The key to a healthy diet is simple
No carbs, low fat, gluten-free, keto, paleo, with so many choices it’s easy to understand that the concept of what is a healthy diet can get lost. Each one proposes to be ‘the one’ and yet they all have different approaches. This doesn’t mean any one of them is necessarily bad, after all, if you’re allergic or intolerant to gluten, you’re likely to choose to follow a gluten-free diet. However, some diets are anti certain food groups, while others have very strict rules, which have caused a blurring of what actually constitutes a healthy diet.
So, to try and clear the mud, and with the help of Anna Keusgen – an Accredited Practising Dietician (APD) and Holistic Health Coach – we look at what makes a healthy diet.
What is a healthy diet?
The key to a healthy diet is simple and can be summed up in three words:
Balanced. Simple. Varied.
There are three main macronutrients important to overall health – fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Anna says, “a healthy diet is one that provides your body with all the micro and macro-nutrients it requires.”
These macronutrients can be found in real, wholefoods: “lots of fresh leafy green and colourful vegetables, fresh fruits, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds, healthy fats such as raw nuts, avocados and olives and moderate amounts of fatty fish and grass fed meats.”
Simply put, the less processed a food is the better: “A healthy diet should be based on real, wholefoods as minimally processed and as close to their natural state as possible.”
It’s important to eat a wide variety of good quality, naturally occurring foods: “Eating a variety of plant foods is key as it keeps our gut microbiome healthy which is important for our mental and physical health”. These should be as minimally processed as possible with the focus on lots of fresh wholefoods that are rich in colour. Think of all the beautiful bright colours that nature presents in fresh fruit and vegetables. Or, as Anna recommends “Eat the rainbow!”
Healthy diet planning
The word “diet” can sometimes have negative connotations attached to it, so try to think of it as a healthy eating plan. Anna recommends,
“Identify what sabotages your health and address this instead of going on a one-size-fits-all type of diet which doesn’t address YOUR needs. See an APD or qualified health coach to help you with this. Eat for health, not weight loss and the weight will take care of itself. We need to get healthy to lose weight, not lose weight to get healthy.”
Start with whole foods that are minimally processed. You should also look for maximum nutrition in every meal. Try to incorporate vegetables wherever you can, especially if you’re having a savoury breakfast – omelettes with spinach, zucchini and mushrooms are always delicious.
Make sure you have each one of the macronutrients in every meal, carbohydrates, protein and good fat. Non-refined and non-starchy carbohydrates such as sweet potato or Quinoa are best. Ensuring that every meal contains these should mean you are fuller for longer, and could alleviate the need to overeat.
Example of types of diets
There are lots of diets out there and sometimes it seems like a new one is introduced each week. Here are some of the most popular:
The glycaemic index (GI) of food measures how much sugar is released into your bloodstream after eating. A high GI food is something that gives a quick sugar burst and a low GI is more of a slow release – its the difference between a banana (quick release) and an apple (slow release).
If you follow a low-GI / high protein diet, you concentrate on getting your carbohydrates from slow-releasing foods such as porridge or sweet potato rather than white rice or potatoes.
This is based on the claim that we should be eating the same foods that our hunter-gatherer ancestors did – creating the “caveman diet”. The theory behind it is that our modern Western diet has us consuming grains, dairy and processed foods which are the cause of modern disease. If following this diet you would be eating lots of whole foods, lean protein, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds whilst avoiding sugar, dairy and grains. Grains being rice, oats, wheat, barley or any other cereal grain.
This is exactly what it says – a diet where carbohydrates are restricted to a minimal amount however protein and fats can be eaten in unlimited amounts. The idea behind it is that by restricting carbs, your body reaches a stage of ketosis – when carb intake is low, fatty acids are moved into your blood and transported to your liver, which are then turned into ketones. The ketones and fatty acids then become your body’s main energy source. This diet can also be called Atkins or Keto diet.
This is the strictest form of vegetarianism as it restricts the eating or use of any animal products for health, environmental or ethical reasons. This means no dairy, eggs, meat, animal-derived gelatin, honey, whey, casein and leather.
Again, the name says it all. The low-fat diet is the restriction of your daily fat intake. If you were to do this you’d generally up your carb and protein intake to make up for it. This also includes the restriction of good fats, not just saturated animal fats.
Which diet is right for me?
There are many different times in your life where you may need to change or adapt your diet. Whether that’s for medical reasons i.e. you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, a serious illness, medical problem or you’re trying to get pregnant, are pregnant, or you’re breastfeeding. Whatever it is you’re looking for, it’s best to consult a professional such as a nutritionist or doctor before undertaking any dramatic change in your diet.
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