Time and time again, you’ve heard people say “health is wealth”. Albeit corny and overused, it is true that being healthy is the key to living life to its fullest. If you don’t pay attention to your health and wellbeing, then how are you going to be able to enjoy living your best life?
Ideal as it may be to live a healthy lifestyle, the truth is that it can be very challenging. If you think about it, eating healthy should be fairly simple but because we are constantly bombarded with popular workout trends and diets, we become distracted from the basic nutrition principles. Living clean also requires conscious effort, discipline, and consistency. But, it’s never too late to start switching to a healthier and improved lifestyle!
One way that you can achieve this is by eating healthy and having a good diet that caters to your body’s needs. Having a poor diet is linked to the development of serious diseases. Eating healthy can help combat this and more importantly, it improves all aspects of one’s life. From organ function to physical performance, eating food that is good for you has a great impact on your entire well-being.
Healthy Eating Portions
The first order of business when it comes to eating healthy is to ensure that you adhere to a healthy eating plan. What constitutes a healthy eating plan you ask? Well, a good diet emphasizes the intake of fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods, fat-free and low-fat milk, and milk products. It also includes a variety of protein options like lean meat, poultry, nuts, beans, and legumes. A healthy eating plan should be low in saturated and trans fats, low in cholesterol, and should have minimal sodium and added sugar. Your diet should exist within your daily calorie needs while giving you all the energy and nutrients you need throughout the day.
Sounds complicated? Not really! Researchers at Harvard have created what is called the Healthy Eating Plate. It is a guide that individuals can use for eating healthy and balanced meals. Let’s go through the Healthy Eating Plate below:
Fruits and Vegetables
The more variety of fruits and vegetables, the better! You should have at least 400g of fruits and veggies a day and you should aim to have a plate filled with diverse and colorful foods! Take note that potatoes don’t count because they have a negative impact on your blood sugar levels.
Examples of protein that you can incorporate into your diet are meat, fish, poultry, beans, and nuts. If you adhere to a vegetarian diet, you can also use tofu as a substitute. These options are super healthy and versatile so you can easily whip up a nutritious and delicious meal!
Instead of opting for refined, starchy carbs like white rice and white bread, go for high fiber, whole, and intact grain varieties. They contain more fiber so they’re more filling and have a milder effect on your blood sugar and insulin levels. Try foods like whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, quinoa, oats, and the like for a healthier whole-grain option!
Healthy Plant Oils
Choose healthy vegetable oils like olive, canola, sunflower, or peanut oil. Don’t use partially hydrogenated oils because they have unhealthy trans fats and remember that just because it’s “low fat” does not mean it is healthy.
You can have water, coffee, or tea but you should skip having sugary drinks and make sure to limit milk and dairy products to 1-2 servings a day while your juice intake should only be limited to 1 small glass per day.
Reducing Your Intake of Unhealthy Food
Another essential part of eating healthy is cutting down on food that may have a negative effect on your health. It can be difficult because as delicious as burgers, fries, ice cream, and junk food may be, they also are also super unhealthy. Here are some things that you should avoid:
While it is important to have fat in your diet, you need to pay attention to the type and amount of fat you’re incorporating into your meals. Too much can increase your cholesterol levels which may lead to non-communicable diseases like heart diseases and stroke.
It is recommended that men should have less than 30g of fat a day while women should not have more than 20g. Your intake of saturated fats should be less than 10% of your energy intake and to avoid unhealthy weight gain, total fat should not go beyond 30% of your energy intake.
Here are some ways that you can reduce the amount of fat in your diet
- Choose food that contain unsaturated fats like oily fish and vegetable oils and spreads
- Limit your consumption of baked, fried, and pre-packaged foods. We know it’s hard, but you’ve got to do it for your health!
- Steam or boil in lieu of frying when cooking your meals. If frying cannot be avoided, use a small amount of oils that are rich in polyunsaturated fats like soybean, canola or corn oil instead of butter and lard.
Sugar may be high in energy but it is a leading contributor to weight gain, obesity, and tooth decay. The consumption of free sugars, which are the sugars added to packaged foods, drinks and are found in honey and syrups, are shown to negatively influence blood pressure and serum lipids.
Your intake of free sugars should be less than 5-10% of your energy intake. Here’s how to limit the sugar in your diet:
- The general rule of thumb is that if a food contains 100g or more of sugar, this means it has high sugar levels while anything that has 5g or less means that it is low in sugar.
- Decrease your consumption of sugary snacks, candies, sugar-sweetened beverages (energy and sports drinks, carbonated and non-carbonated soft drinks, ready-to-drink tea and coffee, etc.)
- Replace your unhealthy, sugar-fiilled snacks with fresh fruit and raw vegetables.
Most of the time, we are unaware of how much salt we are consuming. Salt content usually comes from processed foods (bacon, cheese, and salty snacks), are added to food during cooking (stock cubes, soy sauce, and fish sauce), or during consumption (table salt). Some manufacturers reformulate their recipes to reduce the sodium levels of their food but you should always check the nutrition labels of a product before buying it.
You can reduce your salt intake by:
- Limiting your consumption of salt and high-sodium condiments when you’re preparing your food.
- Don’t serve salt or high-sodium sauces at the table while you eat
- Choose food with lower sodium content and limit your consumption of salty snacks.
What about my comfort food?
Having a healthy diet doesn’t mean you have to cut off your comfort food completely! You can still enjoy your guilty pleasures but reduce how often you eat them. Cut back to once a week or once a month. You can also try eating smaller amounts or opting for a low-calorie version. At the same time, you should increase your intake of healthy food and exercise regularly to balance out the intake of your “cheat day” meals.
Calorie intake is a very important part of health and weight control. Controlling portions prevents you from consuming more calories than you need. It is especially important to keep an eye on your portion size if you are overweight or trying to shed body fat.
Assess your calorie needs according to your weight goals and activity levels. If you are trying to lose weight, then you should eat fewer calories than you burn; conversely, if you’re trying to gain weight, the calories you are consuming should be more than you are burning.
It’s Not Just About Your Diet!
Having a healthy diet should be paired with healthy habits. Exercise regularly, make sure to get good sleep, stay hydrated, and do your best to minimize stress. Remember that having a healthy lifestyle is not just about food and diet, it’s also about having good mental health and feeling happy and positive with yourself! Being healthy is a journey, so don’t feel pressured if you have setbacks. Just try again and continue being inspired to live life to its fullest!