What is healthy eating?

What is Healthy Eating And Why Is It Important?

With the media constantly bombarding us with news on which food to eat, and those foods to avoid it can all be a little confusing. To be at our best selves we need to choose to eat well. What is healthy eating? Here’s we’ll have a look and see if we can make it a little easier for you.

No one said that it would be easy creating change and regardless of which field you are operating in being able to do so with the right energy levels, clarity of thought and without health concerns is an important factor in staying the course and getting the job done.

On the whole, we normally associate healthy eating with being on a diet and most of us will either look at our diet because we want to lose weight or because we are suffering from an ailment.

And yet, most of us know it’s good to eat healthy nutritious meals but we can still slip up sometimes and make bad choices. Well simply put, you are what you eat, what we put in our body is what makes us.

What is healthy eating?

The right foods can help our bodies fight disease, make us stronger, help change our mood, maintain a healthy weight and generally make us feel better1.

Knowing all this, some of us continue to struggle. Yes at times we can fall off the wagon but overall, we really need to be mindful of what we put in our body.

I regularly use the following analogy with my clients – would you put diesel in your petrol car. And if you did, just imagine what you must do to put it right.

Thankfully, our bodies are a little more forgiving and don’t start coughing and spluttering when we overdo it.  I hear you, it’s not always easy to keep on a healthy path but try and remember the long term effect of your bad choices. The food and drink we choose matters. Our body needs the right quality fuel to keep it strong and running well.

For some of us eating is simply providing fuel and for others, it’s about enjoyment. And no healthy eating doesn’t mean you’re giving up on enjoyment it just means maintaining a balance.

A balanced diet includes a variety of foods, which help to keep our mind and body healthy and provide us with enough energy to perform our day to day activities. Healthy eating improves the immune system which prevents sickness.

Eating well, along with physical activity helps with weight management. Healthy eating needs to be made a conscious decision in order to make it sustainable. Therefore, it’s no good trying to cut out a food group only to binge because your body is constantly craving it and then you feel guilty.

Making the right choices

It’s important to choose a diet and lifestyle which you know you can maintain long term.  Healthy eating will result in you feeling better in yourself, better sleep and more energy.

Healthy eating does require a level of discipline and it all pays off long term with a healthier body.  It’s a way of life, it’s you making a choice to look after yourself and valuing your health. I would suggest you make small changes to your diet which you can incorporate in your daily life rather than drastically cutting out certain foods.

Following a strict diet for a long time is too hard for most people and inevitably people fall into unhealthy eating patterns.

Set small goals which are readily achievable e.g. add vegetables to your plate, take small steps and you will reap the rewards. Watch portion sizes and eat more fruit and vegetables.

At times we reach for convenience foods because time is short. Given all the convenience foods on offer, it’s a matter of making the right choice. After all, you can put together a healthy meal such a stir fry with fresh vegetables and fish/beans in less than 15 minutes.

Or for those of you who are super organised you can batch cook at the weekend or prepare all the veg etc. If you’re really short of time, you can buy pre-prepared veg and simply add protein of your choice to make a quick meal.

And healthy eating doesn’t need to be expensive, you can bulk buy lentils, beans and rice which will give you plenty of protein, carbohydrates and add some fresh vegetables and fruit. If we really want to make a change we can and will, it’s a matter of making the choice of what’s important and whether we really value our health.

As a guideline, here is a list of main food categories and their benefits:

1. Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

Red Apples - Fresh fruit and vegetables for healthy eating

Fresh fruit and vegetables are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. Photo credit: Sydney Ray on Unsplash.

Fresh fruit and vegetables contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, nutrients and antioxidants which help reduce the risk of disease including cardiovascular disease. As fruits and vegetables are low in calories they can also help maintain and aid weight loss. Fruits rich in fibre such as raspberries, apples, bananas help maintain a healthy gut.

Our body doesn’t create vitamins, so we need to have a diet rich in vegetables to feed our body the required vitamins. Our body can store fat-soluble vitamins for future use such as Vitamin A, D and E. These can be found in carrots, dark leafy vegetables, broccoli, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, oily fish, seeds and nuts.

We also need water-soluble vitamins -Vitamin, C and Vitamin B group, these help to maintain healthy skin, healthy immune system. These can be found in citrus fruits, berries, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes and peas. Vitamin b12 is also important as it helps prevent anaemia and can be boosted by adding beef, chicken and fish.

2. Carbohydrates

Bowl of grains and vegetables - Carbohydrates and grains for healthy eating

Carbohydrates can get a bad name, yet the right type are sources of healthy energy. Photo credit: Charles Koh on Unsplash

Carbohydrates have become a little controversial as some consider them to be unhealthy. This is due to the carbohydrates in refined grains which raises blood sugar levels and drops soon after which makes us hungry again. Refined grains include pasta, white bread and rice.

Overall whole grains are better for you than refined Grains help to prevent chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Refined grains have had all their nutrients removed so you are basically eating empty calories and when we eat them our body wants more.

Furthermore, research has shown grains may help with improved gut health2 and oats have been shown to help lower cholesterol3.

Don’t leave out the carbs entirely. Carbohydrates are required by the body to produce energy so it’s important to include them in your diet. Good sources of carbohydrates include all vegetables and whole grains such as quinoa, oats, brown rice, nuts and seeds.

3. Protein

Eggs - Protein for healthy eating

Eggs are an excellent source of protein which helps to keep us fuller for longer. Photo credit: Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

Our body uses protein to build and repair tissues. Many of you will have heard about the wonders of protein in keeping us fuller for longer. And most of us know which foods provide us with proteins – chicken, fish and eggs.

So how about the vegetarians/vegans amongst us – Seitan made from wheat gluten is a current favourite. Old favourites such as lentils, beans, quinoa, tofu and tempeh are also a good source of protein.

If you do eat dairy then Greek yoghurt is a very good option.

4. Dairy

Milk Dairy for healthy eating

Milk and other dairy products are shown to support healthy bones and teeth. Photo credit: Carissa Gan on Unsplash.

Now it can be argued dairy isn’t necessary for us as adults.  After all Chinese and Japanese tend not to have dairy products in their diet and Japanese currently have a healthy ageing population. But research does suggest it is important to have milk in our diet as a child4As a child milk is needed for healthy bones and teeth5.

Conclusion

I personally no longer pay attention to the latest fads or read yet another study which tells me red wine is bad, and the following month a glass of red wine is good etc. My suggestion is to follow a diet which contains as much fresh food as possible and avoid processed foods.  If you’re shopping for ingredients and you come across packets of foods with names you don’t recognise and can’t pronounce, I suggest you leave them well alone.

You only have one body so give it the nutrients it requires to keep it going for longer.

1Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet Supplemented with Extra-Virgin Olive Oil or Nuts. Estruch, Ros, Salas-Salvadó, Covas, Corella, Arós, Gómez-Gracia et al. New England Journal of Medicine. 21st June 2018.
2Substituting whole grains for refined grains in a 6-wk randomized trial has a modest effect on gut microbiota and immune and inflammatory markers of healthy adults. Vanegas, Meydani, Barnett, Goldin, et al. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. March 2017.
3Eating oats can lower cholesterol as measured by a variety of markers, review suggests. Science Daily. Sy Michael's Hospital. 7th October 2016.
4Association between noncow milk beverage consumption and childhood height. Marie-Elssa Morency, Catherine S Birken, Gerald Lebovic, Yang Chen, Mary L’Abbé, Grace J Lee, Jonathon L Maguire. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 106, Issue 2, August 2017, Pages 597–602, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.117.156877
5Ethnic Differences in Bone Health. Ayse Zengin, Ann Prentice and Kate Anna Ward. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2015; 6: 24. Published online 2015 Mar 17. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2015.00024
Born with a passion for natural health care, Renée Mann is an ambassador for Ayurveda. Drawing on her experience in business Renée's perspective is to look at a person's environment to determine how it impacts on health and wellbeing. Renée firmly believes food is medicine and we can all lead healthy lives by making some simple […]
Main Photo @fancycrave on Unsplash
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