Essentially, a healthy diet is one that supports or improves your general health. In other words, it provides your body with the nutrition it needs to function effectively: vitamins, fluids, minerals, enough calories, and the necessary amino acids – derived from protein.
A healthy diet not only sustains your body’s energy needs, but also nourishes it without exposing you to health problems such as, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and toxicity. It also prevents the development of some cancers. Starchy foods, carbohydrates, and vegetables provide the bulk of most meals, while proteins, milk, and dairy foods cover the remaining part of the diet.
Healthy Diet: Finding the Balance
To work normally, the body requires energy, which enables it to work and keep you active. This energy comes from the nutrients in the food that you consume. Finding the right balance between these nutrients keeps your body at its optimum level. A balanced diet contains the following food groups:
Starchy foods, for example, bread, potatoes, rice, etc.Vegetables and fruit, Dairy foods and milk, Proteins, for example, meat, eggs, fish, and non-dairy proteins such as nuts, beans, pulses, etc.
Fatty and sugary foods – foods from this food group should be taken in small amounts.
Additionally, taking plenty of water and fiber contributes positively to your overall health.Finding proper balance is important when it comes to improving your overall body health. The following principles are an excellent guide to ensuring your diet remains healthy:
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for your body. They are divided into two distinct categories: complex carbohydrates (starchy foods), and simple carbohydrates (sweet sugary foods). A healthy diet contains about one-third carbohydrates: mostly starchy carbohydrates, preferably, with higher fiber alternatives such as wholegrain cereals, wholemeal bread, and brown rice . Higher fiber carbohydrates – such as wholemeal bread – contain low glycemic levels, when compared to starch that is more refined, for example, white bread.
The glycemic index
This is a measure of the rate at which food raises blood sugar levels after consumption.Foods with a high glycemic index are those whose carbohydrates are rapidly absorbed, which means that their sugar is absorbed quickly and causes greater oscillations in insulin.
For this reason, this type of food is not recommended for people with diabetes or those who follow a weight loss diet, since they facilitate the accumulation of fat and cause food cravings. Food with low glycemic index is healthier because it is less likely to result in health conditions such as obesity and diabetes.
Fruit and vegetables
Consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables helps reduce the risk of developing health conditions such as stroke, some cancers, and heart disease. Ensure you include more vegetable than fruit in your diet. Fruit and vegetables also have benefits such as:
Keeping you healthy – due to their high levels of minerals and vitamins,
Your bowels remain healthy – due to the high amount of fiber inherent in them.
Keeping you satisfied – their low levels of calories and fat make them ideal for people interested in losing weight.
On average, a portion of vegetables is about 80gms or a handful , while that of fruit is equivalent to:
banana, pear, apple, or a slice of pineapple or melon One large fruit – banana, pear, apple, or a slice of pineapple or melon.
Two smaller fruits – kiwis, clementines, or plums.
1 cup of small fruits – grapes, cherries, raspberries, or strawberries A glass of fresh juice – 150 ml .
Milk and Dairy Foods
Consuming dairy products (such as cheese and yogurt) and milk, in adequate amounts, is important because they contain calcium, which helps maintain healthy teeth and bones. They are also sources of protein, minerals, and vitamins, which are essential for overall general health. To ensure your diet has enough calcium, take three portions, of this food group on a daily basis.
One portion is:
Milk – 200 ml Cheese – 30 g A pot of yogurt – 150 g Consider opting for lower fat options whenever possible, for example, skimmed milk, low-fat yogurt, low-fat cheese , etc.
Eat Your Proteins in Moderation
Protein is necessary for body tissue repair, growth, and energy. Your body requires protein, in specific amounts, to remain healthy. Most people consume more protein than their bodies need, which leads to the development of health conditions like gout.
The trick is to take high- protein foods – such as red meat – in moderation. You should also consider consuming lean meat or poultry such as chicken. In addition, if you want to eat eggs, consider boiling them instead of frying.
You should also consider eating oily fish: sardines, mackerel, herrings, pilchards, kippers, whitebait, swordfish, anchovies , etc. Research shows that fish helps prevent heart diseases: omega-3 fatty acids in fish prevent atheroma buildup , which causes heart attacks. Eat, a minimum of, two servings of fish per week – one of the servings should be oily.
If you are a vegetarian, consider combining any two of the following when preparing your meals:Grains,dairy products,legumes, beans, lentils , etc.Vegetarian sources do not provide an accurate balance of amino acids; therefore, you should consider combining them with each other, for example, taking milk with a bowl of cereal.
Obesity, and many other health complications such as hypertension, have for a long time, been related to fat consumption. This premise makes sense because fats have twice as many calories – per gram – as protein or carbohydrates.However, new research suggests that carbohydrates play a greater role when it comes to weight gain. However, to remain on the safer side, it is better to consume less fat.
Tips on how you can reduce fat from your diet
Consider grilling, baking, poaching or boiling your food instead of frying it whenever possible,
Opt for lean meat, and cut off any excess fat.
Use fat, in as little amounts, as possible when preparing food. For example, spread less margarine on bread, use small portions of cooking oil.
Use yogurt or low-fat salad as a cream substitute.
Be wary of hidden fats in biscuits, chocolate, pastries, cakes, etc.
Limit Your Sugary Drinks and Food Intake
Foods and drinks that have high sugar concentrations have high-calorie amounts and may lead to weight gain. Even in small amounts, sugar can affect your health, for example, teeth. Tips to reduce your sugar intake include:
Try not to add sugar to your coffee, tea, or breakfast cereals. Your urge to take sugary substances will decrease with time. You can use artificial sweeteners, but only if necessary.
Use fruit as an alternative to sugar in recipes, whenever possible.
Substitute sugary drinks with sugar-free drinks such as milk.
Take the Right Amount of Salt
Too much salt increases your chances of developing complications such as high blood pressure. Do not consume more than 6 g of salt in one day.There is a consensus among major health organizations regarding the daily consumption of sodium where the limit should range between 1500 to 2300 mg . If you consume too much salt, gradually reduce your intake: with time, your taste for salt will subside.
Tips on how you can reduce salt from your diet include:Instead of utilizing salt to flavor your food, use herbs or spices,Use less salt when preparing food, and resist the urge to increase salt when eating,Opt for foods with the tag ‘no added salt,’Avoid processed foods, takeaways, packet soups, and salt-rich sauces, whenever possible.
Additional Factors to Look Out For
Be careful with your portion sizes. Try to eat smaller portions of food on a regular basis throughout the day.Be cautious about what you drink. Add a cut of lemon to your water, and keep the jug in your fridge so that it remains cool.
Also, switch from using whole milk to skim milk when preparing your latte. If you have to drink alcohol, stick to the recommended limit. Heavy drinking can damage your brain, liver, heart, pancreas, and stomach.
Do not skip breakfast. People who skip breakfast, in general, tend to eat more during the day to stave off hunger. Studies suggest that people who eat few large meals gain more weight than people who consume the same amount of food, but in smaller, more frequent meals.
Most people assume healthy eating is all about strict dietary restrictions, food deprivation, remaining unrealistically thin, or eating “boring” food. Contrary to this perception, healthy eating is more about maintaining your energy levels, feeling great, and having a stable mood.
While exercising is also important in the maintenance of general health, what one eats is also imperative. The above discussion demonstrates why diet is so strongly linked to your health; it also goes further to explain how healthy eating improves your overall health.