A healthy diet is a combination of food that provides the body with the nutrients it needs for good health and to perform at its best. It also helps to control weight and prevent common non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.
A variety of foods from the five main food groups is recommended and it is important to include both fresh and canned, frozen and dried fruit and vegetables. This is because the nutrient content of foods changes with preparation, cooking and storage.
The foundation of a healthy diet is made up of foods high in fibre and protein (lean meats, fish, lentils, beans and nuts), low-fat milk and dairy alternatives, fruits, whole grains and unsaturated fats from oils like canola and olive. It is important to avoid highly processed foods, as they are generally higher in saturated and trans-fats.
Limiting foods and drinks that contain added sugars is a key part of a healthy diet. This includes sweetened breakfast cereals, cakes and biscuits as well as fizzy drinks and some items labelled as low-fat, which may still contain large amounts of sugar. The best way to limit added sugar is to read the ingredients list on packaged foods and avoid products containing brown sugar, corn sweetener, fructose, dextrose or high-fructose corn syrup.
Cooking at home rather than eating out is a great way to improve your diet. This can be done by using a range of cooking methods and adding salads, vegetables, fruit and lean meat to most meals. When eating out, opt for meals that are low in saturated fat, added salt and added sugars and high in dietary fibre.
It is suggested that about 10% of an adult’s total daily energy intake should come from fat. The majority of fat should be unsaturated, especially from mono-unsaturated fatty acids found in nuts, seeds and vegetable oils. The remaining 5% of an adult’s energy intake should come from carbohydrate foods and a small percentage should be from protein foods.
The final element of a healthy diet is water, and it is recommended that about 2.5 litres per day is consumed. It is also important to avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, as they provide unnecessary calories and can cause some health problems.
The top shelf of the food pyramid includes foods such as cakes, chocolate sweets and biscuits which have a negative impact on oral health by increasing inflammation in gum tissue. It is important to limit these foods to no more than 2-3 times a week, as this will help maintain a healthy mouth. For example, if you have a craving for cake, try to have a piece of fruit instead and chew it until it is soft before swallowing. This will protect your teeth from the acid in the hard foods and will reduce inflammation. It is also a good idea to brush your teeth before and after these foods as this will help prevent plaque build-up.