Eating a healthy diet is one of the most important things you can do for your body. A balanced diet can help you maintain a healthy weight, avoid disease, and feel more energetic. The following information will help you understand the basics of a healthy diet. It will also give you several ways to make better nutrition a part of your everyday life.
Healthy eating basics
Healthy eating involves both choosing healthy foods and eating them in amounts that are right for you. Even if you have a balanced diet, you may develop a weight problem if you eat too much—that is, if the food you eat contains more calories than your body needs. Here are two ways to avoid overdoing it:
Familiarise yourself with how many calories you need each day. The number you need depends on factors such as age, gender, height, activity level, and overall health.
Fill half your plate with fruit and vegetables. Fresh fruit and vegetables generally have fewer calories per portion than other foods. Eating more of them can help you limit calories without counting calories rigidly.
One easy way to do this is to fill half of your plate at each meal with fruit and vegetables and the other half with grains, preferably whole grains, and lean protein.
Guidelines for healthy eating all through life
Here are some guidelines about what to eat:
Avoid saturated and trans-fats. Everyone needs to eat some fat. Fats help your body absorb necessary vitamins and nutrients. But it is important to choose fats sensibly. Saturated fats can cause a build-up of blood cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease, and should therefore be eaten sparingly.
Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature and found in many high-fat dairy products, like cheese, whole milk, cream, butter, and ice cream. Saturated fat is also found in fatty meats, the skin and fat of poultry, lard, and some oils, including palm, palm kernel, and coconut.
Partially hydrogenated oil contains trans-fats; it is called “partially hydrogenated” due to its chemical make-up. Common sources of trans-fats are vegetable suet, margarine, and commercially prepared baked goods, snack food, and fried food. Hydrogenated fats can increase cholesterol and have been phased out of almost all supermarket owned and branded food.
Foods containing cholesterol. Food that is high in dietary cholesterol, such as kidneys, eggs and prawns are less likely to increase your blood cholesterol than those that are high in saturated fat. If your health care provider recommends changing your diet to reduce blood cholesterol then avoiding foods high in saturated fat and increasing the amount of fruit, vegetables, and fibre you eat is the way forward.
Eat unsaturated fats. Foods with unsaturated fats do not raise blood cholesterol. These include:
- Vegetable, Olive, Sunflower, Rapeseed, and Peanut oils
- Fatty fish, like Salmon or Mackerel
Choose drinks and foods that are low in sugar. Sugars occur naturally in many foods, and your body can break down and use these types of sugar for energy. Sugar (in a variety of forms) is also added to many foods and beverages. This added sugar provides little, if any, nutritional value and can cause weight gain and tooth decay.
These foods have added sugar and should be consumed in moderation:
- Fizzy drinks
- Biscuits, cakes, and pies
- Fruit drinks, like squash
- Dairy desserts, like ice cream, and sweetened yoghurts
Eat foods that are low in salt. You can reduce your chance of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease by reducing the amount of salt you eat.
Salt is mainly found in processed and prepared foods, so try to eat fresh food, or look for products marked “low salt” or “reduced-salt.” If the salt content is measured as sodium on the label, then you need to multiply the number by 2.5 for the equivalent in salt.
The World Health Organization says we eat too much salt – on average 9–12 grams per day – this is over twice the recommended daily allowance.
Visit the WHO page on salt reduction for more details. Remember that your taste for salt is not fixed. If you reduce what you add to your food you might miss the saltier tastes at first, but your taste for salt will decrease after a period.
Limit your intake of alcohol. Alcoholic drinks supply calories but very few nutrients. Alcohol also alters judgment and can lead to alcohol dependency and other health problems. The WHO says to avoid drinking alcohol and states that there are no ‘safe’ drinking limits – just lower risk if you drink less. They have no guidance but however confirm, ‘’the evidence shows that the ideal situation for health is to not drink at all. ‘’
Get most of your calories from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, low-fat or non-fat dairy products, and lean meats or meat substitutes.
Before you use these guidelines for yourself or members of your family, consult your health care provider. Your age, activity level, health, and other factors will determine how many servings you should have from each food group.
More tips for healthy nutrition
Watch your portion sizes. Many restaurant meals—and even meals you cook at home—may be up to three or four times the size of an average portion.
Get to know what a serving size really is and limit yourself to that amount of food. Many things sold in an individual package—a can of fizzy drink or a 12-ounce steak—provide two or more servings.
When you’re eating at a restaurant, consider ordering a half portion, sharing your meal, or asking to have some of it wrapped up to take home.
Eat more whole-grain foods. Whole grains (oatmeal, whole wheat, brown rice, whole oats, whole rye) have more vitamins, minerals, fibre, and other nutrients than refined grains, like those found in white rice or pasta.
Drink water instead of fizzy drinks or juice. Water has zero calories and doesn’t contain sugar, both of which are in fizzy drinks and juice.
Aim for a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. Eat raw vegetables or fruit, like carrots or an apple, for a snack or eat fruit for dessert.
Eat breakfast. Eating breakfast can help you control hunger throughout the day. Try porridge and a piece of fruit or some yogurt with berries.
Switch to low-fat versions of some foods. Use low-fat cheese, sour cream, cottage cheese, yoghurt, and zero-trans-fat margarine instead of the high-fat versions. Try low-fat ice cream or frozen yoghurt for dessert.
Reduce the amount of salad dressing, mayonnaise, butter, and other high-fat condiments you use. Try the low-fat versions of these foods or substitute other things, such as fresh lemon juice or vinegar and spices on a salad, mustard on a sandwich, or salsa on a baked potato.
Choose the leanest cuts of meat you can find. Buy lean ground beef, skinless chicken, and other lower-fat cuts. Trim all visible fat from meats.
Avoid fried food. Fried foods are high in saturated and trans fats. Substitute chips for a baked potato; get grilled fish or chicken instead of fried.
Eat healthy snacks. Instead of crisps or sweets, snack on fruit, pretzels, whole-grain crackers, or vegetables.
Be careful with low-fat or reduced-fat foods. Just because something is labelled “low fat” doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any calories. Check portion sizes and eat everything in moderation.
You’ve relied on food to fuel you for most of your life and, unlike when you were a child, you’re now entirely in charge of your nutritional choices. While sustenance can sometimes feel like an afterthought, and eating something that just happens on autopilot, the foods and drinks you consume can have a major impact on everything from your hormones and weight to your disease risk and mood. If you’re looking to improve any of those, if you’ve been recently given a health diagnosis that requires careful dietary management, or if you just want to learn more about food and how to eat more healthfully or environmentally friendly, it makes sense to consult a nutritionist for guidance.
Although most health insurance does not cover nutritionists HanseMerkur health insurance policies come with an optional ‘Meet a Doctor’ function, a service provided by Dubai-based TruDocs, whereby insured members can connect via a mobile app, not only to doctors but also nutritionists via video call. Please ask your local sales agent for more details.
Remember eating a healthy diet doesn’t mean sacrificing your favourite foods or severely limiting the amount of food you eat. Instead, building a healthy diet is about choosing the best food for your body—food with the nutrients your body needs to be at its best.
This article on “Healthy Nutrition” was taken from the Lifeworks Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) library of resources available to all insured members with HanseMerkur health insurance plans. Please check it out to find other interesting and useful articles, pod casts and tips to help with your well-being or ask your local sales agent for more information about it.