January 24, 2021
Why Eat Healthy?
A good diet can improve all aspects of life, from brain function to physical performance. In fact, food affects all your cells and organs. If you participate in exercise or sports, there is no doubt that a healthy diet will help you perform better.
Additionally, research continues to link serious diseases to a poor diet. For example, eating healthy can drastically reduce your chances of developing heart disease and cancer, which is the world’s leading killers.
Calories and Energy Balance Explained
Calories and energy balance are important regardless of the composition of your diet although in recent years, the importance of calories has been pushed aside.
While calorie counting isn’t always necessary, total calorie intake does play a key role in weight control and health. If you put in more calories than you burn, you will store them as new muscle or body fat. If you consume fewer calories than you burn every day, you will lose weight.
It comes down to simple math; If you want to lose weight, you must create some form of calorie deficit.
In contrast, if you are trying to gain weight and increase muscle mass, then you need to eat more than your body burns.
Calories are the energy fuelling our bodies and we need them everyday to function properly. We can choose what type of food and beverages we eat and drink, and therefore we are in control of our calorie-intake.
Macronutrients are the three main nutrients needed in large amounts: carbohydrates (carbs), fats and protein. They provide calories and have various functions in your body. How much of each macronutrient you should consume depends on your lifestyle and goals, as well as your personal preferences.
Here are some common foods within each macronutrient group:
- Carbs: 4 calories per gram. All starchy foods like bread, pasta and potatoes. Also includes fruit, legumes, juice, sugar and some dairy products.
- Protein: 4 calories per gram. Main sources include meat and fish, dairy, eggs, legumes and vegetarian alternatives like tofu.
- Fats: 9 calories per gram. Main sources include nuts, seeds, oils, butter, cheese, oily fish and fatty meat.
Micronutrients are important vitamins and minerals that you require in smaller doses and plays key roles in your cells and organs. The daily requirement of each micronutrient varies between individuals. If you eat a real food-based diet that includes plants and animals, then you should get all the micronutrients your body needs without taking a supplement.
Some of the most common micronutrients you should know include:
- Magnesium: Plays a role in over 600 cellular processes, including energy production, nervous system function and muscle contraction.
- Potassium: This mineral is important for blood pressure control, fluid balance and the function of your muscles and nerves.
- Iron: Primarily known for carrying oxygen in the blood, iron also has many other benefits, including improved immune and brain function.
- Calcium: An important structural component of bones and teeth, and also a key mineral for your heart, muscles and nervous system.
- All vitamins: The vitamins, from vitamin A to K, play important roles in every organ and cell in your body.
Eating Whole Foods is Important
Basing your diet on whole foods is an extremely effective but simple strategy to improve health and lose weight. You should aim to consume whole foods at least 80-90% of the time.
The term “whole foods” generally describes natural, unprocessed foods containing only one ingredient. If the product looks like it was made in a factory, then it’s probably not a whole food.
Whole foods tend to be nutrient-dense and have a lower energy density. This means that they have fewer calories and more nutrients per serving than processed foods. In contrast, many processed foods have little nutritional value and are often referred to as “empty” calories. Eating them in large amounts is linked to obesity and other diseases.
Foods to Eat
Try to base your diet around the following healthy food groups and ingredients, they will provide all the nutrients your body needs:
- Vegetables: These should play a fundamental role at most meals. They are low in calories yet full of important micronutrients and fiber.
- Fruits: A natural sweet treat, fruit provides micronutrients and antioxidants that can help improve health.
- Meat and fish: Meat and fish have been the major sources of protein throughout evolution. They are a staple in the human diet, although vegetarian and vegan diets have become popular and celebrated over the last couple of years.
- Nuts and seeds: These are one of the best fat sources available and also contain important micronutrients.
- Eggs: Whole eggs pack a powerful combination of protein, beneficial fats and micronutrients.
- Dairy: Dairy products such as natural yogurt (non sweetened) and milk are convenient, low-cost sources of protein and calcium.
- Healthy starches: Starchy foods like potatoes, quinoa and bulgur are healthy and nutritious.
- Beans and legumes: These are fantastic sources of fiber, protein and micronutrients.
- Beverages: Water should make up the majority of your fluid intake, avoid sweetened beverages.
- Herbs and spices: These are often very high in nutrients and beneficial plant compounds.
Foods to Avoid Most of the Time
While no food is strictly off limits, overeating certain foods can increase disease risk and lead to weight gain. By following the advice in this post, you will naturally reduce your intake of unhealthy foods.
Limit your intake of the following foods:
- Sugar-based products: Foods high in sugar, especially sugary drinks, are linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes.
- Trans fats: Also known as partially hydrogenated fats, trans fats have been linked to serious diseases, such as heart disease.
- Refined carbs: Foods that are high in refined carbs, such as white bread, are linked to overeating, obesity and metabolic disease.
- Vegetable oils: While many people believe these are healthy, vegetable oils can disrupt your body’s omega 6-to-3 balance, which may cause problems.
- Processed low-fat products: Often disguised as healthy alternatives, low-fat products can contain a lot of sugar to make them taste better.
Remember: No food needs to be eliminated forever, but some foods should be limited or saved for special occasions.
Why Portion Control is Important
As mentioned above, your calorie intake is a key factor in weight control and health. Just by becoming aware of, and take control over your portion sizes and total food or calorie intake, can help you avoid consuming too many calories.
While whole foods are certainly a lot harder to overeat than processed foods, they can still be eaten in excess. There are many simple strategies to control portion size; For example, you can use smaller plates and take a smaller-than-average first serving, then wait 20 minutes before you return for more. Another popular approach is measuring portion size with your hand. An example meal would limit most people to 1 fist-sized portion of carbs, 1–2 palms of protein and 1–2 thumb-sized portions of healthy fats.
More calorie-dense foods such as cheese, nuts and fatty meats are healthy, but make sure you pay attention to portion sizes when you eat them.
How to Tailor Your Diet to Your Goals
First, assess your calorie needs based on factors like your activity levels and weight goals. Quite simply, if you want to lose weight, you must eat less than you burn. If you want to gain weight, you should consume more calories than you burn.
There are plenty of online calorie calculators that can help you with how much you should eat, and websites and apps that can help you track calories and nutrients. If you dislike calorie counting just like we do, you can simply apply the guidelines written about above, such as monitoring portion size and focusing on whole foods.
If you know that you have a certain deficiency or are at risk of developing one, you may wish to tailor your diet to account for this. For instance, vegetarians or people who eliminate certain food groups are at greater risk of missing out on some nutrients.
In general, you should consume foods of various types and colors to ensure you get plenty of all the macro- and micronutrients. While many debate whether low-carb or low-fat diets are best, the truth is that it depends on the individual.
How to Make Healthy Eating Sustainable
Here’s a great rule to live by: If you can’t see yourself on this diet in one, two or three years from now, then it’s not right for you. Far too often, people go on extreme diets they can’t maintain, which means they never actually develop long-term, healthy eating habits. Instead, a lot of people attempting a weight loss diet regain the weight they lost (or more) shortly after they “are done” with the temporary eating habits.
As always, balance is key. Unless you have a specific disease or dietary requirement, no food needs to be off limits forever. By totally eliminating certain foods, you may actually increase cravings and decrease long-term success. Basing 90% of your diet on whole foods and eating smaller portions is a far healthier approach and will allow you to enjoy treats occasionally yet still achieve excellent health.
Combine Good Nutrition With Other Healthy Habits
Nutrition isn’t the only thing that matters for optimal health. Following a healthy diet and exercising can give you an even bigger health boost. It is also crucial to get good sleep. Research has proven that sleep is just as important as nutrition for disease risk and weight control. Hydration and water intake are also important. Drink when you’re thirsty and stay well hydrated all day. Finally, try to minimize stress. Long-term stress is linked to many health problems.
The Bottom Line
Don’t get too caught up with calorie counting. Instead, create a healthy whole foods diet that you can enjoy and stick with for the long term. If you want unhealthy foods, save them for an occasional treat and avoid feeling guilty over it.
And remember; Optimal health goes beyond just nutrition. Don’t forget to break up long sequences of seated activities and make sure to exercise regularly. Prioritise good sleep, stay hydrated and keep your stress levels low – this should help keep you healthy and happy for as long as possible!