What is Healthy Eating? What is a Healthy Diet?

Healthy eating means consuming the right quantities of foods from all food groups in order to lead a healthy life.

Diet is often referred to as some dietary regimen for losing weight. However, diet simply means what food we eat in the course of a 24-hour, one week, or one month, etc. period.

A good diet is a nutritional lifestyle that promotes good health. A good diet must include several food groups because one single group cannot provide everything a human needs for good health.

When we eat matters too

A large breakfast helps control body weight – a team of researchers from Tel Aviv University, Israel, explained in the journal Obesity that a big breakfast – one containing about 700 calories – is better for losing weight and lowering one’s risk of developing heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

Prof. Daniela Jakubowicz and team stressed that when we eat our food may matter as much as what we eat.

How do you define healthy eating?

The crucial part of healthy eating is a balanced diet. A balanced diet – or a good diet – means consuming from all the different food groups in the right quantities. Nutritionists say there are five main food groups – whole grains, fruit and vegetables, protein, dairy, and fat & sugar.


Whole grains

According to the USDA (United States Dept. of Agriculture), we should consume at least 3 ounces of whole grains per day. A whole grain, unlike refined grains, still has the bran and the germ attached. Whole grains are rich in fiber, minerals, and vitamins. When grains are refined the bran and germ are removed.

It is not possible to know whether food is made from whole grain just by looking at it.

To be really sure you have to read the label. In the list of ingredients, the word whole or whole grain needs to appear before the name of the grain.

Whole grain products include bread, pasta, and cereals – they need to be made with 100% whole grain.

Whole grain foods and flours include 100% whole wheat, brown rice, bulgur, corn, buckwheat, oatmeal (oats), spelt and wild rice.

Fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are rich in vital vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Fruit and vegetables have a high vitamin, mineral and fiber content – these nutrients are vital for your body to function well.

Several studies have proven that a good intake of fruit and vegetables may protect from developing heart disease, diabetes type 2, and cancer.

Most health departments throughout the world recommend that we consume five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. This could include either fresh, frozen or canned, or dried fruit and veggies.

A portion means either one large fruit, such as an apple, mango, or a banana, or three heaped tablespoons of vegetables. It could also include one glass of 100% fruit or vegetable juice.

A fruit/vegetable drink is one portion, no matter how big it is. Beans and pulses can also count as one portion.


Protein

We need protein for the building and repairing of tissue in our body. Protein-rich foods also include essential minerals, such as iron, magnesium, zinc, as well as B vitamins.

Douglas Paddon-Jones, Ph.D., Associate Professor, The University of Texas Medical Branch says that proteins should make up about 20 to 25 percent of our nutritional intake.

The following foods are good sources of protein:

Tofu, an example of a plant sourced protein.
  • meat
  • poultry
  • fish
  • eggs
  • beans
  • nuts
  • quorn
  • soya (includes tofu)

Nutritionists advise that the fat in meat should be trimmed and drained away after cooking. The skin should be removed from poultry.

For people who are not vegetarians, nutritionist advises we consume fish at least twice a week, preferably fish rich in omega oils, such as trout, fresh tuna, sardines, mackerel, and salmon.

The canning process of tuna removes the essential oils, hence only fresh tuna is considered as an oily fish.

It is better for your health to grill, roast or microwave meats and fish, rather than frying them.

Vegans, who do not eat any foods from animal sources, may get their protein from nuts, seeds, soya, beans, and quorn. Vegans may have to supplement their zinc and B12 vitamin intake as these foods are not rich in them.


Legumes

Legumes are plants in the pea family that produce pods that split open naturally along a seam (dehisce), revealing a row of seeds.

Legumes help improve glycemic control.

The following are the most commonly eaten legumes:

  • soy
  • peas
  • peanuts
  • mesquite
  • lupins
  • lentils
  • clover
  • carob
  • beans
  • alfalfa

Researchers from the University of Toronto, Canada, reported in Archives of Internal Medicine, October 2012 issue, that eating plenty of legumes helps improve glycemic control in people with diabetes type 2, as well as reducing the risk of developing coronary heart disease.


Dairy

Although butter, cream and even sometimes eggs are often classed as dairy products, in nutrition they are more frequently placed in the protein (eggs) or fat & sugar category. Dairy products are a good source of calcium which is important for healthy bones and teeth.

Dairy products include milk, yogurts, cheese, and some soy dairy products. Nutritionists say we should aim for low-fat dairy products.

People who do not consume animal sourced foods can get their calcium intake from other products, such as broccoli, cabbage and soya milk and yogurts with added calcium.


Fats and sugars

These include sugar, chocolate, cakes, biscuits, jam, butter, margarine, mayonnaise, non-diet sodas, etc. – all products with a very high fat or sugar content.

There are two basic types of fats – saturated and unsaturated. Cream, margarine, and fried foods are high in saturated fats, while vegetable oils and oily fish are rich in unsaturated fats. Saturated fat consumption should be kept to a minimum because excess consumption significantly increases the risk of developing such diseases as heart disease.

Even sugary foods and drinks, like some sodas and sweets, should be kept to a minimum because they are high in calories and bad for your teeth.

Healthy eating and the World Health Organization (WHO)

The WHO makes the following 5 recommendations – they apply both to populations and individuals:

  • We should aim for an energy balance and a healthy body weight.
  • We should limit our energy consumption from total fats. We should also aim for more unsaturated fats and less saturated fats.
  • We should up our consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts.
  • We should consume as little simple sugars are possible.
  • As well as making sure our salt is iodized, we should also limit our consumption of salt/sodium.

WHO also recommends that we:

  • Consume enough vital amino acids to provide “cellular replenishment and transport proteins”. These can be found in animal-sourced proteins and some selected plant sourced proteins. A combination of other plants, with the exception of rice and beans, may also provide essential amino acids.
  • Consume essential quantities of vitamins and certain minerals.
  • Should avoid directly poisonous and carcinogenic substances.
  • Avoid consuming foods that may are contaminated with human pathogens, such as E. coli and tapeworm eggs.

The Healthy Eating Index (HEI) issued by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture)

The HEI is a measure of diet quality that reviews how people are conforming to Federal dietary guidance. The HEI was first formulated by the USDA in 1995 and was renewed in 2005.

The standards were created using a density approach – they are expressed as a percentage of calories per 1,000 calories. The components of the 2005-HEI can be seen below:

Healthy Eating Index – 2005 components and standards for scoring

  • Total Fruit (includes 100% juice)
    Maximum points 5
    Standard for maximum score ≥0.8 cup equiv. per 1,000 kcal
    Standard for minimum score zero – No Fruit
  • Whole Fruit (not juice)
    Maximum points 5
    Standard for maximum score ≥0.4 cup equiv. per 1,000 kcal
    Standard for minimum score zero – No Whole Fruit
  • Total Vegetables
    Maximum points 5
    Standard for maximum score ≥1.1 cup equiv. per 1,000 kcal
    Standard for minimum score zero – No Vegetables
  • Dark Green and Orange No Dark Green or Orange Vegetables and Legumes
    Maximum points 5
    Standard for maximum score ≥0.4 cup equiv. per 1,000 kcal
    Standard for minimum score zero – No dark green or orange Vegetables or Legumes
  • Total Grains
    Maximum points 5
    Standard for maximum score ≥3.0 oz equiv. per 1,000 kcal
    Standard for minimum score zero – No Grains
  • Whole Grains
    Maximum points 5
    Standard for maximum score ≥1.5 oz equiv. per 1,000 kcal
    Standard for minimum score zero – No Whole Grains
  • Milk
    Maximum points 10
    Standard for maximum score ≥1.3 cup equiv. per 1,000 kcal
    Standard for minimum score zero – No Milk
  • Meat and Beans
    Maximum points 10
    Standard for maximum score ≥2.5 oz equiv. per 1,000 kcal
    Standard for minimum score zero – No Meat or Beans
  • Oils4
    Maximum points 10
    Standard for maximum score ≥12 grams per 1,000 kcal
    Standard for minimum score zero – No Oil
  • Saturated Fat
    Maximum points 10
    Standard for maximum score ≤7% of energy
    Standard for minimum score zero – ≥15% of energy
  • Sodium
    Maximum points 10
    Standard for maximum score ≤0.7 gram per 1,000 kcal
    Standard for minimum score zero – ≥2.0 grams per 1,000 kcal
  • Calories from Solid Fats, Alcoholic beverages, and Added Sugars (SoFAAS)
    Maximum points 20
    Standard for maximum score ≤20% of energy
    Standard for minimum score zero – ≥50% of energy

Consequences of unhealthy eating

According to Gov.UK, most people in England are either overweight or obese (This includes 61.3% of adults and 30% of children aged between 2 and 15).

In the US, the states of Mississippi and Alabama have obesity rates above 30%, while 22 other states have obesity rates all over 25%.

A balanced diet is a crucial part of healthy eating.

At least 200,000 people in the UK die prematurely each year as a result of stroke, coronary heart disease and some other illnesses that are linked to unhealthy eating and lifestyle. Many who do not die do not enjoy a painless, unrestricted and disability-free old age.

According to many studies, the USA ranks last among industrialized countries when it comes to preventable deaths – many of these deaths are due to poor diet, as well as the lack of exercise.

Nutritionists say that over four-fifths of men and over two-thirds of women consume excessive amounts of dietary salt in the UK. What many don’t know is that 75% of their salt intake is already in the food they buy.

It is estimated that one-third of all cancers could be prevented if everybody had a good diet. Healthy eating also protects from diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, strokes, and rotting teeth.

Plant-based diets protect from chronic diseases

An article published in Food Technology, in October 2012 showed that plant-based diets either minimize or completely eliminate many people’s genetic propensity to developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes type 2, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

Peter Tarver, senior writer/editor of the journal referred to a WHO (World Health Organization) bulletin which informed that in 2008, worldwide, 63% of all deaths were caused by non-communicable chronic diseases and conditions, such as diabetes type 2, cardiovascular disease, obesity and certain cancers.

Poor diets contribute significantly towards the development and progression of all of these diseases.