With so much conflicting information out there, it is easy to become confused about healthy eating, but eating a well-balanced diet can reduce your risk of various diseases and help you to keep to a healthy weight. It’s important to eat a good diet no matter what age you are – there’s never a bad time to make some changes. Below is some information on how you can implement changes to your diet to improve your health!
A nutritious, well-balanced diet – along with physical activity and refraining from smoking – is the foundation of good health. Healthy eating includes consuming high-quality proteins, carbohydrates, heart-healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and water in the foods you take in while minimising processed foods, trans-fats and alcohol. Eating in this manner helps you maintain your body’s everyday functions, promotes optimal body weight and can assist in disease prevention.
The nutrients in the foods you eat support the activities of day-to-day living, protect your cells from environmental damage and repair any cellular damage that might occur. Protein rebuilds injured tissue and promotes a healthy immune system. Both carbohydrates and fats fuel your body, while vitamins and minerals function throughout your body in support of your body’s processes. Vitamins A, C and E, for example, act as antioxidants to protect your cells against toxins, and B vitamins help you extract energy from the foods you eat. Calcium and phosphorus keep your bones strong, while sodium and potassium help to transmit nerve signals. Without a healthy diet, you might compromise any of these essential functions.
Diet can also have a profound effect on your mood and sense of wellbeing. Studies have linked eating a typical Western diet—filled with processed meats, packaged meals, takeout food, and sugary snacks—with higher rates of depression, stress, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. Eating an unhealthy diet may even play a role in the development of mental health disorders such as ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, and schizophrenia. Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, cooking meals at home, and reducing your intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates, may help to improve mood and lower your risk for mental health problems.
SWITCHING TO A HEALTHIER DIET
Changing everything at once usually leads to cheating or giving up. To set up for success, think about planning a healthy diet as a number of small, manageable steps—like adding a salad to your diet once a day—rather than one big drastic change. As your small changes become habit, you can continue to add healthier choices.
Prepare more of your own meals. Cooking more meals at home can help you take charge of what you’re eating and better monitor exactly what goes into your food.
Make the right changes. When cutting back on unhealthy foods in your diet, it’s important to replace them with healthy alternatives. Replacing dangerous trans fats with healthy fats (such as switching fried chicken for grilled fish) will make a positive difference to your health.
Calories? Instead of being overly concerned with counting calories, think of your diet in terms of color, variety, and freshness. Focus on avoiding packaged and processed foods and opting for more fresh ingredients.
Read the labels. It’s important to be aware of what’s in your food as manufacturers often hide large amounts of sugar or unhealthy fats in packaged food, even food claiming to be healthy.
Focus on how you feel after eating. This will help foster healthy new habits and tastes. The healthier the food you eat, the better you’ll feel after a meal. The more junk food you eat, the more likely you are to feel uncomfortable, nauseous, or drained of energy.
Drink plenty of water. Water helps flush our systems of waste products and toxins, yet many people go through life dehydrated—causing tiredness, low energy, and headaches. It’s common to mistake thirst for hunger, so staying well hydrated will also help you make healthier food choices.
And remember, try not to think of certain foods as “off-limits.” When you ban certain foods, it’s natural to want those foods more, and then feel like a failure if you give in to temptation. Start by reducing portion sizes of unhealthy foods and not eating them as often. As you reduce your intake of unhealthy foods, you may find yourself craving them less or thinking of them as only occasional indulgences.
START BY EATING MORE FRUIT AND VEG
Fruit and vegetables are low in calories and nutrient dense, which means they are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibre. Focus on eating the recommended daily amount of at least five servings of fruit and vegetables and it will naturally fill you up and help you cut back on unhealthy foods. A serving is a cup or 80g of raw fruit or veg or a small apple or banana, for example. Most of us need to double the amount we currently eat. To increase your intake, add berries to your breakfast, eat fruit for dessert, swap your usual side dish for salad, and snack on vegetables such as carrots, snow peas, or cherry tomatoes instead of processed snack foods. Aim to fill 50% of your plate with fruit and veg at each meal.
FILL UP ON FIBRE
Eating foods high in fibre can help you stay regular, lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and even help you to lose weight. Adults should eat 30grams of fibre per day for optimal health – many of us aren’t eating half that amount! In general, the more natural and unprocessed the food, the higher it is in fibre.
Good sources of fibre include whole grains, oats, barley, oatmeal, beans, nuts, vegetables such as carrots, celery, and tomatoes, and fruits such as apples, berries, citrus fruits, and pears.
There is no fibre in meat, dairy, or sugar.
Refined or “white” foods, such as white bread, white rice, and pastries, have had all or most of their fibre removed.
WATCH OUT FOR SODIUM
Sodium is another ingredient that is frequently added to food to improve taste, even though your body needs less than one gram of sodium a day (about half a teaspoon of table salt). Eating too much salt can cause high blood pressure and lead to an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, memory loss, and erectile dysfunction. It may also worsen symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Be wary of processed or pre-packaged foods. Processed foods like canned soups or frozen dinners often contain hidden sodium that quickly surpasses the recommended limit.
Use herbs and spices such as garlic, curry powder, cayenne or black pepper to improve the flavor of meals instead of salt.
Be careful when eating out. Most restaurant and fast food/ ready meals are loaded with sodium. Some offer lower-sodium choices or you can ask for your meal to be made without salt.
EAT A RAINBOW
The brighter, deeper coloured fruits and vegetables contain higher concentrations of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants—and different colors provide different benefits.
Greens. Branch out beyond lettuce. Kale, mustard greens, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage are all packed with calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, E, and K.
Sweet vegetables. Naturally sweet vegetables—such as corn, carrots, beetroot, sweet potatoes, onions, and squash add healthy sweetness to your meals and reduce your cravings for added sugar.
Fruit. Fruit is a tasty, satisfying way to fill up on fibre, vitamins, and antioxidants. Berries are cancer-fighting, apples provide fibre and oranges and mangos offer Vit C
HOW MUCH PROTEIN DO YOU NEED?
Protein needs are based on weight rather than calorie intake. Adults should eat at least 0.8g of high-quality protein per kilogram (2.2lb) of body weight per day.
Older adults should aim for 1 to 1.5 grams of lean protein for each kilogram of weight. This translates to 68 to 102g of protein per day for a person weighing 150 lbs.
Divide your protein intake equally among meals.
Nursing women need about 20 grams more high-quality protein a day than they did before pregnancy to support milk production.
WHICH CARBOHYDRATES TO CHOOSE?
EAT THESE CARBS: whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables. Healthy carbs are digested slowly, helping you feel fuller for longer and keeping blood sugar and insulin levels stable.
LIMIT THESE CARBS: White flour, refined sugar, and white rice that have been stripped of all bran, fibre, and nutrients. They digest quickly and cause spikes in blood sugar levels and drops in energy.
WHAT ABOUT FATS?
ADD THESE FATS:
Monounsaturated fats from avocados, nuts (like almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans), and seeds (such as pumpkin and sesame).
Polyunsaturated fats, including Omega-3s, found in fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines. Good vegetarian sources of polyunsaturated fats include flaxseed and walnuts.
ELIMINATE THESE FATS:
Trans fats,found in processed foods, vegetable shortenings, margarines, crackers, biscuits, sweets, snack foods, fried foods, baked goods, or anything with “partially hydrogenated” oil in the ingredients, even if it claims to be trans-fat free. No amount of trans fat is safe.