The fundamentals of eating a healthy balanced diet

Protein, carbohydrates, fats and fibre

In this article we will discuss what constitutes healthy eating and how you can become a health eater too. It will endeavour to expand your range of healthy food choices and teach you how to plan ahead to create and maintain a healthy diet.

Healthy eating evokes a plethora of opinions, theories and emotions; this formed the impetus for government guidelines, books and theorists all discussing this hot topic. For this reason we will attempt to utilise what science has provided in regards to the composition of a food to form this discussion on what constitutes healthy eating.

Healthy eating doesn’t mean strict diets, staying unrealistically thin, or depriving yourself of the foods you love. Rather, it’s about having more energy, feeling great, stabilizing your mood, and keeping yourself as healthy as possible.

One of the most important aspects of healthy eating is to maintain a balanced diet. Trying to consume a variety of foods and avoid foods that contain too much added fat, salt and sugar. A balanced diet would consist of a range of the following 5 food groups.

  • Grains
  • Nuts, seeds and pulses
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Animal products

Try to consume a combination of these foods with more emphasis on vegetables (5 or more serves), nuts, seeds, pulses and grains (wholegrains). Small amounts of animal products (if desired) and around 2-3 serves of fruit daily.

Carbohydrates

Opt for healthy carbohydrates and fibre sources, especially whole grains. In addition to being delicious and satisfying, they help maintain energy levels, keep you feeling full and help maintain a healthy body.

Try to include a variety of whole grains in your healthy diet, including millet, quinoa, amaranth, barley and brown rice. Mixing grains is a great way to start, if whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat pasta don’t sound good at first, start by mixing what you normally use with the whole grains. A combination of rice and quinoa is a great way to start as they have the same cooking time and can be cooked together in one pot.

What are healthy carbs and unhealthy carbs?

Healthy carbs include whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables. Healthy carbs are digested slowly, helping you feel full longer and helping keep blood sugar and insulin levels stable.

Unhealthy carbs are foods such as white flour, refined sugar, and white rice that have been stripped of all bran, fibre, and nutrients. Unhealthy carbs digest quickly and can cause spikes in blood sugar levels and energy.

Protein

Protein in food is broken down into the 20 amino acids that are the body’s basic building blocks for growth and energy production, and essential for maintaining cells, tissues, and organs. A lack of protein in our diet can lower immunity, reduce muscle mass, slow growth, and weaken the respiratory system and heart.

There are other foods than just meat to get your daily protein, why not experiment with different types of protein, whether you’re a vegetarian or not; trying different protein sources such as peas, beans, nuts and soy products will open up new options for healthy protein rich mealtimes…without the saturated fat.

Soy products: Tofu, soy milk, tempeh, and veggie burgers for a change

Beans/pulses: Kidney beans, black beans, navy beans, chickpeas, and lentils

Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and pecans

Avoid salted or sugary nuts and refried beans.

Reducing the amount of meat you consume will help keep calories under control as meat generally contains more fat than protein. Many Westerners tend to over consume protein… breakfast bacon, lunch burger and steak dinner. Try to move away from protein being the hero of the dish and focus on equal servings of protein, whole grains, and vegetables.

Good choices of animal protein are fresh fish, eggs, skinless chicken and turkey, as a serve no bigger then the palm of your hand.

Fats

Not all fats are created equal, the common misconception is that all fats are bad but this is not the case. Healthy fats are needed to nourish your brain, heart, and cells, as well as your hair, skin, and nails.  Foods rich in certain omega-3 fats called EPA and DHA are particularly important and may help to reduce cardiovascular disease[i], improve your mood[ii], and help prevent dementia[iii].

Good fats to add to your healthy diet

Polyunsaturated fats including Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, found in fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel and chia, flaxseeds, walnuts and sacha inchi seeds.

Monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, avocados, nuts (macadamia, almonds, hazelnuts), and seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame).

Fats to limit or avoid

Saturated fats, found primarily in animal sources including red meat and dairy products.

Trans fats, found in vegetable shortenings, fried foods, baked goods, some margarines, crackers, confectionery, cookies, snack foods and other processed foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Simplify

Think of your diet in terms of freshness, variety and colour instead of being concerned with counting calories or weighing portion sizes. Focus on finding foods you enjoy and easy recipes that you can incorporate a few new healthy ingredients into to make it more nutritious. Gradually your diet will become healthier and more delicious.

Make healthy eating a lifestyle habit not a diet. Start slow and make changes over time, trying to make your diet healthy overnight isn’t realistic. Changing everything all at once usually leads to giving up or cheating on your new eating plan. Make small steps, like adding a colourful salad to your diet once a day or switching from butter or vegetable oil to olive oil or coconut oil when cooking.  As your small changes become habit, you can continue to add more healthy choices to your diet.

References



[i] Simopoulos A.P (2008) The Importance of the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio in Cardiovascular Disease and Other Chronic Diseases. Exp Biol Med; 233 (6): 674-688.

[ii] Parker G, Gibson N.A, et al (2006) Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Mood Disorders. Am J Psychiatry;163:969-978.

[iii] Cole G.M, Qiu-Lan Ma Q-L & Frautschy S.A (2009) Omega-3 fatty acids and dementia. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids; 81(2): 213-221.

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