Healthy eating is essential for a healthy life. Often, we aren’t taught the basics of a balanced diet, so it can be difficult to know where to start. Healthy Eating isn’t always the simplest thing to do.
We’re surrounded by temptation everywhere we go, with commercials on TV telling us about the latest foods to join our favorite fast-food chain.
It can seem nearly impossible to motivate yourself to fill your plate with veggies when Big Macs seem to be following you everywhere you go.
So, how do you get started with healthy eating? How does nutrition work? This guide will cover everything you need to know about healthy eating.
What Are The Benefits of Eating Healthy?
There are several different benefits to eating healthy. Let’s go into a few of them:
Good Cardiovascular health
When you eat a healthy diet you can reduce your risks of things such as heart disease. This is because it means you can regulate your blood pressure and cholesterol better.
For this, eating a diet consisting of a lot of veggies, fruits, and whole grains, along with low-fat dairy. It can also incorporate some oily fish into your diet every week, as the omega 3 is good for your heart.
Good for Your Teeth and Bones
Want to know how you can help to keep your bones and teeth strong? Get your calcium in! Calcium is present in plenty of dairy products, but you can also get it from many dark green vegetables, soy, sardines, and more.
Getting the right calcium intake can help to slow the rate at which you lose bone as you get older.
Improved Mood and Energy
You may not know this, but eating healthy is great for your energy and mood. People that eat more healthy foods tend to find that they feel more energized afterward.
In addition to this, when you are eating well you are also getting the essential nutrients that you need to keep your body in top condition.
A study from 2016 found that a bad diet can contribute to symptoms associated with fatigue and depression. While a good diet and a healthy lifestyle is by no means a quick fix for depression or fatigue, it can certainly help you to feel a lot better.
People most commonly associate a healthy diet with attempts to lose weight, and this is for good reason. Of course, it is possible to lose weight with a so-called ‘bad diet’ if you are in a calorie deficit, but eating healthy, whole foods can make the process much easier.
The main reason for this is because things like whole vegetables and fruits tend to be quite low in calories, especially in comparison to processed foods. It also means that you will keep satiated throughout the day because you can have a few smaller meals.
Sets a Good Example for Children
This may seem like a bizarre point to make, but hear us out. Our children and young loved ones learn from our example. They watch what we do and what we eat.
As you can imagine from this, many children tend to replicate their parents’ eating and exercise habits. By keeping ourselves healthy, we are also more likely to ensure that our children are healthy.
Calorie Intake and Energy Units Explained
Calories are a pretty important part of nutrition. To influence our weight, we must eat a certain number of calories. To put it simply, the idea is as follows.
To Lose Weight
Your calorie expenditure must be higher than your calorie intake
To Maintain Weight
Your calorie intake and calorie expenditure must be equal
To Gain Weight
Your calorie intake must be higher than your calorie expenditure
That’s all well and good, but what exactly are calories? Essentially they’re a unit of energy, and we usually use them to measure the amount of energy that certain foods and drinks contain.
So how do calories work, then? Essentially, when we are eating, energy is going into our bodies. We use this energy throughout the day. It doesn’t need to be through exercise, our body burns calories just by keeping us alive.
Each person requires a certain amount of calories to survive. If you eat more than that amount, your body will store it as fat, which results in you gaining weight over time. As the above table suggests, the opposite is true if you consume fewer calories than you spend.
You may be wondering at this point how many calories you should eat to achieve your goals. This is largely going to depend on many factors, from your age to your gender, and your weight and level of activity.
Generally, it is recommended that a moderately active woman aged 26-50 should eat around 2000 calories a day to maintain their weight. For a man aged 26-45, it is generally recommended to eat roughly 2600 calories a day to maintain weight.
If you have a very active job, such as being a laborer, then your calorie requirements are going to be different from someone that has a desk job and lives a mostly sedentary lifestyle.
There are many calorie calculators online that you can use to figure out your exact calorie needs based on your body and lifestyle.
The best thing to do is to check your calorie needs to maintain your weight. As a rule of thumb, if you’re trying to lose weight then you need to reduce your calories by around 500 a day to lose 1 pound a week. You can achieve this through diet and exercise combined.
If you want to track how many calories you are eating and spending, investing in an app like MyFitnessPal is incredibly helpful. You can also practice intuitive eating.
How Macronutrients Work
Macronutrients are the core of a balanced diet. They make up pretty much everything that we eat, but not everyone has a thorough understanding of how they work.
The three macronutrients are as follows:
These three key nutrients are used by your body in different ways, and it’s essential to get a balance of all three in your diet.
Many diets will suggest cutting out an entire macronutrient group, but this is not the best idea as it can give you nutrient deficiencies, and you could be more prone to illness.
Here’s a breakdown of the three macronutrients.
Protein is key for helping to repair, build, and grow your muscles, but it’s not just important for bodybuilders. It also helps to stave off any infections.
They consist of amino acids which are essential for many of your body’s internal processes, but we can’t produce 9 of the key amino acids without help from protein sources.
Some sources of protein include beef, fish, poultry, soy, and other dairy products. You can also find it in many beans and vegetables, which is perfect if you follow a vegetarian diet. Protein has four calories per gram.
The word ‘fats’ may make many recoil in horror, but healthy fats are essential for a balanced diet.
It’s important to have fat so that your body can absorb key vitamins, and it’s important to keep your body well insulated when it’s cold out. Fats have a higher fat content of nine calories per gram.
Carbohydrates are a crucial way to get in a little bit of quick energy. This is because your body turns the carbohydrates into glucose, which either gets used immediately or will be stored for your body to use later on.
There are different kinds of carbs, but the one you should ideally go for is complex carbs such as fruit and vegetables and whole grains. This is because they’re good for your digestive health. Carbohydrates contain four calories per gram.
The question is, how many macronutrients should you eat? Again, this largely depends on the individual and what works best for their body. You should ideally try to find a ratio that works best for you. For some people, a lower-carb diet may work better, for others the opposite is true.
How Micronutrients Work
Despite having the word ‘micro’ in the name, micronutrients are essential for ensuring that you are healthy. Your vitamins are needed to ensure that you have enough energy, they impact your blood clotting, how your immune system works and so much more.
In short, micronutrients refer to minerals and vitamins as a whole. You don’t need quite as many micronutrients as macronutrients, but they’re still important.
Not all foods contain the same amounts of micronutrients, so it’s best to check the label.
There are a lot of health benefits of micronutrients. First of all, having the right amount of micronutrients for you helps to fight off diseases. Some micronutrients can also act as antioxidants, which can often protect against damage to your cells.
In addition to this, research has shown that getting adequate vitamins can help to stop Alzheimer’s.
When you don’t get enough of a certain micronutrient, you can sometimes get deficiencies. For instance, B12 deficiencies can sometimes make you feel tired. Ensuring that you get enough micronutrients, then, is essential for ensuring that your body stays in optimal condition.
If you are struggling to get enough of a certain micronutrient into your diet, you might consider micronutrient supplements. You can often get most of your vitamins in from eating the right foods, however.
The Benefits of Eating Whole Foods
One of the best ways to start eating healthy is to start a whole food diet. A whole foods diet is essentially eating foods in their natural form rather than things that have been heavily processed.
For instance, it could be eating a baked potato rather than fries. A whole foods diet is dense in a lot of key things that you need to stay healthy. Here are just a few of the benefits.
Improved Skin Health
One issue with eating a diet that’s high in unhealthy fat, grease, or sugar, is that it can often cause you to have breakouts such as acne.
Your complexion can be impacted by the things you eat. When you eat a whole foods diet, you’re getting in a bunch of important nutrients that help you to have better skin health.
Certain foods such as avocados have actually been proven to protect your skin from damage from the sun. Whole foods help to nourish your skin, without all of the expensive moisturizers.
Prolonged Life Span
Generally, foods that have been heavily processed aren’t as good for you as whole foods are. In fact, through time they can damage your health, resulting in further issues such as obesity.
When you eat whole foods, you are getting more key nutrients into your diet, which means that your health will improve. This may mean that you leave longer because you’re giving your body foods that are good for it.
A Sustainable Life Choice
Many diets recommend things that may not be sustainable for everyone - things like dramatically reducing your carbohydrate intake. With a whole foods diet, it’s usually just a matter of swapping out processed foods for healthy ones.
You can even modify your whole foods choices to make them similar to your favorite processed foods. If you want to maintain a healthy lifestyle, it’s always best to look for a diet that you can maintain for the rest of your life. This is certainly possible with a whole foods diet.
Lower in Sugar
There are a lot of studies out there that have suggested that having a diet high in sugar can make you more susceptible to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other issues. Whole foods are generally a lot lower in sugar, which can in turn reduce your risk of these problems.
Many people can get into the habit of eating the same foods constantly. Some diets out there certainly encourage this. This may suit many people, but for some, it can get pretty boring and tough to sustain.
With a whole foods diet, there are a wide variety of different options out there - you can eat all types of fish, meat, vegetables, fruits, and so much more.
Eating a whole foods diet may even broaden your horizons to new foods you never would have tried before. You may find a new kind of food that you would have previously avoided, and it could even become a staple of your everyday diet.
There is a common belief that eating healthy, whole foods can be incredibly expensive, more so than processed food. To an extent this is certainly true, eating whole foods and meats can sometimes be more expensive than ordering a quick microwave meal.
However, it’s a lot cheaper than eating out at restaurants or fast food places every day. Not to mention, it also saves you money in terms of your medical care, as you are less likely to have diet-related issues such as diabetes and obesity.
One of the key problems that many people have with ‘dieting’ is that there’s a common mental image that you need to eat salads 24/7. With a whole foods diet, you are balancing all of your main macro and micronutrients, but you’re also getting a delicious meal every time.
With a whole foods diet, everything tastes fresh. You may even choose not to go back to processed foods again!
When manufacturers are making processed foods, a lot of greenhouse gas emissions occur, and there is a lot of fuel used. Unfortunately processed foods also tend to have a lot of packaging that can’t be recycled too. Whole foods are less likely to harm the environment.
Whole foods usually tend to contain good amounts of fiber and not nearly as much sugar and flavorings as processed food. This normally means that you are less likely to overeat, allowing you to keep your portions better under control.
The Importance of Portion Control
It’s often a lot easier to eat inside of an allotted calorie amount if you practice portion control. This means that it’s an essential aspect of managing weight.
You may be thinking that portion control means eating less found than usual, but this simply isn’t the case. It is simply being aware of the amount that you’re eating, and knowing the nutritional aspects of certain foods.
Portion control is getting a lot harder lately - many restaurants provide you with much larger servings than you need, which can easily cause you to overeat your calories.
Portion control is important for several different reasons. The first is to do with your digestive tract. When you eat bigger portions than your body can handle, you are more likely to feel discomfort and indigestion.
Your body needs an amount of food that is right for you as an individual. You are less likely to cramp and bloat after you eat when you practice portion control.
In addition to this, if you eat more than you need to you can also have imbalances in your blood sugar. Proper portion control can help you to stay full for longer too.
Not only that, but practicing portion control can also be pretty handy for your wallet. You ultimately don’t need to buy as much food if you eat the correct amount for you rather than overeating.
It can seem a bit daunting to practice portion control, but you can make it a little easier by paying attention to your food labels, measuring the food before you eat it and preparing meals in advance.
Supplements: The Low Down
Many people just aren't’ getting enough of some of their key micro and macro nutrients into their diet. In this case, food supplements can be quite helpful for ensuring that your body is performing at its peak condition.
A large percentage of the American population takes supplements for their diet, and you can generally get them either with or without a prescription, depending on your need for them. You can get supplements in powder, pills or liquid forms.
You only need a certain amount of each vitamin - eating too much more than you need isn’t always helpful. Having some vitamins in high doses can be harmful to your health rather than helpful.
Supplements can be quite helpful if you aren’t eating enough of a certain vitamin or nutrient through your diet. Of course, it’s not the best idea to replace your entire diet with supplements though - it is always best to get the bulk of your nutrition from your everyday diet.
There are a few supplements that can be quite helpful to take, however, including:
- Vitamin D
- Folic Acid
- Vitamin B12
For instance, Vitamin B12 is helpful for people that are adhering to a vegan diet. In addition to this, many Americans aren’t getting enough exposure to the sunlight which is a common source of vitamin D.
In this case, taking a supplement can be helpful to ensure that you get the amount you need. Folic Acid is mainly helpful for women that are at a childbearing age, as it can reduce the chances of birth defects.
Protein is another useful supplement, especially if you are trying to build muscle. There are many different things like protein powders on the market that you can simply add into some milk to make a protein shake.
You can even incorporate this into your meals. Again, this should not take the place of whole foods protein in your diet, but it can help if you are struggling to meet your macronutrient goals.
15 Super Healthy Foods to Add to Your Menu
So, where do you get started with finding the right healthy foods to add to your diet?
Well, we believe that a healthy diet is all about having the right balance - Sure, you can have that Big Mac every once in a while, but it’s best to make the vast majority of your diet consist of healthy whole foods. Here are just a few of the best healthy foods to add to your menu.
Berries contain a whole host of healthy vitamins and minerals that your body needs, not to mention the antioxidants. Many of the antioxidants in berries are ideal for helping to reduce your chances of getting illnesses like cancer, heart diseases and inflammatory conditions.
Not only that, but they’re also very useful for your digestive tract. Some of the best berries include strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and cranberries.
Perhaps the best part of berries is that they can be added to a range of different recipes to add some extra sweetness. Examples include maple bacon toast with blueberries, or an oat breakfast bake.
2. Whole Eggs
If you’re looking for a way to increase your protein intake and you have no dietary restrictions, eggs are a great way to do so. They can work in a range of different recipes or hold their own in an egg based dish.
Eggs aren’t just a good choice of protein, however. They also contain vitamins B2 and B12 which are very important for keeping you energized throughout the day, not to mention that they help to create your red blood cells.
Eggs are also a good source of healthy fats.
It’s important to get at least one portion of oily fish into your diet once a week if you can, and salmon is a great way to do this.
Salmon has oodles of nutritional value, full of healthy fats and protein. It’s a great source of omega 3 fatty acids, and it contains iodine which can help to ensure that your thyroid functions as it should.
While it is relatively high in calories in comparison to some other oily fish, it’s a great choice for someone that’s looking to lose weight as it’s a highly satiating meat.
With that being said, seafood can sometimes be contaminated with certain heavy metals and other pollutants in the ocean, and for this reason you should limit your consumption of oily fish to around two or three servings a week maximum.
4. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens aren’t always everyone’s first choice when it comes to foods, but these superfoods are great for your overall health.
Leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, swiss chards and collards, are usually pretty low in calories and are a good source of fibrous carbohydrates.
Because they are so low in calories, you can usually put more of them on your plate to keep you satiated for longer, without worrying about going over your calorie allowance.
Not only that, but these foods are usually highly nutritious and contain plenty of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants that are essential for a healthy lifestyle.
5. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is a fantastic healthy food. Sure, it may be a little bitter for many, but you can even eat it as part of a recipe to reap the benefits. This food is rich in probiotics, which are great for making your immunity and digestion better.
It’s also a great protein source, containing 8 grams more protein in just one serving than what you may find in a standard yogurt.
6. Seeds and Nuts
Seeds and nuts are a great source of healthy fats, but they are also pretty high in calories. Despite this, they can be pretty handy if you’re attempting to lose weight.
The main reason for this is because they’re incredibly filling and contain a bunch of essential nutrients. These include things like vitamin E and magnesium, things that many people simply don’t get enough of in their diet.
Not to mention that they are perfect if you don’t have the time to prepare a snack for work. All you need to do is grab a bag of nuts and eat away - just make sure that nobody around you has a nut or seed allergy!
7. Olive Oil
Olive oil is a great thing to add to many of your dishes when you are cooking. This is a very healthy vegetable oil and is a great source of healthy fat to add to your meals. It even has a lot of antioxidants!
If you’re looking for a vegetarian replacement for beef, mushrooms are a great choice. They’re pretty low in calories too, meaning that you can eat more of them to feel fuller.
You can add mushrooms to a wide range of different dishes, making them a highly versatile food that is a staple of any person’s meal prep.
If you’re looking for a source of healthy monounsaturated fats without turning to meat, avocados are a good choice. These fruits contain a lot of nutrients, fiber and vitamins. It also contains Oleic acid which has often been linked to reducing inflammation.
10. Sweet Potato
Everyone loves a little bit of this delicious vegetable in their diet, but sweet potatoes are especially good for you. Sweet potatoes are rich in important nutrients, such as Vitamins A and C, fiber and potassium.
They have a sweet flavor too, which makes them suitable for a wide range of different dishes.
Lentils are a great thing to incorporate into your diet. These contain plenty of protein, and they also have a lot of folate, ideal for young women looking to minimize the chances of certain birth defects. They’re super versatile too, allowing you to cook them into a range of dishes.
More specifically, chicken breasts! Chicken contains 2.5 grams of fat and often more than 22 grams of protein in total.
It can be used in a range of different meals and it can also be great on its own. If you are trying to do a low carbohydrate diet, getting lots of chicken into your diet can be especially handy.
Garlic is a great way of seasoning and adding an extra bit of a kick to a dish. Not to mention, this food includes something called bioactive organosulfur compounds. This has a range of benefits, including making immune function better.
Your favorite meals like porridge and oatmeal can be great for your health. Oats contain a bunch of different nutrients and fibers, not to mention the meal possibilities are endless. If you put your oats in a blender, you can even use it as oat flour and make healthy pancakes.
15. Cottage Cheese
There’s nothing quite like dairy to help you to get plenty of protein in. Cottage cheese is one of the best choices if you are looking to improve your protein intake. This food doesn’t have a lot of carbs or fat, and it’s very low in calories. It even contains a high amount of calcium.
And 15 Unhealthy Foods to Avoid
Often, it’s not necessary to entirely cut out a food from your diet unless it’s directly affecting your health, but there are some foods that should ideally be eaten sparingly if possible due to the effects that they have on your health.
High in Sodium and Saturated Fats
High in calories and fat
High in Fat and Calories
Bad for your teeth and high amounts of sugar
High in calories
Pastries and Cakes
High in refined sugar, fats and preservatives
High in calories and easy to overeat
Not dairy, none of the nutritional benefits of normal cheese
Fast food meals
Mass produced, minimal nutrients
High amounts of preservatives
Some contain chemicals that are bad for you
High in calories, made of refined white flour
Store Bought Milkshake
High unsaturated fats in packaged milkshakes
High in fructose
High in calories and refined flour/processed meat
1. Hot Dogs
Hot dogs contain processed meats, but that’s not all. These tasty little sandwiches contain a lot of stadium, not to mention saturated fats.
Unfortunately, consuming processed meats has often been linked with higher chances of developing coronary heart disease. Limiting the hot dogs, then, is a good way to improve your health.
Chips have an incredibly high calorie amount - 152 calories and 10 grams of fat in total. Those are calories that add up after a while, contributing to weight gain. They often aren’t filling enough either.
3. Cheesy Fries
What do you get when you add more fat to a dish that’s already high in fat, salt and calories? Nothing good for you, that’s for sure. Just one normal sized portion of cheese fries amounts to around 800 calories in total, with a whopping 35g or more of fat.
4. Fizzy Drinks
We all love a bit of soda, but it’s a good idea to limit the amount that you consume if you are looking to lead a healthier lifestyle. Fizzy drinks can have a bad impact on your teeth due to the high amounts of sugar - this also goes for diet versions too.
There’s nothing quite like the taste of the cheesy goodness that comes with pizza, but it’s not the best food for your health.
A lot of pizzas that you can buy consist of ingredients that aren’t very healthy, and generally consist of refined dough and lots of processed meat. You can make alternatives, however, such as pizza with a cauliflower base.
6. Pastries and Cake
A lot of pastries and cakes are made out of a lot of refined sugar, wheat and more. Not to mention that many of them have a lot of added fats. They also don’t contain many nutrients and they are high in calories.
7. Ice Cream
That Ben and Jerry’s ice cream may not be as good for you as you thought! This icy treat contains a lot of sugar, not to mention that ice cream is high in calories and it’s very easy to over eat it.
8. Processed Cheese
As long as it’s eaten in moderation, processed cheese can be quite good for you as it has a lot of nutrients. Processed cheese gives you no nutritional value, and the texture and taste often isn’t the same either. It’s best to stick to standard, dairy cheese if you can.
9. Fast Food Meals
Fast food is tasty, but should be eaten in moderation. It usually consists of a lot of processed meats, the food is mass produced and doesn’t provide you a lot of nutritional value.
10. Frozen Meals
Frozen meals can be pretty convenient, but in order to freeze the food for long periods of time, many manufacturers put things like extra preservatives and sodium into the dishes. It’s often better just to meal prep your own foods as this is a healthier option in most cases.
11. Microwave Popcorn
Microwave popcorn mostly gets its buttery flavor from things such as flavoring agents and chemicals, which isn’t very good for you.
12. Certain Bagels
Not all bagels are bad for you, but there are many out there that are high in calories, and they contain a lot of refined white flour foods. This is not good, as it can make you more susceptible to gaining weight and getting illnesses like heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes.
13. Store Bought Milkshake
If you want a milkshake, it’s usually best to make it yourself as a lot of store bought milkshakes that are pre packaged have a lot more calories and sugar.
14. Agave Nectar
Agave nectar is pretty high in fructose, which is a lot higher than the amount of standard sugar that we eat daily. It’s best to be wary of agave nectar and reduce the amount of it that you eat.
Burgers usually consist of processed meat and are high in calories, and don’t give you a great deal of nutritional value. They are best restricted to a meal that you have every once in a while.
How To Make Healthy Eating a Lifestyle Choice
Changing your lifestyle isn’t always easy, but it’s certainly possible. Often, it’s about building smaller habits across a longer period of time.
When you’re first starting with your healthy eating journey, it’s worth going to the grocery store and seeing what swaps you can make. For instance, this could be opting for cheese that’s lower in fat, or opting for chicken breasts instead of chicken thighs.
Getting your family involved is also quite helpful. Having a support system is a great way to ensure that you stay on track with your new lifestyle - it also helps to keep your loved ones healthy.
You could even grab a new healthy recipe book and practice some cooking with your children.
Sticking to a routine is also easier if you schedule your snacks and meals in correctly. This could be something as simple as having breakfast in the morning to keep you satiated.
By making small changes, you are developing your habits over time to turn your healthy eating into a lifestyle.
While it can sometimes seem a little daunting to start with healthy eating, it doesn’t need to be difficult. Often, you can eat many of the things that you love now just in moderation.
With this ultimate guide to healthy eating, we hope that you now feel that you are equipped with the knowledge to make a life long change for you and your family.