A healthy diet is one that contains a variety of foods and beverages that provide essential nutrients. It’s low in added sugars, saturated fats and sodium (table salt) and includes adequate amounts of protein and fibre.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables helps prevent disease and promotes health. Eating more vegetables and fruit also supports a healthy weight and lower risk for heart disease and some cancers.
The concept of a healthy diet continues to evolve as we learn more about the role that food plays in our overall health and well-being. The latest thinking is that a healthy eating pattern can help protect against non-communicable diseases, like heart disease and diabetes.
In recent years we have seen a number of diet trends come and go. The fads include the Zone Diet that recommended 40 percent of calories from carbohydrate, 30 percent from protein and 30 percent from fat, marking a shift from the very low-fat diets of the 1980s; the Blood Type Diet that made different nutrient recommendations based on an individual’s blood type; and the Subway Diet that promoted meal replacement with two meals a day of sandwiches, chips and diet soda.
Many of these diets are not sustainable and can lead to nutritional deficiencies. It’s important to eat a balanced diet that consists of the major food groups, including grains, fruits and vegetables, proteins (from meats and plant sources) and dairy and soy products.
A healthy diet is also high in calcium, potassium and magnesium. Choose a mix of calcium-rich foods such as low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt, dark green vegetables and fortified soy alternatives, plus nuts, seeds and beans.
Try to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables daily, including a range of colours. These can be fresh, frozen, canned or dried. Try to eat more vegetables and fewer fruit juices and soft drinks, which are high in sugar and added salt.
It takes a while for your brain to recognise that you are full. It’s best to eat meals and snacks slowly, savouring each bite and taking the time to enjoy your food. It’s also helpful to eat with other people, as this can slow down eating and make you more mindful of what you are putting in your body.
Avoid foods and drinks that are high in added sugars, sodium, saturated fat and trans fats. It is a good idea to limit the amount of salt you eat and try not to add extra salt when cooking. If you do need to add salt to your food, choose the lowest-sodium varieties and limit it to mealtimes only. It’s also best to drink water, tea and coffee and avoid sugary drinks. If you do decide to have a soft drink, limit it to one per day and choose the lower-sugar varieties.