What's the point of a so-called healthy diet?
Enjoying a healthy diet can give us that life-enhancing edge, in both the short and the long term.
The short-term benefits of a healthy diet are that it:
- helps you stay in good shape
- maintains healthy skin, hair, eyes and nails
- gives you the energy for day-to-day living, and for exercise
- helps concentration, memory and mood
- supports your immune system, to help keep infections at bay and allow you to recover more quickly from illness
- promotes a healthy and regular bowel.
The long-term benefits of a healthy diet are that it:
- reduces your risk of health problems such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, various cancers, high blood pressure, stroke, cataracts and osteoporosis
- helps you stay fitter and healthier as you age
What is a healthy diet?
Food is your fuel, and you wouldn't dream of putting the wrong petrol and oil into your car, would you? Getting your body's fuel mix right will help you perform at your best, too.
The food we eat can generally be divided into five groups:
- Fruit and vegetables.
- Starchy foods (carbohydates or carbs), such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta.
- Meat, fish, eggs and beans.
- Milk and dairy foods.
- Foods containing fat and sugar.
Foods in each group are good sources of similar nutrients, so can be interchanged. Eat most from group 1, least from group 5. If you choose a variety of food from the top four groups, you won't go far wrong.
For the starchy foods, choose wholegrain varieties whenever you can, or eat potatoes with their skin on for more fibre.
By following these guidelines you will automatically choose a diet packed with energy-giving carbohydrate, moderate in protein and fat (but low in saturated fat) and rich in vitamins and minerals and protective phytochemicals.
Any easy tips for eating better?
- If you feel you would like to make changes to your diet, but aren't sure where to start, keep a food diary for few days or so, to become more aware of your eating habits. Use it to identify your strong points and also things you'd like to change.
- Decide on small changes, and take them a step at a time. For example, you may want to focus on eating more fruit and vegetables. Use the portion guide and meal tips to see how you can gradually increase to five portions a day. Then tackle something else — for example having healthier sandwiches.
- Small changes can add up to make a big difference — and are more likely to be long lasting.
Don't miss it. Those who eat healthy breakfasts tend to be slimmer, better performers and have lower cholesterol levels than breakfast skippers.
- Good foods to choose from are breakfast cereals and breads (any you fancy, but especially oat, wholewheat or wholegrain types), pure juice, fresh or dried fruit, low-fat milk or yogurt, baked beans, kippers, grilled or canned tomatoes.
- If you enjoy a regular fry-up, consider making it a weekend-only indulgence — and try grilling some bits, e.g. sausages, bacon and tomatoes. Fill the plate with some fresh grilled or tinned tomatoes, or a large helping of baked beans, to sneak some extra health benefits onto your plate
- Swap pies, big burgers or savoury pastries for a sandwich, wrap, baguette or jacket potato with lower-fat fillings (watch the mayo!) such as tuna, seafood, chicken, Edam cheese, ham or roast meat with salad, or soft cheese with char-grilled vegetables or beans.
- Choose tomato- or vegetable-based pasta or cook-in sauces, or brands with less than 5 g fat per 100 g
- Look for lower-fat ready-meals — ones with 10—15 g fat per serving — and serve with salad, extra vegetables or fruit. Add rice, pasta or bread if it comes without.
- Try oil-free or yoghurt-based dressings, or lemon juice and balsamic vinegar.
Snacks or desserts
- To make a change from the crisps and chocolate, why not try fresh or dried fruit, mixed nuts and raisins, a fruit bun or scone, pretzels, rice crackers, bread sticks, malt loaf, some low-fat confectionery (e.g. jelly beans), or snack items with less than 5 g fat per 100 g.
- Buy "light" or low-fat yoghurts, mousses, rice pudding, custards and fromage frais, or try sorbet and frozen yoghurt.
- Tap or bottled water, sugar-free soft drinks and squashes, pure fruit juice, moderate tea and coffee, herbal teas. Have at least 2 litres (8 large glasses) of fluid each day.
- Alcohol — the healthy limit for men is 14 units a week. A unit is half a pint of standard beer or lager, a small glass of wine, or a pub measure of spirits.
Is there any heathy fast food?
Some are healthier than others. If you need to eat, and fast food is your only option, try these choices:
- thin-crust pizza with ham, seafood or vegetable toppings — spice it up with extra chilli and garlic
- stir-fried Chinese dishes (without batter) and steamed rice or chow mein
- plain hamburger, cheeseburger or grilled chicken burger — with small fries — and an OJ (size matters when it comes to burgers, so beware of whoppers)
- vegetable, chicken or seafood curries with plain rice and chapatti (skip creamy kormas, tikka masalas and obvious oil slicks floating on surfaces)
- grilled or barbecued chicken with a bread roll or potato and salad
- shish kebab (as distinct from doner kebab)
- fish, chips and mushy peas — especially if you discard most of the batter and enjoy the nice moist fish inside.
More on this website:
- Can food improve your sex life?
- Can food help you beat stress?
- Can food make you better at sport?
- How to read food labels
- The one diet tip every man should know
- The only diet that always works
- Food supplements
- Smarter snacking
- The facts about fats
- Sugar and salt made simple
- Breakfast is best
- Buy the booklet: Eat. Drink. Don't Diet.
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Date of last review 08/04/14
Date of next review 08/04/17
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