What we put in our body directly affects our quality of life and health. However, people are often distracted from the most important nutrition principles.
Serious diseases are often linked to a poor diet. For instance, eating healthy food can significantly reduce your chances of chronic conditions such as heart disease or cancer, and promote overall health and wellbeing.
Eating good food can improve all aspects of life, from physical performance to cognitive functioning. It also affects the health of our cells and organs. If you take part in sports or exercise, a healthy diet will improve your performance as well.
Macronutrients provide calories and regulate various functions in the body. These nutrients are required in relatively large amounts. The three macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates (carbs) and fats.
Here are some macronutrients you should consume:
Carbs are one of your body’s main sources of energy. But most should come from unrefined, complex carbs (like whole grains, vegetables) rather than refined carbs and sugars. All starchy foods like bread, potatoes, pasta, fruits, juice, legumes, sugar and a few dairy products contain carbohydrates.
Protein gives you the energy to be active, while also supporting cognitive functions and mood. Primary sources of protein include fish, meat, eggs, dairy, legumes and vegetarian alternatives like broccoli, tofu and dairy products.
Good fats protect your heart and brain. Healthy fats, like omega-3s, are vital for your physical and mental health. It can also boost your well-being, improve your mood, and, believe it or not, even trim your waistline.
Primary sources of fats include seeds, nuts, oils, cheese, butter, oily fish and fatty meat.
How many macronutrients you should consume depends on your goals, lifestyle, age and personal preferences.
Micronutrients include crucial minerals and vitamins that you need in smaller doses. Here are some micronutrients you should consume:
Caption: Avocado is a magnesium rich fruit. Credits: Pixabay
Magnesium controls more than 600 cellular processes, including nervous system function, energy production, and muscle contraction.
Potassium is important for fluid balance, blood pressure control, and the functioning of your nerves and muscles.
Commonly known for supplying oxygen in the blood, iron also has several other benefits, such as improved brain function and immunity.
Calcium is a crucial structural component of teeth and bones, and also an important mineral for your muscles, heart, and nervous system.
All vitamins, from vitamin A to K, play a critical role in every cell and organ in your body.
The requirement of each micronutrient differs between people. If you eat a wholesome, well-balanced diet that incorporates plants and animals, then you should get all the micronutrients your body needs without taking supplements.
All of the minerals and vitamins are vital nutrients, implying that you must obtain them from the diet you eat to survive.
Whole foods usually refer to unprocessed, natural foods that contain only one ingredient. Ideally, one should consume whole foods at least 80-90% of the time.
Whole foods are nutrient-rich and have a low energy density. This means that they have more nutrients and lesser calories per serving than processed foods.
Caption: Whole foods are plant foods that are unprocessed and unrefined. Credits: Pixabay
In contrast, most processed foods have low nutritional value and are usually referred to as empty calories. Consuming them in large amounts is linked to obesity and other illnesses.
Foods to Eat
Your daily diet should contain these healthy food groups:
Vegetables play a fundamental role in most meals. They are low in calories and yet full of crucial fibre and micronutrients.
Fruits are natural sweet treats. They provide antioxidants and micronutrients that can help improve your physical and mental health.
· Fish and Meat:
Fish and meat are the major sources of protein for our body. They are a staple in the human diet, although vegan and vegetarian diets have become popular as well.
· Nuts and seeds:
Nuts and seeds contain important micronutrients. Also, they are one of the best fat sources available.
Considered one of the healthiest foods in the world, whole eggs contain a powerful combination of beneficial fats, proteins, and micronutrients.
· Dairy products:
Dairy products like milk and natural yoghurt are convenient, low-cost sources of calcium and protein.
· Healthy starches:
For those who aren’t on a low-carb diet, starchy foods like quinoa, potatoes, and Ezekiel bread are nutritious and healthy.
· Legumes and Beans:
Legumes and beans are important sources of protein, fibre, and micronutrients.
Water should make up the majority of your fluid intake, along with beverages like tea and coffee, which are rich in antioxidants.
· Herbs and spices:
Herbs and spices are often very high in nutrients and important plant compounds.
Energy Balance and Calories
Total calorie intake plays a major role in weight control and health. The optimal calories intake for most people is 1,800 a day.
Splitting those 1,800 calories up into calcium for your bones, and proteins for your muscles makes a healthy diet which benefits your heart too.
If you consume more calories than you burn, your body stores them as muscle or body fat. On the other hand, if you consume fewer calories than you burn every day, you will lose weight.
Foods to Avoid
You should naturally reduce your intake of unhealthy foods. No food needs to be eliminated, instead should be limited or saved for special events.
· Sugar-based Foods:
Foods high in sugar, such as sugary drinks, are associated with type 2 diabetes and obesity.· Trans Fats:
Caption: Junk food contains a lot of trans fat. Credits: Pixabay
Trans fats are also known as partially hydrogenated fats are linked to serious diseases, like heart diseases.
· Refined Carbs:
Foods that are high in refined carbs, like white bread, are associated with obesity, overeating, and metabolic disease.
· Vegetable Oils:
Vegetable oils can disturb your body’s omega 6-to-3 balance.
· Processed Low-fat Products:
Processed low-fat products usually have a lot of sugar to make them taste better.
Your calorie intake is a major factor in weight control and health. By controlling your portions, you are more likely to avoid additional calorie intake.
Although whole foods are harder to overeat than processed foods, they can still be eaten in excess. If you’re trying to lose body fat or are overweight, it’s particularly crucial to monitor your portion size.
There are several easy strategies to control your portion size.
For instance, you can use smaller plates and take a smaller first serving, and then wait 15 minutes before you return for more.
Another common approach is to measure portion size with your hand. A normal meal would limit most people to 1 or 2 palms of protein, 1 fist-sized portion of carbs, and 1 or 2 thumb-sized portions of healthy fats.
More calorie-rich foods like nuts, cheese, and fatty meats are sometimes healthy, but make sure you only take the required portion size when you eat them.
Map Your Diet to Your Goals
First, determine your calorie need based on factors like your weight goals and activity level.
If you want to lose weight, your calorie intake should be less than what you burn. If you want to gain weight, you should eat more than you burn.
If you don’t like counting calories, you can easily apply the methods discussed above, like focusing on whole foods and monitoring portion size.
If you have a certain deficiency, you should tailor your diet to account for that. For example, vegans or people who avoid specific food groups are at a higher risk of missing out on a few nutrients such as B12.
In general, you should consume a well-balanced diet featuring a wide array of foods to ensure you get plenty of all the micro- and macronutrients.
While many argue that low-fat or low-carb diets are the best, the truth is that it solely depends on the individual.
Athletes and those wanting to lose weight should consider increasing their protein intake. Additionally, a low-carb diet can work wonders for some people trying to lose weight or treat type 2 diabetes.
There are several myths about healthy food. Don’t make food choices based on those myths.
Eating well doesn’t mean you must sulk about eating healthily all the time. A good diet includes treats occasionally. Your diet does not have to be all or nothing.
Compare the prices of junk food with the price of healthier food items to see that healthy doesn’t have to be more expensive.
Try out different foods and recipes. A meal cooked using fresh ingredients is better than soggy chips or a limp burger.
Try different fast options like whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat breakfast cereal, muesli, whole grain muffins, fruit, pasta or yoghurt.
While eating out, look for the calorie labelling on menus. A single energy-rich meal can contain most of an adult’s daily calorie intake, and drinks can be high in calories too.
Don’t quit having your favourite dishes entirely. Instead, try new ways to make healthy meals. For instance, you lower the fat content in dishes by changing the cooking method to stir-fry, grill, boil, bake, or microwave, instead of deep-frying.
Reduce the portion size of your meal instead of quitting entirely. More doesn’t always mean better.
If you’re concerned about missing out on socializing, instead of meeting friends for food, go for a walk with them. Alternatively, you can suggest a restaurant that serves healthier foods, like sushi or whole wheat rolls with vegetable fillings.
Making sudden and radical changes to eating habits can lead to short-term satisfaction but it won’t be successful in the long run. To permanently improve your eating habits, reflect, replace and reinforce.