Food is the fuel which powers our body and we’ve all heard the saying ‘you are what you eat’, but how true is this and what is the importance of eating a balanced diet?
Nutrition is vital for our bodies to function properly so it’s worth giving careful thought to what we fuel our bodies with. Having good nutrition through a varied diet not only helps you to maintain a healthy weight by reducing body fat, it also provides our bodies with vital energy, which can help us feel our best. Extensive research shows that eating a nutritious diet also plays a vital part in reducing the likelihood of developing certain diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure and some cancers.
What is a balanced diet?
No single food contains all the essential nutrients our bodies need to stay healthy and function properly, so for that reason our diet must contain a wide variety of foods to stay healthy. According to the Foods Standards Agency a balanced diet consists of eating ‘a variety of foods, basing meals on starchy carbohydrates and eating at least 5 portions of fruit and veg a day.’ It also recommends having moderate amounts of fish including oily fish twice a week. On top to this, foods high in fat and sugar should be kept to a minimum.
To make things a bit simpler, the foods we need can be split on to five main groups:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Potatoes, bread, rice and other starchy carbohydrates
- Beans, pules, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins
- Dairy and alternatives
- Healthy oils and fats
Don’t worry though, you don’t need to cover all of these food groups every single day but over the space of a week try to make sure you’re eating a selection of different foods from the groups outlined above. The aim is to minimise unhealthy, processed foods and make high quality, nutrient dense food choices, packing our diet with fresh, natural produce to really see and feel the benefit.
Making wise food choices can also help you feel fuller for longer so you’ll be less likely to reach for a mid-morning biscuit. Fibre is great for keeping the hunger pangs at bay, it not only provides volume it also takes longer to digest and tends to have fewer calories. Vegetables, fruits and wholegrains are all great choices. Lean protein can also keep you feeling fuller for longer while also being easy on the calories.
Why is a balanced diet so important?
With a rise in fad diets which encourage excluding certain food groups, it’s important to remember that healthy eating is achieved through a varied diet, incorporating all five food groups. Healthy eating not only provides us with the nutrients we need to support the activities of day-to-day living, it also helps to protect cells from environmental damage and assists in repairing any cellular damage that might occur.
Each food group serves a particular purpose; protein rebuilds injured tissue and promotes a healthy immune system, carbohydrates and fats fuel your body, while vitamins and minerals function throughout your body to support your body’s processes. Vitamins A, C and E, for example, act as antioxidants to protect your cells against toxins, and B vitamins help you extract energy from the foods you eat. Calcium and phosphorus keep your bones strong, while sodium and potassium help to transmit nerve signals. So besides tasting good, food really is the fuel that keeps our body functioning.
But this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the odd dessert or glass of wine as part of a balanced diet without feeling guilty. In fact, if you allow yourself the occasion treat you’re much more likely to make healthy food choices the rest of the time and less likely to binge on junk foods or alcohol. A good rule to stick by is the 80/20 rule – if you make wise food choices 80% of the time, the other 20% you can indulge yourself in moderation without sabotaging your efforts. Food is for enjoying after all!
Healthy Eating Habits
Healthy habits can be hard to develop and quite often require a change in mind set. It certainly isn’t a quick fix, more of a new way of life but the impact can be far reaching, regardless of age, sex or current physical health.
Making small changes can make a big difference over time. Try cutting out sugar from your morning tea or coffee, swap your afternoon biscuit from a piece of fruit and opt for lean proteins such as chicken or fish instead of processed meats at dinner time.
Soon these changes will become new habits, just remember to be patient, small changes all add up - take it one day at a time.