Tips for Healthy Eating
Healthy eating doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s entirely possible to nourish your body while enjoying the foods you love. After all, food is meant to be enjoyed — not feared, counted, weighed, and tracked.
Food is what fuels you and delivers the calories and nutrients your body needs to function. If your diet is lacking in calories or nutrients, your health may suffer. Likewise, if you eat too many calories, you may experience weight gain.
People with obesity have a significantly increased risk of illnesses like type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnoea, and heart, liver, and kidney disease. The quality of your diet affects your disease risk, longevity, and mental health.
While diets rich in processed foods are linked to increased mortality and a greater risk of conditions like cancer and heart disease, diets comprising mostly whole, nutrient-dense foods are associated with increased longevity and disease protection.
When you conceptualise healthy eating, your first thought might be about calories. Even though calories are important, your primary focus should be nutrients. Nutrients, including protein, carbs, fat, vitamins, and minerals, are what your body needs to thrive.
The term “nutrient density” refers to the amount of nutrients in a food in relation to the calories it provides. All foods contain calories, but not all foods are nutrient-dense.
For example, a candy bar or a box of mac and cheese may be incredibly high in calories but lack vitamins, minerals, protein, and fibre. Similarly, foods marketed as “diet-friendly” or “low calorie” may be very low in calories but lack nutrients.
Although some nutrient-dense foods, such as numerous fruits and veggies, are low in calories, many — like nuts, full fat yogurt, egg yolks, avocado, and fatty fish — are high in calories. That’s perfectly OK! Just because a food is high in calories doesn’t mean that it’s bad for you.
On the same token, just because a food is low in calories doesn’t make it a healthy choice. If your food choices are based solely on calories, you’re missing the point of healthy eating. As a general rule, try to mostly eat foods that are high in nutrients like protein, fibre, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. These foods include veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, fatty fish, and eggs.
Another component of healthy eating is dietary diversity, meaning eating a variety of foods. Following a diet that’s rich in different kinds of food supports your gut health, promotes a healthy body weight, and protects against chronic disease. It can be difficult eating variety of foods if you’re a picky eater. You can try to introduce new foods one at a time.
If you don’t eat many vegetables, start by adding a favourite veggie to one or two meals per day and build from there.
Macronutrients — the main nutrients you get from food — are carbs, fat, and protein. (Fibre is considered a type of carb.) Your meals and snacks should be balanced between the three. This may vary depending on your goals. In particular, adding protein and fat to fibre-rich carb sources makes dishes more filling and tasty.
For example, if you’re snacking on a piece of fruit, adding a spoonful of nut butter or a bit of cheese helps keep you fuller than if you were to eat the fruit alone. However, it’s fine if your diet isn’t balanced all the time.
Counting macros and following a set macronutrient plan isn’t necessary for most people — except athletes, people seeking a specific body composition, and those who need to gain muscle or fat for medical reasons. Counting macros and obsessing about staying within a certain macro range may lead to an unhealthy fixation with food and calories or cause disordered eating tendencies.
Highly Processed Foods
One of the best ways to improve your diet is to cut back on highly processed foods. You don’t have to avoid processed foods completely. In fact, many healthy foods like shelled nuts, canned beans, and frozen fruits and veggies have been processed in one way or another.
In contrast, highly processed products like soda, mass-produced baked goods, candy, sugary cereals, and certain boxed snack food contain little if any whole food ingredients. These items tend to pack ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and artificial sweeteners.
Research links diets high in processed foods to a greater risk of depression, heart disease, obesity, and many other complications. On the other hand, diets low in these foods and high in whole, nutrient-dense foods have the opposite effect, protecting against disease, lengthening lifespan, and promoting overall physical and mental well-being.
Thus, it’s best to prioritise nutrient-dense foods, especially vegetables and fruits.