cause tiredness, low energy, and headaches. Consuming plenty of water can also be good for our weight as it is common to mistake thirst for hunger, so staying well hydrated will also help you to make healthier food choices.
We need fibre in our diets is to keep our digestive system in good working order. Fibre also helps us feel fuller for longer, it can improve our cholesterol and blood sugar levels and can also assist in preventing some diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and bowel cancer.(4)
Protein is basically an important component of every cell in the body. It is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. Protein provides us with energy and supports our mood and cognitive functions.
While not all fat is good for us, healthy fats provide us with essential fatty acids (that we can’t make ourselves but need in small amounts) as well as energy. Fat is required for a range of bodily processes and to maintain the normal structure of cells in the body. Fat also carries essential fat-soluble vitamins and is important for their absorption.
As well as being good for our bones, not getting enough calcium in your diet can also contribute to anxiety, depression, and sleep difficulties.
When putting together your diet plan keep in mind:
Mix up your diet
Eating a variety of different foods has a positive effect on our health. If you continue to eat the same food over and over again, you will miss out on important nutrients. So make sure to mix up your diet!
Eat Small Amounts of Fat and Oils
Since fat is an important part of a healthy diet, rather than adopting a low-fat diet, it’s more important to focus on eating more beneficial “good” fats and limiting harmful “bad” fats. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are known as the “good fats” because they are good for your heart, your cholesterol and your overall health. These fats can help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, lower blood pressure, prevent abnormal heart rhythms and so on. Good sources of these kinds of fats are olive oil, avocados, olives, nuts, pumpkin seeds, tofu, soy milk etc.
Eat Moderate Amounts of Animal-Based Foods
Animal-based foods, such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, yoghurt and cheese should all be eaten in moderation. These foods are rich in protein, iron, vitamin B12 and niacin. Red meat is a great source of iron and zinc. Sausages and processed meat should be avoided.
Milk, yoghurt and cheese are rich sources of calcium. They also contain protein, riboflavin and vitamin B12. These foods contain usually quite a high percentage of fat, so the key is to eat in moderation!
Eat Plenty of Plant-Based Foods
Nature provides everything from air and shelter to food. Everything that grows from the ground (fruits, grains and vegetables) and is edible is generally considered good for us. Lots of common foods like bread, pasta, cereals come from things like rice, oats, barley, millet and so on. While some of these products have higher nutritional values than the others, none of these products are bad for us. When making a choice which plant-based products to prefer, keep in mind that wholegrain foods are usually a better choice as they provide us with more fibre, vitamins and minerals. Also, be sure to read the labels as some products that advertise themselves as “healthy” can contain large amounts of hidden salt, sugar or fat in them.
Drink plenty of water!
Things to avoid or consume in moderation
Salt and sugar
In moderation, neither of those two is harmful for us. Unfortunately, most of us tend to over-consume them without realizing. The recommended salt intake per day should remain less than 5 g (1). Keeping it less than 5g per day can help prevent hypertension, and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke in the adult population. Reducing salt intake to the recommended level could prevent 1.7 million deaths each year (2).
In both adults and children, the intake of sugars should be reduced to less than 10% of total energy intake. Consuming too much sugar increases the risk of tooth decay. Excess calories from foods and drinks high in sugars also contribute to unhealthy weight gain, which can lead to overweight and obesity. Recent evidence also shows that sugars influence blood pressure and serum lipids, and suggests that a reduction in sugars intake reduces risk factors for cardiovascular diseases (3).
During the last century, more and more processed food has been entering the market. This has resulted in more and more illnesses and an obesity epidemic. Processed foods are made to enhance the taste of foods, and yes they do carry out their function, but they are not healthy for consumption in the long run.
So what is a processed food? A processed food is any food that has been altered in some way during preparation. Not all food processing is bad and some processed food can be good for us as well. Some foods need processing to make them safe, such as milk, which needs to be pasteurised to remove harmful bacteria. What makes the processed food less healthy is the fact that ingredients such as salt, sugar and fat are sometimes added to make the flavour more appealing and to extend their shelf life, or in some cases to contribute to the food’s structure, such as salt in bread or sugar in cakes.
Buying processed foods can lead to people eating more than the recommended amounts of sugar, salt and fat as they may not be aware of how much has been added to the food they are buying and eating. These foods can also be higher in calories due to the high amounts of added sugar or fat in them.
Alcohol is great every now and then, but if you’re having it on a regular basis you may want to reconsider. Drinking alcohol has a wide range of negative effects on a person’s health, both immediately and long-term. Red wine is commonly known to have some health benefits, however, this is purely in moderation! The key here is to ensure you are not drinking heavily or too regularly to have any lasting damage to your health.
So whether you want to lose a bit of weight or are just thinking about taking the first steps towards a healthier lifestyle, keep in mind that a healthy diet is a balanced diet.
1. Guideline: Sodium intake for adults and children. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2012.
2. Mozaffarian D, Fahimi S, Singh GM, Micha R, Khatibzadeh S, Engell RE et al. Global sodium consumption and death from cardiovascular causes. N Engl J Med. 2014; 371(7):624–34.
3. Te Morenga LA, Howatson A, Jones RM, Mann J. Dietary sugars and cardiometabolic risk: systematic review and meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials of the effects on blood pressure and lipids. AJCN. 2014; 100(1): 65–79.