The overall goal of a healthy diet is to give your body enough nutrients that it can be in its best possible condition. Research has shown that if you eat the right foods you can reduce your inflammation, manage most health conditions and reduce the chance of you developing an illness throughout your life.
To eat the right food you need to know what food is made up of and how the different types of food affect your body. Most importantly you need to find out what your food is best for your body. The food you eat is made up of a mixture of micro and macro nutrients. Finding the right mixture of these is achieved by developing a healthy diet which contains carbs, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and a good amount of protein. This section breaks down why you need these and what benefits they have in your diet.
Micros Are Your Nutrients
Micronutrients are a group of vitamins and minerals and are vital for your body’s growth, development and overall health. Micronutrients are only needed in small amounts, but deficiencies in them can lead to serious illnesses.
To maintain a healthy body you need to make sure you’re eating enough of these key micronutrients: Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Vitamin B, Folic Acid, Iron and Zinc.
Vitamin A: Found in orange/yellow fruits, veg and fortified foods. Vitamin A is needed for good vision, healthy skin, teeth, bones and soft tissue.
Vitamin B: Found in oily fish, cheese, eggs. If you are a vegan, your best source is most likely going to be a supplement or non-dairy milks which have been fortified with it. Vitamin B deficiency is quite high in the vegan population as it is generally only found in animal foods. The vitamin is important for immune and nervous system health, as well as your body’s growth and development.
Vitamin K: Found in green veg such as cucumbers and brussel sprouts. Vitamin K supports heart health and improves bone density.
Folic Acid: Found in lentils and green leafy veg such as kale. Folic Acid is important for cell growth and DNA synthesis.
Iron: Found in dried beans, dried fruit and whole grains. Iron is crucial in transporting oxygen around your body through red blood cells.
Zinc: Found in nuts and whole grains. Zinc is essential for healthy skin, infection prevention and wound healing.
Macros Are Your Fuel
Macronutrients are a group of nutrients, made up of carbohydrates, protein and fat. These are essential for a healthy body and depending on your goals, you will want to change how much of each you consume on a daily basis. The best way to keep track of your macronutrients is to convert them into percentages and measure them in grams.
For those who are looking to build muscle, you will want to increase your carbohydrate daily intake to fuel muscle growth. Your daily ‘macro ratio’ will want to follow a split of 50% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 20% fat.
For people who want to lose fat you will want a macronutrient split of around 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 30% fat. This split will ensure you have enough energy to burn more calories, while still maintaining muscle through eating a healthy amount of protein.
Everyone’s body types and activity levels are different. To make sure you safely reach your goals, you might find yourself tweaking the recommended ratios shown above.
Carbs Give You Energy
If you’re trying to keep your energy levels high, one of the most important things is to never go five hours without food. If you do, it’s most likely that your body is running on empty. This will make even the most simplest of tasks seem impossible, creating the urge to skip your healthy routines.
The easiest food compound for our body to turn into energy is carbohydrate, so it’s important to ensure you have a steady source of it throughout the day. Carbohydrates aren’t just found in ‘carb heavy’ food such as grains, oats, potatoes and bread either; they are found in almost every fruit and vegetable on the planet. If it’s a natural food from a plant-based source, it most likely contains some carbs to keep you going.
Healthy Fats Reduce Inflammation
We’ve all heard at one point in our lives that too much fat is bad. Whilst that is true when it comes to processed trans-fats and most saturated fats, it is not true for monounsaturated fats and medium chain fatty acids. These healthy acids have been found to reduce inflammation throughout the body (4) and aid in proper brain growth, development and performance. In fact, the human brain is nearly 60% fat (5).
These healthy fats are found in various natural foods such as avocados, nuts, olives and various seeds. They are also present in high concentration in olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil. Most fish contains high amounts of these healthy fats too; the most sustainable being herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines.
Fruits and Vegetables Keep You Healthy
The largest and longest study to date on fruits and vegetables was completed by Harvard University. It was done over 14 years and contained almost 110,000 men and women whose health and dietary habits were followed. It proved very convincingly that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can increase our lifespan by decreasing the risk of heart disease and strokes (6-10). They found that individuals who routinely ate more than five servings of fruits and vegetables developed this lower risk, compared with individuals who at less than three servings per day.
Four different studies have all shown that eating fruits and vegetables can help keep your eyes healthy and protect against aging-related eye diseases. This is because of the eyes need a regular supply of micro-nutrients, such as carotene. The biggest natural food sources of this nutrient can be found in carrots, sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens and butternut squash. A study from the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research also suggests that non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, leafy greens, garlic and onions (and various fruits too), help protect against several types of cancers. (11)
Protein Fuels Growth of Cells and Tissue
Protein is the most abundant molecule, apart from water, in our bodies. We always think of muscle when we talk about protein or about their components, amino acids, but these essential little building blocks are found in every cell and tissue throughout the body. In fact, when it combines with the vitamins and minerals in our body it allows us to:
- Facilitate the digestion and absorption of nutrients.
- Remove waste and toxins.
- Move oxygen from the lungs and to the cells that desperately need it to survive.
- Clean up free radicals that do cellular damage and contribute to cancer and aging.
- Aid the immune system in recognising and removing threats to our health and wellness.
- Support the hormones our bodies use to balance and regulate hundreds of systems and functions, from blood sugar to emotions.
The body synthesizes proteins from amino acids, forming them into long chains. The chains can then twist and fold into unique shapes with practically endless possibilities and combinations in form and function. Some of these amino acids can be made by the body, but some must come from diet. Since the body doesn't store amino acids, we do need a daily supply, but too much can be harmful.