Even if you are a healthy weight, it’s still important to have a healthy diet. A bad diet will catch up with you eventually. Apart from weight control, the benefits of a healthy diet include better short-term and long-term health, healthier skin and hair, more energy and stronger bones.
As far as weight control and weight loss are concerned, most people who eat a balanced, healthy diet aren’t overweight. Diets that are full of highly processed carbohydrates (including sugar) and low in fibre lead to rapid weight gain. Carb-free diets are often more successful for weight control, but nutritionists advise against them. They can cause a range of unpleasant side effects and are thought to be bad for long term health. Crash and fad dieting sometimes leads to short-term weight loss, but isn’t usually successful in the long term. This is because when people end the diet they go back to their old eating habits and put the weight back on. Making permanent healthy changes is the only long-term solution to being a healthy weight.
The basic guidelines on a healthy diet
The advice from all the World Health Organisation is that diets should be made up approximately as follows:
The largest proportion of our calories should come from complex carbohydrates. This food group includes bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, couscous, porridge oats and any other grain based foods.
We need Protein for building new cells. Requirement depends on body weight, but as a rough guide, someone with normal levels of body fat who weighs 60kg would need about 45g of protein a day. Protein sources include:
- Meat and fish
- Dairy products
- Beans and pulses
Fat contains over double the calories per gram that protein and carbs contain, so we need to limit our intake. Extensive research shows saturated fat to be damaging to the circulatory system so intake of this should be as low as possible. Most of the saturated fat in our diets comes from meat and dairy products. The recommendation is that around 30% of our calories should come from fat, but that only 10% of these should be from saturated fats. For the average woman, this would be around 70-80g total fat intake per day, with a maximum of around 25g of saturated fat. Sources of unsaturated fat include nuts, seeds and oils.
This group includes fruit sugar, milk sugar (lactose) and all processed sugar. They are called simple sugars because they have a very short molecular chain. This means that they are broken down and digested quickly, causing blood sugar to rise. The body’s response is to produce insulin and store any sugar that isn’t needed as fat. We therefore need to also keep our intake of simple sugars low. Only about 10% of our calories should come from simple sugars.
Fruit and vegetables
The recommendation is that we eat at least 5 x 80g portions per day of a variety of fruit and vegetables. These can be fresh, frozen or canned. Dried fruits count too – the portion size for these would be 30g. A glass of juice can count as one portion a day. Beans and pulses can also be one of your portions. However, they are not as good a source of nutrients as fruit and vegetables, so should only count as one of your portions even if you have more than one serving.
Healthy diet shopping list
This list is designed as a prompt to add in more healthy foods to your grocery shop.
Fruit and vegetables
We should eat plenty of fresh fruit and veg, but it’s also helpful to have a store of frozen, canned and dried versions. Frozen vegetables are ready prepared so are useful for making a meal quickly. Canned and dried keep for months in the store cupboard so are good as back up. Canned tomato products are a good source of nutrients and useful for quick and easy meal preparation. Dried fruits are good for snacks and for adding to breakfast cereals.
Beans and pulses
There are a wide variety of these available. They’re a good source of fibre, protein and iron.
Drinks are often a source of sugar that people don’t even think about. Tea and coffee with added sugar, squash, fizzy drinks and hot chocolate should all be avoided or kept to a minimum. We should drink plenty of water (ideally not bottled, because of the problem with plastic waste). Juice in moderation is good, but it’s also a source of natural fruit sugar so large quantities aren’t advisable. Tea and coffee without added sugar are OK in moderation. Green tea and fruit or herbal teas are a healthy option.
As mentioned above, we should be eating plenty of carbs. Wholegrain carbs are much better for health than white. White versions of wheat and rice are made by removing the outer part of the grain. This part contains a lot of the fibre and nutrients, meaning that the white versions have less nutritional value. Try to eat more brown bread, rice, pasta, couscous etc.
Nuts, seeds and oils
While we need to be careful of eating too much fat, it is an essential part of our diet. As much of our fat intake as possible should be from unsaturated sources. Unsaturated fat helps to keep cholesterol low, while saturated fat raises it. Nuts and seeds have lots of valuable nutrients and fibre, as well as being sources of unsaturated fat. Oils don’t have fibre, but do have some nutrients and are a better choice than animal fats for cooking.
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