The phrase "we are what we eat" is touted everywhere such as in magazines, social networks, books, even on T-shirts. Food is our body’s fuel. So, a healthy diet supplies the energy your body needs to work effectively, resulting in a healthy organism -a complete state of well-being-. And recent studies support this.
Eating a healthy diet throughout a lifetime helps to prevent main chronic diseases such as high cholesterol. However, hectic lifestyles, increased production of highly processed foods and the fast-food boom have led to shifts in dietary patterns. Western countries’ people are now consuming more than ever before foods high in energy, free sugars, trans and saturated fats and salt, while consumption of fresh produce and fiber is decreasing.
What does a healthy, balanced diet look like?
Food pyramids are one of the most famous examples of food-based dietary guidelines (FBDG), also called dietary guidelines, for the general public. Who hasn't seen a nutritional pyramid poster at school or at the doctor's office? Thanks to their simple messages, we have learned general information about healthy eating.
The exact composition of a balanced, healthy diet will change according to individual needs -age, sex, physical activity, or physiological state-, cultural context, dietary customs, and local food availability. Most European countries have their own dietary guidelines. Fortunately, the basic principles of what constitutes a healthy diet remain the same.
A healthy diet include:
- Wide variety of vegetables and fruits.
Increasing fruit and vegetable intake is one of the most important eating habits. It seems easy, but for many people it is a challenge. Fruits and vegetables are a great source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which help to maintain a good state of health. For example, dark green vegetables -like kale- are a good source of folate, iron and calcium. They are rich in fiber, so they keep you full longer and, consequently, help you maintain a healthy weight.
Remember that even 100% fruit juice is not the same as fruit. Although they keep some of the benefits of fruits, they have lost fiber and are rich in sugars. Fruit juices should not be considered as a substitute for fruit.
Tip: Fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits. Slide fruits and vegetables -such as carrots or pineapple- on hand for snacking. Limit fruit juices.
Whole-grain foods include oats, quinoa, brown rice, whole-grain pasta, and whole-grain bread.
A whole grain keeps intact all the original edible parts and its properties, too. They provide fiber, protein, B vitamins and minerals, which help control of cholesterol levels and weight. Whole-grain foods are those that have been prepared using the whole-grain. Whole grain foods contain fiber, protein and B vitamins that help you stay healthy and satiated longer.
Tips: Fill a quarter of your plate with whole grains. Choose whole grain options instead of processed or refined grains such as white bread and pasta. You can start by replacing white bread at breakfast or lunch with whole-grain bread.
- Protein foods.
Protein foods are not only meat, poultry, fish, seafood, milk and eggs, but also include legumes, nuts, seeds and tofu. Protein helps build muscles, bones and skin, repair body tissues, and curbs hunger, helping maintain a healthy weight. That’s why it’s important to eat protein every day. Try to alternate the source of protein at each meal.
Tips: Fill a quarter of your plate with protein foods. Lean meats and white fish are a good source of protein and low in fat. Limit red meat, and stay away from processed meats -like sausages, ham and bacon-.
- Healthy oils.
Go for healthy vegetable oils such as olive, sunflower, soybean, and others. Avoid partially hydrogenated oils because of their trans-fat content that can raise cholesterol, increasing risk of heart disease.
Tip: As much as possible, cook and season your meals with extra virgin olive oil.
Water supports hydration without adding calories to the diet. Try to limit sugary drinks -energy drinks, soft drinks, fruit drinks- as they are high in sugar and have a little to no nutritional value. Without realizing it, you may be drinking ‘empty calories', and this is a danger to your healthy weight.
Tip: you should drink 6 to 8 cups of glasses of fluid a day. These include water and other fluids -tea, lower-fat milk, coffee, kombucha-.
As you may have realized, ultra-processed foods are not characteristic of a healthy diet so we must limit them. During processing, many nutrients -like fiber, vitamins and minerals- may be destroyed or removed, while salt, added sugars, hydrogenated fats, starches and many other additives are added. Some examples are frozen meals, fast food, nuggets, breakfast cereals, packaged cookies, ice cream, fruit-flavored yogurts, etc.
Why is it important to have a healthy diet?
Eating a healthy diet is an essential part of maintaining good health. Not only helps you feel your best, but also protects you against many chronic diseases, like high cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension and cancer.
Salmon and other fatty fish, like tuna and sardines, are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure. Eat two servings a week.
The intake of fiber is often overlooked. Dietary fiber in vegetables and whole-grain aids with digestion, lowers cholesterol levels and delays blood sugar rises after meals. That’s why it helps decrease the risk of developing various conditions, diabetes, heart disease, and constipation. And it promotes a healthy gut microbiome, which may produce anti-inflammatory effects that reduce chronic inflammation associated with these conditions.
These are some examples of the benefits that a healthy diet may have on your body, but the list goes on.
What else can I do for a healthy life?
Nutrition is a key factor for a long and healthy life but remember that it is not the only one. There are more pieces that you need to fit together to achieve a healthy lifestyle. Here are the other steps you need to follow:
- Keep physically active. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every day and 2 days of muscle strengthening activity.
- Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight or obese, you are at higher risk of developing health problems.
- Get enough good sleep. Experts recommend 7-9 hours per night on a regular basis to maintain optimal health. If you want to learn more check this post.
- Quit smoking. It not only increases the risk of heart disease but also reduces fertility and lowers energy.
- Manage stress and emotions. Your overall well-being starts with your emotional equilibrium.
- Take vitamin and mineral supplements. They fill in nutritional gaps that cannot be covered by your diet.
Now that you know all these tricks, what are you waiting for to put them into action?