Maintaining a healthy, well balanced diet will not only keep you in top physical condition but will also be an important aid to your mental health. Along with adequate exercise and plenty of fresh air, it should also keep your weight in balance with your size and avoid any obesity problems.
If you have any intestinal or bowel problems, allergies or lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, you should check with your medical professional and/or nutritionist to ensure that whatever you are consuming is right for you. Certain allergies will exclude some food groups or limit them, as will illnesses such as diabetes, IBS or IBD, Crohn’s Disease, Diverticulitis etc. If at any time you feel that you are reacting to certain foods, it is wise to see your doctor to discuss your problems.
Nutrition is a word that we hear every day or read about. Understanding nutrition is vitally important, as your body needs nutrients in the relevant combination to promote good health and to protect against disease. The level of nutrition needed is based on the individual and their circumstances, including factors such as gender, age, weight and degree of activity. Any health problems must also be considered and can be particularly relevant when it comes to allergies, i.e. nuts, seeds and legumes are a recommended part of nutrition, but these can cause serious complications if allergies to any of these are present in the human body.
Food is the only way that some of the nutrients you need can be gained, as the body only produces a certain amount on its own. Your body needs the following nutrients at the right levels to promote good health and wellbeing:
- Macronutrients (consist of carbohydrates, fats and protein)
- Micronutrients (consist of small amounts of essential vitamins and minerals)
- Phytonutrients (found in most plant foods and are known to protect the body against disease). Phytonutrients are compounds that are beneficial to the human body and include flavonoids, phenolic acids, lignans and stilbenes
- Whole foods (unprocessed or minimally processed foods that are highly nutritious). These include, fruit and vegetables, lean meat, fish and seafood, eggs and dairy products, whole grains (less processing the better), herbs, spices, nuts, seeds and legumes
Providing your body with the correct nutrients must be a selective process. One of the most important factors is to avoid foodstuffs that will potentially damage your body. These are generally highly processed or fast foods, refined sugar and syrups, additives and preservatives, excessive salt, chemical additives, pesticides and even artificial sweeteners. The majority of these are found in pre-packaged goods and fast food takeaways.
Empty calories are another thing to avoid – whilst they provide energy, they do not provide essential nutrients. Fizzy drinks, sodas, refined carbohydrates are all guilty of this illusion of energy-giving foods. Sweets, cakes, pasta (white flour variety), white bread and white rice are other foods consumed that have no real benefit.
Tips on how to eat your way to a healthier life on a balanced diet
Balancing your diet in order to obtain the optimal amount of nutrition really is not difficult. Here are some tips to follow, broken down into the most beneficial food groups and amounts to consume each day.
Fruits and vegetables
How often do you hear ‘5 a day’? This really is a healthy route to follow. This group includes fresh, dried, frozen and canned fruit and vegetables (if canned fruit is consumed, it must be in natural juice, not in syrup). Choose from a variety of fresh vegetables to include leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli. Any salad leaves are also included. Potatoes are not in this section. Think of unusual ways to eat more fruit and vegetables if you struggle to consume five portions. Try not to eat on a ‘grab and go’ basis, be preparing fruit salads or veggie sticks in advance for snacks or lunch on the run. If it’s ready, you are more likely to eat it! This also applies to juices – shop bought juices in cartons, bottles or cans are likely to have a high sugar content.
This group includes fish, meat, eggs, beans, nuts, pulses. If you happen to be a vegetarian, both mycoprotein and tofu are included in this nutritional element. You can eat both white and oily fish as well as shellfish and try to eat at least 2 portions of fish per week. Meat is better consumed if fairly lean, so chicken or turkey breast is ideal. Red meat should be kept to a minimum, around about 75g in a portion. Any processed meats should be kept to the bare minimum. Grilling meat is a healthier option than frying and poaching fish as opposed to frying or covering in batter or breadcrumbs is also far healthier. Try using lemon and herbs to give more flavour and poach ‘en pochette’ (wrapped loosely in foil or baking parchment with slices of lemon and plenty of herbs).
Around 30-35% of your plate of food should consist of starchy carbohydrates. Opt for wholegrain and high fibre bread, rice, noodles or pasta whenever possible as opposed to the standard white versions. Try to include sweet potatoes rather than white potatoes, and items such as oats or pearl barley, couscous, bulgur wheat, spelt and couscous. However, adding lots of butter, spreads, mayonnaise or other sauces to potatoes is not a good idea, as this will increase calorie and fat intake, even though they may taste delicious.
Some milk and dairy products should be included on a limited basis (apart from children who need to consume more until they grow older) every day. For adults, low fat versions of milk, yoghurt and cheese is a better option. Whilst you can have the odd treat, be careful of smoothies, cream and ice cream as these can be high in saturated fat. This also applies to butter.
Whilst oils such as olive oil, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil and vegetable oil are unsaturated, they should be used in limited amounts as they tend to be high in calorific content. This also applies to any low-fat spreads you may use on sandwiches or toast. Unsaturated fats do however provide the essential fatty acids that we need in our diet. Just use sparingly and they will be beneficial.
Just a few ideas to show you that healthy eating is not a chore!
For breakfast, try a slice of wholegrain toast with a little cream cheese or quark spread over, and topped with thinly sliced strawberries, instead of craving sugary jams or marmalades. You can also try a more savoury breakfast, such as smashed avocado on wholegrain toast with some chopped tomatoes.
Think about cooking some chicken breasts in advance, so that you always have some in the fridge to make up a quick salad or buddha bowl for lunch. Keep some grated courgettes, carrots, herbs and fresh leaves in containers to make a lovely ‘at your desk’ lunch, or lots of vegetable and fruit sticks with some hummus.
Supper time – if you can’t find whole wheat spaghetti in your local supermarket, try spiralising some courgettes, blanching them in hot water, and you have a healthier option. Make up batches of your own fresh tomato, basil/oregano and garlic sauce, so you can avoid the sugary Bolognese sauces in the supermarkets. The homemade version freezes well.