A Balanced Diet For Healthier Living
Intuitively we all know that a good healthy diet is essential for our well-being. But with the huge variety of food out there and our own individual needs how do we decide what we should and shouldn't eat? Balance and moderation are the key, and if you get this right you will achieve the level of nutrition essential for your body and all its' systems to function properly. You will be able to maintain a healthy weight, reduce body fat, provide your body with energy, promote good sleep, protect yourself from many diseases, and generally feel better.
A healthy balanced diet should try to incorporate the following:
- Eat 5 portions of fruit or vegetables a day. It's not that hard! Just one apple, banana, pear or similar-sized fruit is one portion (80g), ditto a slice of pineapple or melon, or 3 heaped tablespoons of vegetables.
- Use carbohydrates as a base for your meals, such as potatoes, bread, rice or pasta. Ordinarily they should make up just over a third of what we eat, although if you're trying to lose weight this is a food group you'll probably need to cut down on. Try to choose wholegrain or wholemeal varieties, such as brown rice, wholewheat pasta, and wholemeal bread. They contain more fibre, and usually more vitamins and minerals.
- Have some diary, or dairy alternatives if you prefer or are intolerant. Milk and dairy foods such as cheese and yoghurt are good sources of protein, as well as containing calcium, which helps keep your bones healthy. Try to eat lower fat options such as skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, lower fat hard cheeses or cottage cheese, unsweetened yoghurt (have it with one of your portions of fresh fruit instead). Unsweetened calcium-fortified diary alternatives such soya, coconut, or almond milks and yoghurts also count as part of this food group.
- Eat some fish, meat, eggs, pulses (e.g. beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts), and other protein. Protein is essential for your body to grow and heal itself. Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins (especially B, it is one of the main sources of vitamin B12), and minerals including iron and zinc. Try to eat lean cuts of meat and skinless poultry to cut down on fat. Fish is another important source of protein and contains many vitamins and minerals. Oily fish is particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Try and eat at least two portions of fish a week, including one portion of an oily fish such as herring, mackerel, salmon, and tuna. Eggs and pulses are also great sources of protein. Nuts are high in fibre and a good alternative to snacks high in saturated fat, but eat in moderation as they are still high in fat, albeit good fat.
- Choose unsaturated oils and spreads, and eat in small amounts. Some fat in your diet is essential, however it should be limited to small amounts. Try and keep it unsaturated as much as possible, this can help lower cholesterol.
- Eat less sugar! Regularly consuming foods and drinks high in sugar increase your risk of obesity and associated diseases, and of tooth decay. Sugary foods and drinks are high in energy (calories), which can be useful, but if eaten too often can contribute to weight gain. The amount of sugar in packaged foods and drinks is often surprisingly high, so check the ingredients. Try to cut down on sugar rather than using artificial sweeteners.
- Eat less salt, no more than 6g a day for adults. Too much salt can raise your blood pressure. Even if you don't add salt to your food you may still be eating too much. About three-quarters of the salt we eat is already in the food we buy, such as cereals, soups, breads, and sauces. Again check the ingredients before you buy. More than 1.5g salt per 100g means the food is high in salt. Adults and children over 11 should eat no more than 6g a day, which is about a teaspoonful.
- Drink plenty of fluids. It is important to stay hydrated, 6-8 glasses a day is recommended amount on top of the fluid we get from the food we eat. Obviously water is the ideal choice, try and keep other choices as low in sugar as possible.
- Don't skip breakfast. Some people skip breakfast because they think it will help them lose weight, but in fact it has been proven that people who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight. It kick starts your metabolism and results in improved mental performance and concentration throughout the morning.
- Cook your own food as much as possible. As already mentioned packaged or pre-prepared foods and drinks are often high in sugar, salt, and fat. Higher than they need to be we reckon. Cooking your own food with the best ingredients you can afford is a brilliant way of taking control of what you put in your body. Not enough time I hear you cry! Try doing a load of batch cooking at the weekend and freezing it. Or rethink your priorities.
- If your health and particularly your digestive system appears to be compromised by what you eat and drink have a think about intolerances. Dairy intolerance is extremely common so probably the first thing to try avoiding. Then there's gluten (proteins found in wheat, barley, rye etc.), caffeine, yeast, eggs, preservatives, and many more. Worth exploring if you think you have a problem.
- Portion size, don't kid yourself. If they're really honest most people know when they're eating too much. So if you think that's a problem try and tackle reducing it.
This is just touching the surface of the vast topic of food and nutrition. Check out the following books for much more depth and fascinating reading.
- The Diet Myth - The real science behind what we eat by Tim Spector
- Lose Weight for Good - Full-flavour cooking for a low calorie diet by Tom Kerridge
- The Clever Guts Diet - How to revolutionise your body from the inside out by Michael Mosley
- The Doctor's Kitchen - Supercharge your health with 100 delicious everyday recipes by Dr Rupy Aujla
- The 8-week Blood Sugar Diet - Lose weight fast and reprogram your body by Michael Mosley
- The China Study - The most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted and the startling implications for diet, weight loss, and long term health by T. Colin Campbell and M.D. Thomas M. Campbell II
- Re-nourish - A Simple Way to Eat Well by Rhiannon Lambert