Do you really eat a healthy diet? While you might think you do because you try to reach for fresh fruits instead of snacks or you add some veggies to your daily dinners, you might not be getting enough nutrients.
What is healthy food? We can define healthy foods as those that contain nutrients to help you maintain energy and your body’s well-being. So, water, fat, protein, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins are healthy nutrients you want to consume in a balanced diet.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about a healthy diet. We’ll provide you with tips on macronutrients and other nutrients you need, as well as how to start a healthy diet without setting yourself up to fail.
Why Are Healthy Eating Habits Important?
A healthy eating plan is important to follow for several reasons. These include the following:
- It prevents chronic diseases. Health conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes can be prevented and better managed by eating healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, instead of refined, processed, or packaged foods that are filled with lots of sugar, sodium, and chemicals.
- It gives you the energy you need. You don’t want to move through life feeling sluggish, so you need to eat foods that are filled with nutrients to boost your energy and maintain a healthy blood sugar level. If you consume unhealthy high glycemic index foods, such as refined carbs, these can also trigger bad moods and depression.
- It prevents inflammation. When you don’t eat enough fiber and instead consume lots of sugar and fat in your diet, this changes your gut microbiome which increases inflammation. By comparison, a diet that’s rich in legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables gives you probiotics to ensure good bacteria flourishes in your colon.
- It helps you maintain your memory and brain function. Eating nutrients such as antioxidants (found in fruits and vegetables), vitamin C, D, and E foods, and omega-3 fatty acids protect against cognitive decline.
- It helps you to maintain a healthy weight or lose weight. Eating healthy foods that are rich in fiber can help you to feel fuller for longer after meals, which prevents you from reaching for unhealthy snacks throughout the day. This can contribute to weight loss. It also prevents you from becoming overweight or obese, both of which are risk factors for various health conditions, such as some cancers, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and poor bone density.
What Macronutrients Do You Need?
Macronutrients are an important part of healthy eating and you need to consider them when compiling a healthy diet. Macronutrients refer to the nutrients you need to include in your diet in large amounts in order to ensure your body gets enough of them.
There are three macronutrients: fats, carbohydrates, and protein, and they all have important benefits for your health.
- Fats: There are healthy unsaturated fats that protect your body against conditions such as heart disease. Unsaturated fats also boost your brain and eye health. You can find them in foods such as olive oil and nuts. Saturated fats, on the other hand, maintain hormone function and cell membrane health – but they should be eaten in small amounts. Examples of saturated fats include cheese and bacon.
- Carbohydrates: These macronutrients give you quick energy. You want to choose complex carbs that are slow to digest, have a low glycemic index to maintain your blood sugar, and are high in fiber. Examples include fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
- Proteins: You can find protein in a variety of sources, such as yogurt, lean red meat, eggs, legumes, and beans. Protein is important for the body because it maintains your energy while also building and repairing muscles. To ensure you’re getting healthy proteins, you want to avoid meats that contain a high amount of saturated fat, such as beef.
How To Get The Right Amounts Of Macronutrients In Your Diet
You need to ensure you get the right amounts of macronutrients in your diet. You should aim to get between 45 and 65 percent of carbs, 10-35 percent of protein, and 20-35 percent of fat every day.
You should reduce these quantities if you’re trying to lose weight. So, aim for 10-30 percent of carbs, 40-50 percent of protein, and 30-40 percent of fat to encourage weight loss.
What Are Micronutrients?
Micronutrients are a major group of nutrients that your body requires, such as minerals and vitamins. Minerals play important roles in bone health, growth, and other bodily processes.
By comparison, vitamins are essential for immune function, blood clotting, and energy production.
The reason why they’re called micronutrients is that you require a smaller amount of them relative to macronutrients.
There are four categories of vitamins and minerals your body requires:
- Water-soluble vitamins
- Fat-soluble vitamins
- Trace minerals
Let’s explore these in greater detail.
These vitamins dissolve in water. They get flushed with urine when you consume too much of them.
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine) – it converts nutrients into energy. Foods containing Vitamin B1 include meat, fish, and whole grains.
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) – this vitamin plays a role in energy production, fat metabolism, and cell function. Foods include milk and eggs.
- Vitamin B3 (niacin) – this encourages energy to be produced from food. You can find this vitamin in beans, leafy greens, and salmon.
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) – this achieves fatty acid synthesis, and can be found in tuna, avocado, and mushrooms.
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) – this assists your body to release sugar from stored carbs for energy and to produce red blood cells. Vitamin B6-enriched foods include fish, potatoes, milk, and carrots.
- Vitamin B7 (biotin) – this contributes to fatty-acid metabolism, glucose, and amino acids. You can find it in almonds, sweet potatoes, and eggs.
- Vitamin B9 (folate) – this is involved in cell division and can be found in beef, spinach, liver, and black-eyed peas.
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) – this forms red blood cells and is important for brain function and nervous system function. Vitamin B12 foods include fish and meat.
- Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) – this produces collagen and neurotransmitters. You can find Vitamin C in foods like bell peppers and citrus fruits.
These vitamins are not produced by the body, so you have to ensure you get them from food.
These vitamins don’t dissolve in water, so they need to be absorbed with fat. When you consume these fat-soluble vitamins, they are stored in the liver and fatty tissues.
These vitamins include the following:
- Vitamin A – this helps you to maintain healthy organs. You can find Vitamin A in foods like sweet potatoes, spinach, and dairy.
- Vitamin D – this maintains your immune function health and helps your body to absorb calcium. It can be found in fish oil and milk, but you need to get Vitamin D from sunlight.
- Vitamin E – this assists in immune function and is also an antioxidant that fights cell damage. Vitamin E foods include almonds and sunflower seeds.
- Vitamin K – This develops the bones and is essential for blood clotting. It’s found in foods such as soybeans, pumpkin, and leafy greens.
These types of minerals need to be consumed in larger quantities than trace minerals. Here’s a list of the macrominerals you need:
- Calcium. This keeps your teeth and bones healthy, while it also helps your blood vessels contract. Foods containing calcium include leafy green veggies and dairy.
- Phosphorous. This is part of cell membrane and bone structure. You can find this mineral in yogurt and salmon.
- Magnesium. This helps enzyme reactions, such as blood pressure regulation. Eat black beans, almonds, and cashews to get enough magnesium in your diet.
- Sodium. This helps to maintain blood pressure and assists in fluid balance. Canned soup and salt provide sodium, but you have to ensure you eat less than 2,300mg per day to prevent high blood pressure.
- Potassium. This maintains the cells’ fluid status and helps with muscle function and nerve health. Bananas and lentils are examples of potassium-rich foods.
- Chloride. This maintains the body’s fluid balance and produces digestive juices. You can find chloride in foods like celery and seaweed.
- Sulfur. This is found in amino acids cysteine and methionine, and is part of every tissue. Sulfur foods include eggs, garlic, and onions.
As their name suggests, these are required in smaller amounts than macrominerals. Here are the important trace minerals you need.
- Iron. This oxygenates the muscles and is involved in hormone production. Iron-rich foods include spinach and oysters.
- Manganese. This plays a role in various functions, such as carb, amino acid, and cholesterol metabolism. This mineral is found in pecans and pineapples.
- Copper. This maintains the health of your brain and nervous system. You can find copper in foods like cashews and liver.
- Zinc. It’s linked to tasks such as wound healing, while it assists in immune function. You can find zinc in foods such as chickpeas and oysters.
- Iodine. This helps you to regulate your thyroid. Seaweed and cod are good sources of iodine.
- Fluoride. You need fluoride to develop teeth and bones. Fluoride is found in crab, water, and fruit juice.
- Selenium. This mineral fights oxidative damage and maintains the health of your thyroid gland. It’s also good for reproduction. Selenium foods include sardines and Brazil nuts.
What Are Some Of The Healthiest Diets?
In order to get a variety of healthy micronutrients, macronutrients, minerals, and vitamins, you have to ensure you follow a healthy, balanced diet. But which one? Here’s a rundown of some of the best diets.
The Mediterranean diet is considered to be one of the healthiest eating plans because it prioritizes foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, extra-virgin olive oil, and legumes.
While you can eat some poultry and fish, the diet restricts salt, sugar, and meat. Therefore, you’ll enjoy delicious and healthy plant-based foods and avoid packaged, processed foods as much as possible.
As its name suggests, this diet is followed by people living on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Traditionally, this diet is focused on being full of nutrients but low in calories.
Fruits and vegetables are prioritized, while foods such as lean meat and seafood are enjoyed in moderate amounts. Animal products, processed meat products, and processed foods are avoided.
The DASH – Dietary Approaches To Stop Hypertension – diet helps you to prevent high blood pressure. It includes foods such as fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and lean protein. These help to lower your blood pressure because they contain protein, fiber, calcium, and potassium.
When following this diet, you have to ensure you reduce or eliminate saturated fats, such as full-fat dairy foods and fatty meats, as well as high-sugar sweets and beverages.
What further makes this diet healthy is that it lowers your sodium intake to less than 2,300mg per day, and after a while you’ll have to decrease it to around 1,500mg or lower.
This type of diet is actually very similar to the Mediterranean diet because it’s focused on whole foods. These are plant-based foods that offer a rich source of protein while being filled with healthy complex carbs and healthy fats.
However, how this diet differs from the Mediterranean diet is that it doesn’t rely on olive oil. It uses canola oil, which has less saturated fat and can be cooked at higher temperatures.
That said, it’s important to note that in the U.S. most types of canola oil lack antioxidants as they’re processed, which is why olive oil is usually the healthier choice.
This is a diet that’s focused on helping you to eat foods that will slow down or prevent mental decline. Interestingly, this type of diet combines the DASH and Mediterranean diets but focuses on foods that specifically boost mental health. MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.
On this diet, you will eat a minimum of three servings of whole grains, a salad, and another vegetable every day, as well as a glass of wine. You should snack on nuts on most days, and then every second day you should consume half a cup of beans.
Twice weekly you can add poultry and a half-cup serving of berries. Fish is enjoyed at least once a week, with olive oil is the main healthy oil to consume.
What Foods Should You Avoid On A Healthy Diet?
When following a healthy diet, make sure you don’t fall into the trap of adding unhealthy foods to it which can derail your efforts. Here are some of the most common unhealthy foods to avoid, and why.
- Processed foods: These foods usually contain unhealthy amounts of sugar, fat, and salt. While these ingredients help to make the food taste good, they can cause health conditions such as heart disease. When foods contain too much salt, this puts you at risk of high blood pressure, which in turn is linked to health conditions such as heart disease and stroke.
- High-glycemic foods: These foods are digested very quickly. They give you a rush of energy, but cause your blood sugar to spike. Over time, this can put you at risk of type 2 diabetes. Foods that are high glycemic include cakes, cookies, white rice, and white bread.
- Saturated and trans fats: These are both the bad types of fat that you want to reduce in your diet. Saturated fats, which are found in foods such as butter, cakes, cheese, and cured meats, increase your LDL or bad cholesterol levels. This can result in health conditions such as heart disease and stroke. Trans fats are also bad for you. They can be found in a variety of foods, such as fried and baked goods, and they not only raise your bad cholesterol but lower your good cholesterol, which increases your risk of heart disease.
- Foods containing added sugars: Whether you’re consuming a lot of brown sugar, white sugar, corn sugar, honey, or high-fructose corn syrup, the problem with sugar is that it lacks nutrients. It’s a pure carb that makes your blood sugar spike.
Tips For Starting A Healthy Diet
It can be scary to start a healthy eating plan if you’ve been relying on unhealthy foods. Here are some tips to help you get started.
- Make small changes. One of the reasons why a healthy diet can fail is if you jump in and make tons of food changes at once. This can make it more difficult to stick with the new eating plan.
- Replace high-sugar snacks. Start by replacing unhealthy sugar. When you get a sugar craving and want to reach for an unhealthy sugary beverage or cookies, replace these snacks with whole foods or sweet fruits that will nip your cravings in the bud.
- Stock up on healthy foods. When you have these in your desk drawer at work or in your kitchen cabinets at home, it makes it easier to eat them instead of unhealthy foods.
- Prepare your meals ahead of time. You should try to cook food in advance so you won’t be tempted to order fast food at the last minute when you’re too tired to cook at the end of a busy day.
- Shop at the outer areas of grocery stores. This is a clever trick that can prevent you from reaching for unhealthy foods when grocery shopping. It basically means that you shop at the outer perimeter of the store as this is where healthy foods such as lean meats, eggs, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, tend to be stored.
- Replace fatty meat with fish. You should be eating fatty fish like salmon twice a week to improve your health. This fish is packed with omega-3 fatty acids that are good for your heart. Replace beef, bacon and other high-fat meats with fish.
- Choose healthier versions of your favorite foods. Love fried chips? Try making baked potatoes instead. Enjoy white-bread sandwiches or white-rice meals? Replace the white bread and rice with brown varieties that contain more nutrients. You can also try eliminating a lot of the oil by cooking with an air fryer.
- Turn your green veggies into a starter. It’s not always easy to get enough vegetables at mealtimes if you’re enjoying other foods that are on your plate. A good tip to ensure you eat your greens is to eat them as a starter.
Are diet foods healthy?
You should avoid purchasing diet foods. While these have reduced fat, they usually contain other unhealthy ingredients to make up for their loss of texture and flavor, such as sugar.
Is dried fruit healthy?
While it might seem healthy, it’s important to note that dried fruit usually contains a higher amount of calories and sugar in them than fresh fruit. You should therefore reach for fresh fruits instead.
It might feel overwhelming to eliminate your unhealthy food habits and start eating a balanced diet, but it’s certainly possible. Knowing how this diet can benefit you is an excellent motivating factor.
In this article, we’ve given you the information you need to know about the foods to include in your diet and those to remove from your kitchen, and we’ve also given you tips on how to make the transition into a healthier diet smoother one.