“Healthy eating” might mean different things to different people. Everyone appears to have an opinion on the healthiest way to eat, including healthcare professionals, wellness influencers, coworkers, and family members.
Furthermore, nutrition articles you read online can be plain perplexing with their inconsistent — and frequently baseless — ideas and rules.
This makes it difficult to just eat in a healthy way that works for you.
The truth is that eating healthily does not have to be difficult. It is totally possible to nourish your body while also enjoying your favourite foods.
After all, food should be enjoyed rather than dreaded, tallied, weighed, and tracked.
This article cuts through the clutter to clarify what healthy eating entails and how you can make it work for you.
Why does eating healthy matter?
Before we get into what healthy eating entails, it’s critical to understand why it matters.
First and foremost, food is what fuels you and provides your body with the calories and nutrients it requires to function. Your health may suffer if your diet lacks calories or one or more nutrients.
Similarly, if you consume too many calories, you may gain weight. Obese people are at a far higher risk of developing diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, and heart, liver, and kidney problems.
Furthermore, the quality of your food influences illness risk, longevity, and mental wellness.
While diets high in ultra-processed foods have been connected to increased mortality and a higher risk of diseases such as cancer and heart disease, diets high in whole, nutrient-dense foods have been linked to increased longevity and disease prevention.
Diets high in processed foods may also raise the likelihood of depressive symptoms, especially in persons who exercise less.
Furthermore, if your current diet is high in ultra-processed foods and beverages such as fast food, soda, and sugary cereals but low in complete foods such as veggies, nuts, and fish, you’re likely not getting enough of certain nutrients, which could harm your general health.
Summary Fueling your body, gaining required nutrients, lowering your illness risk, extending your longevity, and fostering optimal mental and physical well-being are all reasons why healthy eating is crucial.
Do you have to follow a certain diet to eat healthy?
Although some people need — or prefer — to avoid certain foods or follow diets for health reasons, the majority of people do not need to follow any specific diet to feel their best.
That’s not to suggest that certain dietary habits can’t be beneficial.
Some people feel the healthiest when they follow a low carb diet, while others thrive on high carb diets.
In general, eating healthy has little to do with following diets or specific dietary requirements. “Healthy eating” simply means putting your health first by feeding your body nourishing foods.
The specifics will vary depending on your location, financial circumstances, culture and society, and taste preferences.
Summary No specific diet is necessary for healthy eating. Rather, it means prioritising your health by fuelling your body with nutrient-rich foods.
The basics of healthy eating
Now that you understand why eating healthily is vital, let’s go over some nutrition fundamentals.
When you think of healthy eating, the first thing that comes to mind is probably calories. Although calories are vital, nutrition should be your primary focus.
This is because your body requires nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, and minerals to survive. The term “nutrient density” refers to the amount of nutrients in a food in relation to the number of calories it contains.
Calories are present in all foods, however not all foods are nutrient-dense.
A candy bar or a box of mac and cheese, for example, may be heavy in calories but low in vitamins, minerals, protein, and fibre. Foods labelled as “diet-friendly” or “low calorie” may be low in calories but high in nutrients.
Egg whites, for example, have far fewer calories and fat than entire eggs. An egg white, on the other hand, has 1% or less of the Daily Value (DV) for iron, phosphorus, zinc, choline, and vitamins A and B12, whereas a whole egg contains 5-21% of the DV for these nutrients.
This is due to the healthy, high fat yolk found in eggs.
Furthermore, while some nutrient-dense foods, such as many fruits and vegetables, are low in calories, many others, such as nuts, full fat yoghurt, egg yolks, avocado, and fatty fish, are high in calories. That is completely OK!
Just because a food contains a lot of calories doesn’t mean it’s harmful for you. Similarly, simply because a food is low in calories does not make it a healthy option.
If you focus your meal selections exclusively on calories, you’re missing the goal of healthy eating.
As a general guideline, eat foods high in nutrients such as protein, fibre, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Among these foods are vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, fatty fish, and eggs.
Dietary diversity, or eating a range of foods, is another component of good eating.
Following a varied diet helps to sustain your gut bacteria, promotes a healthy body weight, and protects against chronic disease.
Still, if you’re a fussy eater, consuming a range of meals may be challenging.
If this is the case, introduce new meals gradually. If you don’t eat many veggies, start by incorporating a favourite vegetable into one or two meals per day and work your way up.
Although you may dislike sampling new foods, research suggests that the more you are exposed to a food, the more likely you are to become accustomed to it.
Macronutrients are carbohydrates, fat, and protein, which are the primary nutrients obtained from diet. (Fiber is classified as a carbohydrate.)
In general, your meals and snacks should be evenly distributed among the three. Adding protein and fat to fiber-rich food sources, in instance, makes recipes more full and appetising.
For example, if you’re snacking on fruit, adding a spoonful of nut butter or a bit of cheese keeps you satiated longer than eating the fruit alone.
It is, nevertheless, acceptable if your diet is not always balanced.
Counting macronutrients and sticking to a strict macronutrient diet isn’t necessary for most people, with the exception of athletes, persons looking to achieve a specific body composition, and those who need to build muscle or fat for medical reasons.
Furthermore, tracking macros and stressing over staying within a given macro range can lead to an excessive obsession with food and calories, as well as disordered eating behaviours.
It’s worth noting that some people thrive on diets low in carbs and rich in fat and protein — or low in fat and high in carbs. Even on these diets, however, macronutrient counting is usually unnecessary.
For example, if you feel best on a low carb diet, then eating more low carb items like nonstarchy veggies, proteins, and fats rather than high carb foods would usually enough.
Highly processed foods
Cutting back on ultra-processed meals is one of the best strategies to enhance your diet.
You don’t have to fully avoid processed foods. In truth, many healthful foods, such as shelled almonds, canned beans, and frozen fruits and vegetables, have been processed in some way.
In contrast, highly processed foods and beverages such as soda, mass-produced baked goods, candy, sugary cereals, and certain boxed snack foods contain few, if any, whole food ingredients.
High fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and artificial sweeteners are common constituents in these products.
Diets heavy in ultra-processed foods have been linked to an increased risk of depression, heart disease, obesity, and a variety of other issues, according to research.
other hand, have the opposite impact, protecting against disease, extending longevity, and improving general physical and mental well-being (5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
As a result, it is advisable to prioritise nutrient-dense diets, particularly vegetables and fruits.
Summary Include a wide variety of nutrient-dense, whole foods in your diet, while avoiding overly processed meals.
Should you cut back on certain foods and beverages for optimal health?
Certain foods should be avoided in a healthy diet.
Decades of scientific studies have linked ultra-processed meals to poor health outcomes such as increased illness risk and premature death.
Reduce your use of drink, processed meats, sweets, ice cream, fried meals, fast food, and highly processed, packaged snacks to enhance your health and lessen your risk of certain diseases.
You do not, however, have to fully avoid these items all of the time.
Instead, strive to prioritise whole, nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and seafood, reserving highly processed foods and beverages for occasional indulgences.
Ice cream and sweets can be part of a healthy, well-rounded diet, but they should not account for a large portion of your calorie intake.
How to make healthy eating work for you
Food is one of many puzzle pieces that make up your daily existence. Between commuting, working, family or social obligations, errands, and the many other everyday factors, food may be the last thing on your mind.
The first step toward a healthier diet is to prioritise food.
This does not imply that you must spend hours meal preparation or cooking complicated meals, but it does necessitate some thinking and work, especially if you lead a hectic schedule.
Going to the grocery shop once or twice a week, for example, will assist ensure that you have healthy options in your fridge and pantry. As a result, having a well-stocked kitchen makes it much easier to choose nutritious meals and snacks.
Fill up on the following items when you go food shopping:
- fruits and vegetables, both fresh and frozen
- sources of protein such as chicken, eggs, fish, and tofu
- Canned beans and whole grains are good sources of bulk carbs.
- White potatoes, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash are examples of starchy vegetables.
- Avocados, olive oil, and full-fat yoghurt are good sources of fat.
- Nuts, seeds, nut butter, hummus, olives, and dried fruit are all nutritious and simple snack ingredients.
When it comes to lunchtime, keep it simple and think in threes:
- Protein: eggs, chicken, fish, or a plant-based option like tofu
- Fat sources include olive oil, nuts, seeds, nut butter, avocado, cheese, and full-fat yoghurt.
- Carbohydrates high in fibre include starchy alternatives like sweet potatoes, oats, certain fruits, and beans, as well as low carb fibre sources like asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and berries.
Breakfast could consist of a spinach and egg scramble with avocado and berries, lunch could consist of a sweet potato packed with veggies, beans, and shredded chicken, and dinner could consist of a salmon fillet or baked tofu with sautéed broccoli and brown rice.
Focus on a single meal if you’re not used to cooking or grocery shopping. Shop for supplies for a few of breakfast or dinner dishes for the week at the grocery store. Once that becomes a habit, add more meals until you are preparing the majority of your meals at home.
Developing a healthy relationship with food may take time
You are not alone if you do not have a positive relationship with eating.
Many people suffer from disturbed eating habits or eating disorders. If you suspect you have one of these illnesses, you must seek medical attention immediately.
You must have the necessary tools to build a healthy relationship with food.
Working with a healthcare team that includes a registered dietitian and a psychotherapist who specialises in eating disorders is the best way to begin repairing your connection with food.
Food restrictions, fad diets, and self-imposed concepts such as “getting back on track” will not assist and may be dangerous. It may take time to work on your relationship with food, but it is vital for your physical and mental health.
Tips for healthy eating in the real world
Here are some practical recommendations to help you get started with healthy eating:
Make plant-based foods a priority: Plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts should comprise the majority of your diet. Try including these meals, particularly vegetables and fruits, at every meal and snack.
Prepare meals at home: Cooking at home allows you to diversify your diet. If you’re used to ordering takeout or eating out, start with preparing just one or two meals per week.
Shop groceries on a regular basis: If you have nutritious goods in your kitchen, you’re more inclined to prepare healthy meals and snacks. To have nutritious products on hand, make one or two supermarket runs every week.
Understand that no diet is perfect, including yours: Progress, not perfection, is essential. Meet yourself exactly where you are. Cooking one homemade, veggie-packed dinner each week is considerable progress if you currently dine out every night.
“Cheat days” are not allowed: If your current diet includes “cheat days” or “cheat meals,” this indicates an unbalanced diet. There’s no need to cheat if you realise that all meals may be part of a balanced diet.
Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages: Limit your intake of sugary beverages such as soda, energy drinks, and sweetened coffees as much as possible. Consuming sugary beverages on a regular basis may be harmful to your health.
Choose foods that are filling: When you’re hungry, your goal should be to eat full, nutritious items rather than to consume the fewest calories possible. Choose protein- and fiber-rich meals and snacks that will keep you full.
Eat whole foods: A healthy diet should consist mostly of whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and protein sources such as eggs and fish.
Hydrate intelligently: Staying hydrated is an important element of good nutrition, and water is the greatest method to do so. If you’re not used to drinking water, invest in a reusable water bottle and flavour it with fruit slices or a squeeze of lemon.
Honor your dislikes: Don’t eat something if you’ve tried it multiple times and don’t like it. Instead, there are plenty healthful foods to pick from. Don’t force yourself to consume something simply because it’s healthy.
These suggestions can assist you in making the transition to a healthy diet.
You can also consult with a trained dietitian if you’re unsure how to begin modifying your diet. A dietician can assist you in developing a long-term, balanced eating plan that fits your needs and schedule.
Summary: Cooking at home, grocery shopping, eating a variety of plant foods, selecting satisfying meals and snacks, and respecting your preferences can all help you establish and maintain a healthy eating routine.