Understanding Healthy Eating

freferfgewrgMost people like the idea of healthy eating, but how should you go about it? The more you read on the subject, the more complicated it seems. What are the important things you really need to focus on, and how can you put what you learn into practice so that it really makes a difference to your life? Understanding healthy eating is the first step toward taking better care of yourself and your family.

What your body needs: the basics

The basics of a healthy diet are fairly straightforward but there are several different factors you’ll need to consider.

Calories are a simple way of measuring how much energy you take in over the course of a day. An average man needs around 2,500 and an average woman 2,000, but this varies depending on how big your frame is and how much physical activity you undertake. Children need around 1,000 a day when they first start eating solid food and the number rises as they grow, but teenagers may need more than adults in order to fuel their rapid growth and bodily changes.

The World Health Organization recommends that no more than 10% of total energy should come from free sugars (most easily understood as food and dinks that taste sweet and haven’t been artificially sweetened) and no more than 30% from fats. Although they have an important role to play in a health diet, fats consumed in excess can clog up your arteries, making you unfit and potentially causing serious illness. This is what’s going on if your doctor tells you that your cholesterol is too high. The worst fats are those found in meat, dairy produce and processed food. You can help to clean them out of your system by eating healthy fats like those found in fish, nuts, olive oil, sunflower oil and avocados.

As well as energy, your body needs vitamins and minerals. These are most abundant in fruits and vegetables, which is why you should try to eat at least five portions of different kinds of fruits and vegetables each day. Along with cereals like rice, wheat, oats and quinoa, these will also help to boost your fiber intake. Fiber helps to keep your digestive system healthy, keep your bowel movements regular and comfortable, and protect you from cancer.

Finally, you should avoid having too much salt. Try to keep it under five grams (approximately a level teaspoonful) per day. As you get used to having less, you’ll notice the taste more.

Reducing problem food intake

There are several key foods that most Americans eat too much of, and cutting down on them could really improve your health:

  • Red meat – too much increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and some kinds of cancer. Reducing it to a twice weekly treat eliminates most of this risk.
  • Soda – too much increases your risk of obesity and diabetes. Drinking more water or diluted juice instead can slash your calories count and make you feel much healthier.
  • Processed food – too much increases your risk of heart problems and obesity. Cut down by cooking big batches of food and freezing portions for quick meals.
  • Candy – too much increases your risk of obesity, diabetes, and ‘sugar crash’ feelings of faintness. Fresh fruit or juice makes a much healthier pick-me-up.

Introducing healthy options

Cutting out foods is often a stressful process that can make you feel as if the fun is being taken from your life. You can reduce this feeling by introducing new foods at the same time. If you’re open to exploration, you could discover new favorites this way, and healthy ones too, meaning that you can eat a lot of them. A good place to start without having to spend much is by buying different kinds of herbs and spices in small amounts and looking up simple recipes on the internet so you can find out what they taste like, but don’t be shy about trying new nuts, fruits and vegetables too.

Getting clever in the kitchen

It’s much easier to eat healthily if you cook your own food, and there are plenty of simple recipes out there that even beginners would struggle to get wrong. Cooking doesn’t have to take up a lot of time. Once you’ve mastered the boiling pan, the grill, the roasting tin and the copper skillet, as seen on TV, you’re already halfway there. Remember to use no more oil than you need when cooking, and keep fatty sauces to a minimum. Try steaming vegetables in a traditional steamer or in your microwave, as this makes them taste better than boiling, gives them a more satisfying crunch, and preserves more of their natural health benefits.

Personalizing your diet

In the end, every diet needs to be tailored to the individual. This is especially true if you’re managing a health condition or trying to lose or gain weight. As a rule, if you’re trying to lose weight, you should reduce your calories intake by 3,000 to 5,000 calories per day. Avoid fads like removing gluten (which won’t do you any harm if you don’t have celiac disease) or cutting out all carbs in preference for fats (which can lead to organ damage) and concentrate on the basics. It’s always helpful to spread out what you eat through the day so that your blood sugar (and therefore your energy levels) remains stable.

Once you understand the basics, most of healthy eating comes down to common sense. You’ll soon get used to the details that matter, and if you keep on exploring and trying new things, you’ll find that it can be a real pleasure.

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