We all know that healthy eating and regular exercise are the foundations for good health, yet in the UK over 50% of adults are either overweight or obese. Research shows that to achieve the best long-term results healthy eating and regular exercise should be combined. If you’re working out five times a week but living on processed foods and takeaways the rest of the time, you’re not only limiting the benefit of the exercise when it comes to weight management, you could also be putting your body under unnecessary stress by not fuelling it properly.
So what is healthy eating and why is it important?
Healthy eating is all about getting high-quality proteins, carbohydrates, heart-healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and water from the foods you consume, while minimising processed foods, saturated fats and alcohol. Think fresh, natural produce – plenty of fruit, veg and low fat proteins. Eating like this not only helps you to maintain your body’s everyday functions but also promotes a healthy body weight and can assist in disease prevention.
Healthy eating provides us with the nutrients we need to support the activities of day-to-day living, as well as protecting cells from environmental damage and 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. Food really is the fuel that keeps our body functioning.
However, with so many fad diets popping up, it can be confusing to know what we should be eating, but it really is simple - a balanced diet consisting of all the major food groups is the easiest and best way to get the correct nutrients your body needs to thrive. Here are the five food groups you need to know about:
- Vegetables and beans
- Grains (ideally whole grains)
- Lean meats
- Dairy, e.g. milk, yogurt, cheese
Don’t worry though, 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 occasional 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!
Quality not quantity
In addition to the quality of the foods you consume, the quantity matters when it comes to forming good eating habits. Consuming the same number of calories as you burn ensures your weight remains steady over time. Consuming more than you burn, on the other hand, results in weight gain as your body converts the extra calories into fat tissue. When you accumulate fat tissue, you increase your risk of developing more health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, respiratory issues, diabetes and cancer. A healthy meal plan without excess calories helps you not only feel better but can prolong your life.
Weight loss through healthy eating and exercise isn’t a quick fix though and should be looked upon as a new way of life. It’s all about getting the balance right in terms of the amount of calories consumed in order to either maintain your ideal weight or lose weight. The most sustainable way to go about this and avoid the yo-yo dieting trap is with gradual changes which you are much more likely to stick to without feeling deprived.
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. Fiber 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 whole grains are all great choices. Lean protein can also keep you feeling fuller for longer while also being easy on the calories.
Meal planning can really help you stay on track when it comes to making healthy food choices. Here are a few of our top tips to get you started, but most importantly don’t forget to have fun with food, it’s there to be enjoyed.
- Avoid shopping when you’re hungry, you’ll be more likely to make impulse buys and could find yourself filling your trolley with all the wrong things.
- Rotate between a couple of weekly meal planners. This will save you time and money as well as reducing your food wastage.
- Batch cooking meals for the freezer will mean you’re less likely to reach for convenience foods.
- Create your own takeaways. If you miss your usual Saturday night takeaway, create your own healthier version at home. Home cooked curries can be healthy as well as big on flavour.
- Get creative. Enjoy discovering new recipes or adapting classics with a new healthier twist. For example, spaghetti Bolognese doesn’t have to be ruled out. Turkey mince is a leaner alternative to beef mince and opt for wholemeal pasta
- Don’t scrimp on flavour. Dieting doesn’t have to mean bland food. Herbs and spices can really pep up a meal without racking up the calories.