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Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Our Essential Guide To Healthy Eating

Every day we are told to eat more healthily and take greater responsibility for our health. So what does this mean? What is a healthy diet? What should you buy and eat to ensure that you are following a healthy eating regime.

The concept of healthy eating is not new, but what constitutes a healthy diet does change. 50 years ago a healthy diet would have looked rather different to that of one today. This simple yet effective approach diet is the cornerstone of our personalized weight loss plan.
Optimum Diet and Health
Much of the current research into nutrition is concerned with determining the optimum diet for health. It is known that many foods help to combat diseases, and likewise, others cause disease.
In an ideal world everyone will know what to eat to ensure that they achieve optimum health, even if the food is not always available. It is important to mention first that there are not really any “bad” foods. A bad diet is not one that includes a few “unhealthy” foods, but a diet that is unbalanced. Sugar, fat and salt are all essential in a healthy diet, but consuming too much is what causes problems. You may also be interested in our advice on following a flat belly diet.


How Much Should You Eat – Calories

Firstly, for a diet to be healthy it must provide you with enough energy to meet your daily needs without causing you to gain weight (the most common problem) or to lose weight. Understanding how many calories the human body needs is the first step to achieving a healthy diet, as obesity generally leads to more serious health problems than poor diet alone. Men generally require more calories than women, and as we age our needs reduce.
The Main Features of a Healthy Diet

The simplest definition of a healthy diet is one that provides the daily energy requirements with foods that are nutritionally dense and varied. Diets that rely heavily on staple foods (bread, grains, rice, pasta, potatoes) are less healthy than diets with a great variation of fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy. This is why the “caveman diet” is so popular at the moment, as it does not allow grains which are energy dense and nutritionally poor. So, what are the nutrients that you should be packing into your diet?

There are 3 types of macro-nutrients and then the micro-nutrients and water. Macro-nutrients are: Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats. You can read more about those below. The micro-nutrients are the vitamins and minerals which are found in the macro-nutrients, plus water. An example of an energy dense food is white bread. It provides almost no micro-nutrients and is just energy (about 100 calories per slice). A nutrient rich food would be blueberries as they contain many anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals as well as fiber and sugar (fructose). This leads on to the idea that we should always focus on specific foods that boost health.

Balance Your Macronutrients and Micronutrients

The problem with giving the advice to eat certain nutritious foods is that there is a risk that some people will simply eat only the most nutritious foods and this may have some undesired consequences. A diet must include a range of different foods to make it healthy. Although blueberries are considered a superfood, a diet of only blueberries will be lacking in other areas, namely proteins and fats.
 A real life example of this is when a person starts a very strict raw vegan diet in the belief that fat and protein is unhealthy (or it is just ethically wrong to eat animal produce), but then serious health problems result due to malnutrition as they do not consume alternative sources of protein and fat.
Should You Take Vitamin and Mineral Supplements?
This is another area of confusion. As there are now so many types of vitamin and mineral supplement on the shelves in supermarkets and health shops many people assume that they are an essential part of a healthy diet. However, often they are not required at all. A common problem is that the message seems to be that you only need to consume vitamins and minerals to be healthy. This results in people lacking macro-nutrients. For example people eat cereals, bread and rice and take vitamin pills, and lack proteins and healthy fats.

In some circumstances a doctor or nurse may recommend that you take a supplement, such as extra iron or folic acid (vitamin B9) for pregnant women, but really a healthy diet provides ample nutrition. For most people, supplements are not required so long as you eat a varied and balanced diet.

What Is Healthy Eating?

OK, so clearly defining a “healthy diet” is not possible, what about healthy eating? Healthy eating can mean many different things. As a guide, these are all considered to be examples of healthy eating:
Eating on a regular basis, generally 3-6 times a day
Starting your day with breakfast
Limit junk food
Limit processed food
Eating mostly a vegetarian diet
Eat a variety of different foods
Not eating sweets or other sugary foods
Ensuring a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats
Controlling calories to avoid weight gain
Eating fresh fruits and raw or partly cooked vegetables
Limiting red meat
Avoid saturated fat
Not eating late at night
Eating a mostly low to medium GI diet
Eating at least 5 portions of fruits and vegetables each day
Limit salt
Limit alcohol
Preparing meals from fresh ingredients
Not relying on bread (or any other staple) for most energy

There are obviously many other rules that you could apply to a healthy diet. Once you factor in seasonal, regional and cultural variations this list will change. Some cultures do not consider pork to be healthy, others avoid foods out of season. Many Chinese people follow rules set out in Traditional Chinese Medicine, such as not eating cold foods during the winter.
How To Eat A Balanced Diet

A balanced diet has actually become less important over the last 50 years, at least, following a balanced diet alone is no longer a route to good health. However, a balanced natural diet is healthy. Before the growth of processed and refined foods, most sources of carbohydrates did provide all the nutritional requirements a person needed. So, following a diet that was high in carbohydrates, with some proteins and fat added, was a good way to stay healthy, as this meant that you would be eating many different vegetables and fruits.

People used to shop locally and buy locally grown produce, so throughout the year they would eat a varied diet. Processed food, mass manufacturing and refining has changed this. Nowadays following a diet that is high in carbohydrate could result in malnutrition for some people, as many people will just eat the same basic food all year round – bread, rice, pasta and fried potato. It is thought that this is one of the main reasons why so many people have become obese and develop heart disease in the last half a century.

So a balanced diet today must focus on not only macro-nutrients, but also on the types of foods eaten within those groups. For example, instead of saying that 70% of your diet should be carbohydrate, the advice today is more like:
70% carbohydrate
35% staples: wholegrains, brown rice, potato, pasta, cereals
35% fresh fruits and vegetables
20% protein and fat
10% dairy – milk, cheese, yogurt
10% eggs, poultry, red meat, fish, white fish and pulses
10% treats – cakes, cookies, soda, chocolate, high fat cheese, cooking oils

This approach is aimed at making it more obvious how you should balance your diet. This is how the UK Government’s “Eatwell Plate” came about.


The Eatwell Plate
 
Of course, the Eatwell Plate may be a healthy diet, but if you are very overweight then it may not actually help you to lose weight if you continue to consume too many calories. Many weight loss diets tackle obesity simply by eliminating everything in the yellow section of the plate, that is, all the bread, pasta, potatoes, rice and cereals. The idea is to reduce empty (nutritionally poor) carbohydrates and eat only the nutrient dense vegetables and fruits plus the healthy protein sources, which generally also provide the healthy fats.
  
Which Nutrients Are Required In A Healthy Diet?
For optimum nutrition to occur you need to first know how much of each nutrient you require, then know how to measure the amount of the nutrients in the foods that you are eating. This is really not practical for anyone other than professional dietitians and nutritionists to do. However, most people who follow a balanced diet receive adequate nutrition anyway.
But to answer the question “what is a healthy diet?” we really need to provide some guidelines on nutrition. It is impossible to provide any rules on nutrition because each person has different requirements. Age, gender, genetics and levels of activity can all affect requirements.

Macronutrients RDA/AI is shown below for males and females aged 40–50 years

Here is an example of the recommended daily allowance for various macronutrients, for men and women between 40 and 50 years of age. As you can see, just by providing this information your diet can suddenly become very complicated.
  • How do you actually use this information?
  • What proportion of each of these nutrients and vitamins do you currently consume through your diet?
  • How much do you need to get from supplements?
  • Is your diet the same every day?
  • Did you meet or exceed your daily intake for anything?
Substance – Amount (males) – Amount (females) – Source
  • Water – 3.7 L/day – 2.7 L/day
  • Carbohydrates - 130 g/day – 130 g/day – Bread, Beans, Potato, Rice
  • Protein - 56 g/day – 46 g/day – Cheese, Milk, Fish, Potato, Soya bean
  • Fiber - 38 g/day – 25 g/day – Peas, Soya bean, Wheat
  • Fat - 20–35% of calories – Oily fish, Walnut
  • Linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid (polyunsaturated) - 17 g/day – 12 g/day
  • Alpha-Linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid (polyunsaturated) - 1.6 g/day – 1.1 g/day
  • Cholesterol – As low as possible
  • Trans fatty acids – As low as possible
  • Saturated fatty acids – As low as possible
  • Added sugar – No more than 25% of calories
This information was provided by Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies in 2004. Even this can lead to some ill-informed choices. For example, the advice on cholesterol is to avoid it, but research has also suggested the dietary cholesterol is not directly linked to high cholesterol levels on the blood, and also that eggs contain healthy cholesterol which actually improve the health of the arteries. If we look at the RDAs for vitamins and mineral the list is far longer, and again, it is next to impossible to actually use this information.
References and Healthy Eating Resources

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