Food. Something so omnipresent in our lives. Sometimes, we take it for granted; we eat whatever we feel like without really appreciating a meal or even reflecting on what we are eating. We not only follow our hunger; our food choices - if we can call it an active choice - are driven by many more factors. Finding a healthy diet in the jungle of choice can become a real challenge.
Most of us are convinced to know enough about our diet. It is easy to believe that our diet is something we understand, that we are in charge of and control. We believe to know what is appropriate for us. Often enough, we see ourselves on the right path. We make the right choices for ourselves. Within our confirmation bias, we always find a good statement that underlines what we are doing and why it is good for us.
You can ask 100 people about their diet; most might claim their diet is good and healthy. It is almost comic when you see two people with two different standpoints getting into an argument. You can put two random people into a ring and let them verbally fight. Ideas that support their outlook fly like fists from one to another. Whereas one sees himself right, the other feels attacked, misunderstood, and urged to respond strongly to their standpoint.
So how can it be that what we believe is right can have so many shades? Why are there so many distinct standpoints if there is one correct answer? Is there even a right and wrong when you ask yourself what you eat?
To find that out, let's look at what a healthy diet is.
A healthy diet is balanced.
To live healthy, you need to take care of two things: Not to damage yourself, whether by injury or by poisoning yourself through alcohol, drugs, and other harmful influences, and to provide your body with everything that it needs to sustain itself and stay in shape.
We need energy to function, protein to build up cells and muscle, fats for the brain, hormones, and many other functions. Besides that, we require both minerals and vitamins in all those processes. Those nutrients are essential for our body to function correctly.
We require a certain amount of each nutrient, depending on age, sex, phase of life, and activity levels. If you lack one for a longer time, you can get many things, from symptoms like weakness, tiredness, and so on, up to permanent severe damages that also can cost lives.
A balanced diet has no deficits of any nutrient.
On the other side, there are nutrients you can have too much of. Too much can lead to obesity, diabetes, cancer, coronary heart disease, and more.
Not all nutrients can be consumed too much: there are some nutrients the body doesn't store, like water-soluble vitamins. Others come in such small amounts that gathering enough of one substance to become toxic in our bodies is unrealistic.
However, The ones our body stores can become harmful if taken in excess. Some substances have a direct impact, like an overdose of a vitamin; others have a long tail effect if the surplus is slowly accumulating.
A balanced diet also does not excess.
The ideal nutrient intake lies between the required amount not to be deficient and the maximum amount that is neither harmful nor can accumulate through excess.
What to consider for a healthy diet to be balanced?
A healthy diet gives your body the necessary nutrients to function correctly and maintain good health while helping you manage your weight. It typically includes a variety of foods from different food groups in appropriate proportions. Here are some fundamental principles of a healthy diet:
- Balanced Macronutrients: A healthy diet should include a balance of macronutrients, which are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. These should be consumed in the right proportions to meet your energy needs. Typically, most of your calories should come from carbohydrates (45-65%), followed by fats (20-35%) and proteins (10-35%).
- Fruits and Vegetables: Incorporate various fruits and vegetables into your daily meals. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
- Whole Grains: Choose whole grains over refined grains. Whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat bread, and oats provide more fiber and nutrients.
- Lean Proteins: Include lean protein sources, such as poultry, fish, lean meats, tofu, beans, and legumes. Limit red meat consumption and processed meats.
- Healthy Fats: Focus on sources of healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil while limiting saturated and trans fats found in fried foods, processed snacks, and fatty cuts of meat.
- Dairy or Dairy Alternatives: Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products or alternatives like almond or soy milk if you're lactose intolerant or prefer plant-based options.
- Portion Control: Avoid overeating and manage your calorie intake.
- Limit Added Sugars: Minimize your consumption of foods and beverages high in added sugars, such as sugary drinks, candies, and desserts.
- Hydration: Stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Limit sugary drinks and excessive caffeine intake.
- Moderation and Variety: Enjoy a wide range of foods to ensure you get a broad spectrum of nutrients. Eating in moderation helps prevent overconsumption of any one nutrient or food group.
- Limit Processed Foods: Reduce your intake of highly processed and ultra-processed foods, which often contain excessive salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats.
To sum it up:
A healthy diet ensures you cover the required nutrients while not overloading yourself by giving your body more than it needs.
The question is, "How can we achieve a balanced diet?". Yet, instead of jumping right into the topic, I first want to get further to the basics. To better understand why and how we need to supply a nutrient, it helps to get a broad overview of what is required.
This is going to be part of the next topics.