Master the Basics: What is a Healthy Diet?
It is January, the month most people decide it’s time to get fit and healthy. Many take the route of picking one of the 100’s of eating plans available or get back to the gym. But when it comes to diets…
What is a healthy diet?
Is it cutting out certain food groups for a limited time or is it having foods that nourish you?
We live in a society that is so focused on dieting and unfortunately equates going on a diet with improving health. The first step to getting healthy is to change the perception that going on a diet to lose weight improves health – it doesn’t.
It’s more about adopting a healthy lifestyle by nourishing the body with nutrients.
A healthy diet should consist of carbohydrates, protein and good fats
Why? These three food groups help the body function and thrive optimally.
Here’s why: we all need energy to function throughout the day.
Carbohydrates are an ideal source of energy for the body obtained from food. They provide much of the energy needed for normal body functions such as heartbeat, digestion and exercise.
There is serious confusion going on with carbohydrates where people think they need to cut it out of their diet in order to lose weight. When you cut carbs out of your diet, you feel more tired and lethargic which is why going on a no or low carb diet is wrong.
It’s all about the types of carbohydrates you have
There are two types of carbohydrates and we need to understand the difference between them – we have simple and complex carbohydrates.
Most simple carbohydrates are highly processed, contain refined sugars and have very few vitamins and minerals.
Processed foods contain short chains of sugars, which enter the bloodstream almost immediately after ingesting them. This then causes a rapid rise in glucose levels in the body (commonly known as “sugar rush”).
Natural foods like fruits contain naturally occurring simple sugars – the difference is that fruits also have a high fibre content which helps slow down digestion, limiting the amount of sugars that flow into the bloodstream.
Complex carbohydrates on the other hand contain long chains of sugar bound within the food’s fibre.
The body processes this form of sugar by breaking the chains and releasing the fibre into the body slowly which means the sugars are absorbed into the bloodstream at a steady pace for many hours, providing energy for longer.
Now here’s the deal with protein
Protein is the building block of cells and tissues that are needed to keep us strong. It is crucial for vital functions, regulation and maintenance of our bodies. Protein is made up of 20 amino acids, nine of which are essential amino acids.
Protein is required amongst other things to build and repair muscles, regulate hormones, regulate fluid and PH balance and move nutrients around the body.
For those that go on high-protein diets, here’s a bit of insight – excess protein cannot be stored so they are used for energy if the body does not provide enough carbohydrates and fats; they are converted to fatty acids and contribute to weight gain.
Some other symptoms of too much protein include low energy, constipation, dehydration, sweet cravings, decline in kidney function and stiff joints.
On the flip side, if you do not have adequate protein, you may suffer from some of these symptoms: fatigue, weight loss, anaemia, skin inflammation (in severe cases). The idea here is to find a balance that works for you.
Do we need fats and do they make us fat?
We need fats in our body but what we have to be aware of are the types of fat that help the body function optimally. There are different types of fats – saturated, unsaturated and trans fats.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and having too much leads to high cholesterol. Unsaturated fats on the other hand are the healthy fats and tend to be liquid at room temperature.
Here’s the thing – Trans-fats are the fats we need to stay well away from.
They are unsaturated fats that have been saturated with hydrogen molecules (hydrogenated) and are found in most processed foods. When shopping, read the ingredients list on products before you purchase them.
If they have trans-fats, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats listed, please put them back on the shelves.
Fats provide structure, regulation and energy.
They insulate the body and protect from shock, are an important part of cells, lubricate the body surfaces and are also used to make hormones.
So with all that said, what should a healthy diet look like?
As a guide, what you should have on your plate are unlimited amount of non-starchy vegetables (vegetables contain carbohydrates e.g. broccoli, asparagus, tomatoes, courgette), a palm size portion of healthy protein (like lentils, nuts & seeds, tofu, oily fish, lean meat, beans) and a fist size portion of fibre rich carbohydrates (like grains, sweet potatoes or brown rice).
Adopting this and making it part of your lifestyle will help build your immune system and keep you healthy.
When you throw in other elements like juicing, exercising and balancing other aspects of life such as career, relationships and spirituality, you’ll be well on your way to living a healthier balanced life.
Peace & Fabulous Health!
Connect with Expert Gloria Halim.