Every day we make choices about the food we eat. These choices affect our health and the health of our families and can make a real difference to our ability to remain healthy and active now and in the future.
We’ve already seen what are the risks of poor nutrition, so let’s talk now about what is healthy to eat and drink, what’s not, healthy eating habits for adults and some tips for healthy eating.
Consuming Healthy Food and Beverages
Diversified, balanced and healthy diet varies depending on individual characteristics (e.g. age, gender, lifestyle and degree of physical activity) and dietary habits. However, the basic principles of what constitutes a healthy diet remain the same.
Consume more nutrient-rich foods
Nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibres are necessary for our health. Here are recommendations of some foods and beverages that are rich in nutrients:
- fruits and vegetables
- whole grains, like oatmeal, whole-grain bread, and brown rice
- seafood, lean meats, poultry, and eggs
- fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products; or nondairy soy, almond, rice, or other drinks with added vitamin D and calcium
- beans, peas, unsalted nuts, and seeds
Consume less of these foods and beverages
Some foods and beverages have many calories but few of the essential nutrients your body needs. Added sugars and solid fats pack a lot of calories into food and beverages but provide a limited amount of healthy nutrients. Salt does not contain calories, but it tends to be in high-calorie foods. Adults should aim to limit foods and drinks such as
- sugar-sweetened drinks and foods
- foods with solid fats like butter, margarine, lard, and shortening
- white bread, rice, and pasta that are made from refined grains
- foods with added salt (sodium)
Easy snack ideas
Instead of sugary, fatty snacks, try:
- fat-free or low-fat milk or yoghurt
- fresh or canned fruit, without added sugars
- sliced vegetables or baby carrots with hummus
Practical Tips For Healthy Eating
The key to a healthy diet is to eat the right amount of calories for how active you are so you balance the energy you consume with the energy you use. If you eat or drink more than your body needs, you’ll put on weight because the energy you do not use is stored as fat. If you eat and drink too little, you’ll lose weight.
You should also eat a wide range of foods to make sure you’re getting a balanced diet and your body is receiving all the nutrients it needs. It’s recommended that men have around 2,500 calories a day (10,500 kilojoules). Women should have around 2,000 calories a day (8,400 kilojoules).
- Base your meals on higher fibre starchy carbohydrates
Starchy carbohydrates should make up just over a third of the food you eat. They include potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and cereals. Choose higher fibre or whole grain varieties, such as wholewheat pasta, brown rice or potatoes with their skins on. They contain more fibre than white or refined starchy carbohydrates and can help you feel full for longer. Try to include at least 1 starchy food with each main meal. Some people think starchy foods are fattening, but gram for gram the carbohydrate they contain provides fewer than half the calories of fat. Keep an eye on the fats you add when you’re cooking or serving these types of foods because that’s what increases the calorie content – for example, oil on chips, butter on bread and creamy sauces on pasta.
- Eat lots of fruit and vegetables
It’s recommended that you eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and veg every day. They can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced. It’s easier than it sounds. Why not chop a banana over your breakfast cereal, or swap your usual mid-morning snack for a piece of fresh fruit? A portion of fresh, canned or frozen fruit and vegetables is 80g. A portion of dried fruit (which should be kept to mealtimes) is 30g. A 150ml glass of fruit juice, vegetable juice or smoothie also counts as 1 portion, but limit the amount you have to no more than 1 glass a day as these drinks are sugary and can damage your teeth.
- Eat more fish, including a portion of oily fish
Fish is a good source of protein and contains many vitamins and minerals. Aim to eat at least 2 portions of fish a week, including at least 1 portion of oily fish.
Oily fish are high in omega-3 fats, which may help prevent heart disease. Oily fish include: salmon; trout; herring; sardines; pilchards; mackerel.
- Cut down on saturated fat and sugar
Try to cut down on your saturated fat intake and choose foods that contain unsaturated fats instead, such as vegetable oils and spreads, oily fish and avocados. For a healthier choice, use a small amount of vegetable or olive oil, or reduced-fat spread instead of butter, lard or ghee. When you’re having meat, choose lean cuts and cut off any visible fat. All types of fat are high in energy, so they should only be eaten in small amounts.
Regularly consuming foods and drinks high in sugar increases your risk of obesity and tooth decay. Sugary foods and drinks are often high in energy, and if consumed too often can contribute to weight gain. Free sugars are any sugars added to foods or drinks, or found naturally in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices and smoothies. This is the type of sugar you should be cutting down on, rather than the sugar found in fruit and milk.
- Eat less salt
Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure. People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke. Even if you do not add salt to your food, you may still be eating too much. About three-quarters of the salt you eat is already in the food when you buy it, such as breakfast cereals, soups, breads and sauces.
To eat healthier food, you may need to change some of your daily habits. You also may need to change some things in your environment.
You don’t need to make huge changes to eat healthier. And you don’t have to change your habits all at the same time. It’s best to set small goals and change your habits a bit at a time. Over time, small changes can make a big difference in your health.
Here are some ways to make healthy changes in your eating habits:
- Keep more fruits, low-fat dairy products (low-fat milk and low-fat yoghurt), vegetables, and whole-grain foods at home and at work.
- Try to eat a family meal every day at the kitchen or dining table. This will help you focus on eating healthy meals.
- Buy a healthy-recipe book, and cook for yourself. Chew gum when you cook so you won’t be tempted to snack on the ingredients.
- Pack a healthy lunch and snacks for work. This lets you have more control over what you eat.
- Put your snacks on a plate instead of eating from the package. This helps you control how much you eat.
- Don’t skip or delay meals, and be sure to schedule your snacks. If you ignore your feelings of hunger, you may end up eating too much or choosing an unhealthy snack.
- Eat your meals with others when you can. Relax and enjoy your meals, and don’t eat too fast. Try to make healthy eating a pleasure, not a chore.
- Drink water instead of high-sugar drinks (including high-sugar juice drinks).
I know all of this might sound like ‘too much’ but, as I’ve said already, you don’t have to make all the changes at once. Just be aware of the importance of proper nutrition for your health and be persistent.
And one more thing before I leave you – if you have some food allergies, underlying health problem(s) or disease(s) you must pay additional care to your nutrition. Besides advice, you got from your physician, it would be smart to consult a nutritionist.