Begin by making tiny modifications to your diet. Make sure that each meal or snack contains nutrient-dense foods, and avoid processed meals as much as possible.
“Healthy eating” might mean different things to different people. Everyone appears to have an opinion on the healthiest way to eat, including healthcare professionals, wellness influencers, coworkers, and family members.
Furthermore, nutrition articles you read online can be plain perplexing with their inconsistent — and frequently baseless — ideas and rules.
This makes it difficult to just eat in a healthy way that works for you.
The truth is that eating healthily does not have to be difficult. It is totally possible to nourish your body while also enjoying your favourite foods.
After all, food should be enjoyed rather than dreaded, tallied, weighed, and tracked.
This article cuts through the clutter to clarify what healthy eating entails and how you can make it work for you.
Why is eating healthily important?
Before we get into what healthy eating entails, it’s critical to understand why it matters.
First and foremost, food is what fuels you and provides your body with the calories and nutrients it requires to function. Your health may suffer if your diet lacks calories or one or more nutrients.
Similarly, if you consume too many calories, you may gain weight. Obese people are at a higher risk of developing diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, and heart, liver, and kidney disease (1Trusted Source, 2Trusted Source).
Furthermore, the quality of your food influences illness risk, longevity, and mental wellness.
While diets high in ultra-processed foods have been linked to increased mortality and a higher risk of diseases such as cancer and heart disease, diets high in whole, nutrient-dense foods have been linked to increased longevity and disease protection (3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
High-processed-food diets may also raise the incidence of depressive symptoms, especially in persons who exercise less (4Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source).
Furthermore, if your current diet is high in ultra-processed foods and beverages, such as fast food, soda, and sugary cereals, but low in whole foods, such as vegetables, nuts, and fish, you’re likely not getting enough of certain nutrients, which can harm your general health (10Trusted Source).
Is it necessary to follow a specific diet in order to eat healthily?
Although some people need — or prefer — to avoid certain foods or follow diets for health reasons, the majority of people do not need to follow any specific diet to feel their best.
That’s not to suggest that certain dietary habits can’t be beneficial.
Some people feel the healthiest when they follow a low carb diet, while others thrive on high carb diets.
In general, eating healthy has little to do with following diets or specific dietary requirements. “Healthy eating” simply means putting your health first by feeding your body nourishing foods.
The specifics will vary depending on your location, financial circumstances, culture and society, and taste preferences.
The fundamentals of healthy eating
When you think of healthy eating, the first thing that comes to mind is probably calories. Although calories are vital, nutrition should be your primary focus.
This is because your body requires nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, and minerals to survive. The amount of nutrients in a food in relation to the calories it supplies is referred to as its “nutrient density” (11Trusted Source).
Calories are present in all foods, however not all foods are nutrient-dense.
A candy bar or a box of mac and cheese, for example, may be high in calories but low in vitamins, minerals, protein, and fibre. Foods labelled as “diet-friendly” or “low calorie” may be low in calories but high in nutrients.
Egg whites, for example, have far fewer calories and fat than entire eggs. An egg white, on the other hand, has 1% or less of the Daily Value (DV) for iron, phosphorus, zinc, choline, and vitamins A and B12, whereas a whole egg contains 5-21% of the DV for these nutrients (12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source).
This is due to the healthy, high fat yolk found in eggs.
Furthermore, while some nutrient-dense foods, such as many fruits and vegetables, are low in calories, many others, such as nuts, full fat yoghurt, egg yolks, avocado, and fatty fish, are high in calories. That is completely OK!
Just because a food contains a lot of calories doesn’t mean it’s harmful for you. Similarly, simply because a food is low in calories does not make it a healthy option.
If you focus your meal selections exclusively on calories, you’re missing the goal of healthy eating.
As a general rule, eat foods high in nutrients such as protein, fibre, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Among these foods are vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, fatty fish, and eggs.
Dietary diversity, or eating a range of foods, is another component of good eating.
A varied diet helps your gut bacteria, promotes a healthy body weight, and protects against chronic disease (14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source, 16Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source).
Still, if you’re a fussy eater, consuming a range of meals may be challenging.
If this is the case, introduce new meals gradually. If you don’t eat many veggies, start by incorporating a favourite vegetable into one or two meals per day and work your way up.
Although you may dislike tasting new meals, research suggests that the more you are exposed to them, the more likely you are to become acclimated to them (18Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source).
Macronutrients are carbohydrates, fat, and protein, which are the primary nutrients obtained from diet. (Fibre is classified as a carbohydrate.)
In general, your meals and snacks should be evenly distributed among the three. Adding protein and fat to fiber-rich carb sources, in example, makes recipes more full and flavorful (20Trusted Source).
For example, if you’re snacking on fruit, adding a spoonful of nut butter or a bit of cheese keeps you satiated longer than eating the fruit alone.
It is, nevertheless, acceptable if your diet is not always balanced.
Counting macronutrients and sticking to a strict macronutrient diet isn’t necessary for most people, with the exception of athletes, persons looking to achieve a specific body composition, and those who need to build muscle or fat for medical reasons.
Furthermore, tracking macros and stressing over staying within a set macro range can lead to an excessive obsession with food and calories, as well as disordered eating behaviours (21Trusted Source).
It’s worth noting that some people thrive on diets low in carbs and rich in fat and protein — or low in fat and high in carbs. Even on these diets, however, macronutrient counting is usually unnecessary.
For example, if you feel best on a low carb diet, then eating more low carb items like nonstarchy veggies, proteins, and fats rather than high carb foods would usually enough.
Foods that have been highly processed
Cutting back on ultra-processed meals is one of the best strategies to enhance your diet.
You don’t have to fully avoid processed foods. In truth, many healthful foods, such as shelled almonds, canned beans, and frozen fruits and vegetables, have been processed in some way.
In contrast, highly processed foods and beverages such as soda, mass-produced baked goods, candy, sugary cereals and certain boxed snack foods contain few, if any, whole food ingredients.
High fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and artificial sweeteners are common constituents in these products (9Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source, 23Trusted Source).
Diets high in ultra-processed foods have been linked to an increased risk of depression, heart disease, obesity, and a variety of other issues (9Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source, 25Trusted Source).
Diets high in complete, nutrient-dense foods, on the other hand, have the opposite impact, protecting against disease, prolonging longevity, and improving overall physical and mental well-being (5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
As a result, it is preferable to prioritise nutrient-dense foods, particularly vegetables and fruits.