Focus on Nutrition: What Does a Healthy Diet Really Look Like?
In terms of how and what we should eat, there is a lot of conflicting advice. Some health experts say we can enjoy red meat in moderation, while others warn us to avoid it completely. No wonder then that according to a recent survey from the International Food Information Council Foundation, 80% of respondents admitted being confused by nutrition.
Sensationalist headlines are to blame in no small part, with misinformation on social media muddying the waters still further. In this article, we look at what experts do agree on, and the foods we should be consuming, and avoiding, to stay fit and healthy.
The optimal diet relies predominantly on plant-based foods
A growing body of research consistently suggests that when humans consume mostly plant-based foods, markers of health improve. Benefits include a lower waist circumference, lower blood pressure, and reduced levels of glucose and triglycerides in the blood.
One recent study analyzed a variety of different plant-based eating patterns, ranging from a non-vegetarian diet to a strict vegan approach. The study revealed that the latter resulted in the best health outcomes, with vegans producing the highest level of healthy biomarkers and lowest level of unhealthy markers. Next came vegetarians who incorporate dairy, eggs, and fish in their diet. The non-vegetarian group’s urine, blood, and tissue samples revealed the least favorable health markers.
A healthy diet is essential to good health, protecting us against chronic disease
Diet has been shown to have an impact on our susceptibility to a variety of noncommunicable diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The World Health Organization advocates for limiting your intake of saturated and trans fats, sugars, and salt, recommending a diet combining a variety of different foods, including:
- Fruits and vegetables.
- Legumes, like beans and lentils.
- Staples foods, including cereals like maize, wheat, rice, barley, and rye; as well as starchy tubers or roots like potato, cassava, yam, and taro.
- Foods from animal sources, such as meat, eggs, milk, and fish.
It is crucial to eat the right foods to support your exercise regime
Nutrition and exercise are a double-edged sword. Eating a balanced diet fuels your body with the nutrients and calories it needs to execute daily activities, including exercise.
Breakfast really is the most important meal, according to experts
A Harvard Health Letter report suggested that eating breakfast is integral to your health. The article suggested that individuals who regularly ate breakfast significantly reduced their risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Starting your day with a light, healthy meal replenishes blood sugars, fueling the body and brain. Eating breakfast is particularly necessary on days when you plan to exercise, since skipping breakfast could leave you feeling lethargic or lightheaded during your workout.
Making smart food choices is key to getting your day off to an optimal start. A protein and fiber-rich breakfast fends of hunger for a longer period of time, providing you with energy.
Other tips for a healthy breakfast include:
- Avoid high-sugar cereals, selecting oat bran, oatmeal, or other whole grain, fiber-rich cereals instead, topping them up with milk or yogurt and chopped nuts for protein.
- If you prefer to start your day with a slice of toast, avoid white bread, selecting whole grain instead, and topping it with peanut butter, an egg, or another protein source.
- If you make waffles or pancakes, switch all-purpose flour for healthier whole grain options.
There has long been a debate about what the perfect diet really consists of
With each of us living our own unique lives with our own nutritional requirements to stay healthy, there is no silver bullet in terms of the perfect diet to keep everyone in optimal health.
A healthy diet does not merely keep you alive, but provides your body with a myriad of different elements it needs to thrive. To achieve this, it is important to maintain a nutrient-rich diet. It is a good idea to ensure you achieve the recommended daily intake for each nutrient, choosing foods that are naturally rich in vitamins and minerals. It is better to eat fresh foods, rather than frozen or canned, since these are the most-nutrient dense, and are not laden with salt, sugars, and additives.
Calorie requirements can vary wildly from one individual to another. The average person needs around 2,000 calories each day to maintain their weight, but a great deal depends on their age and physical activity level. Males typically require more calories than females, and people with a sedentary lifestyle need less than those who are active.
The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines outline how you can improve your diet and health
Designed by health experts and policymakers, the Dietary Guidelines were developed to help ordinary Americans maintain a healthier diet. Available for download from the health.gov website, the publication outlines how people can improve their eating patterns, and it provides key recommendations, nutritional targets, and dietary limits.