Living a healthy lifestyle includes eating a nutritious diet that provides your body with all the essential nutrients it needs for optimal health. Having a healthy diet increases life longevity, decrease in hospital visits and over all reduction in the likelihood of disease.
But a poor or unhealthy diet for any sustained period of time can be very detrimental to long term health, developing in increased weight gain, fatigue and susceptibility of disease for the individual.
What are the essential components of a healthy diet? First and foremost, a healthy diet rests on the idea of moderation of all foods. While our bodies need carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals, an increase and or over consumption in any of these can produce unhealthy effects on our bodies and overall health.
Whether you are trying to lose weight or simply want to maintain a healthy weight, understanding the essential components of nutrition will help you plan a healthy balanced diet.
What are included in a healthy diet?
For any diet to be considered healthy, it should incorporate a balanced amount of all the nutritional components and elements needed to sustain life.
1. Carbohydrates – are a type of macronutrient which occur naturally in plant-based foods.
Perhaps you were told to avoid carbohydrates if you are trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, but foods high in carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet because they provide the body with glucose which is then converted to energy used to support bodily functions and physical activity.
So instead of totally eliminating carbs from your diet, you can go for the healthiest source of carbohydrates such as unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains (oats), vegetables (sweet potatoes), fruits (bananas) and beans.
These foods promote good health by delivering vitamins, minerals, fiber, and a host of important phytonutrients.
2. Proteins – are large complex molecules that play many critical roles in the body including most of the work in cells. They are required for the structure, function and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs.
Great sources of protein include dairy products, eggs, beans, seafood, meat, nuts, beans and soy. Proteins from meat and animal products are complete proteins which means they can supply all the amino acids the body needs, while plant proteins (rice and beans) which are incomplete proteins, must be combined to get all the amino acids your body needs.A high protein diet can help you shed those unwanted pounds and also keep your belly full. But it’s important to eat the right amount and the right kind of protein to get its health benefits. Two sources of proteins which are not commonly thought of and also suitable for vegetarians are quinoa and soybeans.
3. Fats – are essential part of our diet and are important for good health.
Despite the belief that fats are bad for you, they are required for general health. But to help make sure you stay healthy, it is important to eat unsaturated fats in small amounts as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Unsaturated fats help reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels when they replace saturated fats in the diet.
Foods that are rich in unsaturated fats include nuts, flax seeds, avocado, peanut butter, sardines, salmon and vegetable oils. Saturated fats are found in dairy foods (butter, cream, full fat milk and cheese), palm oil, coconut, coconut milk and cream and cooking margarine.
Manufactured and packaged foods such as potato chips, deep-fried and high fat take away foods, cakes and pastries are also high in saturated fats. Cutting down your consumption of or totally eliminating foods high in saturated fats will help you in your pursuit of a healthy diet.
4. Vitamins and Minerals – are essential nutrients because they perform hundreds of roles in the body to keep it healthy.
They help heal wounds, shore up bones and bolster your immune system. But although vitamins and minerals are all considered micronutrients, they differ in basic ways. Vitamins are organic and can be broken down by heat, air or acid and assist with various bodily functions such as metabolism of macronutrients and the building of body tissue, bones and blood.
Minerals, on the other hand, are inorganic and hold on to their chemical structure and they help maintain the proper balance of water in the body.
The best approach to ensure you get a variety of vitamins and minerals in the proper amounts is to adopt a broad healthy diet that involves an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, low-fat protein and dairy products.
If you are unable to get these vitamins and minerals from natural foods, a daily multivitamin tablet can be used as a supplement. Most multivitamin supplements also contain minerals.
5. Water – is necessary not only to maintain proper bodily function but it is also good for healthy skin and aids in disease prevention.
Water is probably the most important component of a healthy diet. You can survive without food for up to a month but you won’t survive for more than 5 days without water. Every individual should aim for 8 to 10 glasses (330 mL) of water daily.
*Read here: The Importance of Water to the Body
Is your body getting the right balance of nutrients? There are no excuse for unhealthy eating. Advance meal planning enables healthier eating habits. You may want to plan your meals in advance using the following guidelines:
a) Carbohydrates – 40 to 60 % of daily calories
b) Protein – 20 to 30 % of daily calories
c) Fat – 20 to 30 % of daily calories.
Committing to a healthy diet can be one of the smartest decisions you ever make because eating well does not only make you look and feel better, it can also save you money on future health costs.