It is very important to have a healthy diet yet this is not the message that most of us receive on a daily basis. Switch on the TV and there are a variety of cooking programmes that seem to turn the whole business of preparing a meal into a complicated art form requiring hours of work and expense.
At the same time, there are the endless fast food ads from the likes of KFC, Domino Pizza and UBER advertising a quick hit of delicious fattening processed food that can be on your table before the next ad break. And with the proliferation of takeaway outlets on the High Street and the wide range of pre packed food in the supermarkets; the whole concept of preparing your own healthy food seems to be becoming out dated.
No wonder obesity levels in the UK are high and diet related illnesses such as diabetes are going through the roof!
In 2019 the NHS reported that poor diet and a lack of proper nutrition are recognised as a major contributory factor for ill health and premature death. This means that healthy eating is important for all of us regardless of our age and circumstances. Evidence suggests that diet is killing more of us than smoking so it is a serious nationwide health problem.
So what is a healthy diet?
Miracle diets and healthy eating plans hit the media on a regular basis. We are all told the Mediterranean diet is the healthiest in the world with its emphasis on cooking with vegetables, olive oil, pasta and fish. Many people are cutting out carbs and following the Keto diet in order to lose weight and improve health and youth boosting miracle diets such as 5:2 fasting may seem like a good idea but can be hard to follow.
In answer to this, the NHS has published some easy to follow guide lines in their Eat Well information which suggest some easy to follow rules that will suit most dietary preferences.
Fruit and Vegetables
One of these is the “five a day” ruling that states we should be eating at least five portions of different fruit and vegetables a day. Because all fruit and vegetables are crammed with a wide range of nutrients, keeping to five a day is a great way to improve your diet and maintain your health. Many people in the UK are not keeping to this target so are missing out on vital nutrients.
Carbohydrates are also important. There are two categories of carbs; refined carbs which includes sugar and unrefined carbs which are lower in sugar and rich in starch and fibre.
Reducing your intake of refined carbs such as cakes, pastries and white bread and replacing your carb intake with whole grains and such as whole meal pasta will help you lose weight and keep healthy.
Carbs have received a bad press with many people cutting them out completely in order to follow the Keto diet but we do need the starch and fibre they provide for health and energy. The answer is to choose unrefined carbs as often as possible whereas food that is high in refined carbs such as chocolate, biscuits, white bread and cakes are not necessary for our health so should only be eaten in moderation.
Protein such as meat, fish, eggs, beans, peas and lentils is important. It helps our bodies grow and repair muscles and is a vital part of any healthy diet. Some protein is better than others. For example oily fish and eggs are rich in Omega 3 oils which our brains and bodies require yet are often lacking from our diet. Obtaining protein from dairy products such as cheese is a vital source of calcium which helps strengthen bones.
Keeping your body hydrated is also important for health and according to the NHS we should aim at drinking between 6 -8 glasses or cups of fluids each day. Water is great but tea, milk and sugar free drinks all count too. However fizzy sodas and over sweet fruit juices are not good for our health or our weight. Many people forget the hidden calories in drinks but a single can of Coke for example contains around 9 teaspoons of sugar which is more than the recommended limit of an adult’s daily sugar intake.
Prepacked ready meals
Ready meals can provide a quick way of cooking dinner but you do need to be careful before you buy. Most ready meals are high in sugar and fats so if you care about your health it is important to read the label before you buy. If you don’t, you could be consuming unhealthy fats, sugars and salt without even realising it.
One of the major problems with eating healthily is that we all just eat too much! According to Diabetes UK, serving sizes have increased over the past decades and this is a major contributory factor to diabetes and weight gain. Keeping the portion sizes smaller is generally healthier than having too much on the plate.
So how do we eat healthily?
We all need to consider our health before we eat and not just go for what we find appealing or convenient. Cooking from scratch does not have to be complicated or expensive and it keeps you in control of your food. After all if you cook it yourself, you know that there are no hidden ingredients and you can make healthy alternatives to fast food favourites which will not damage your health.
Making small changes will improve your health
You don’t have to have a total change of diet and lifestyle in order to have a healthier diet. You can still enjoy an occasional takeaway meal or pre packed meal, eat out, enjoy a glass of wine and everything else that makes life fun. But unless we all take back control over our diets instead of leaving it to food manufacturers and takeaway outlets to feed us, we are certainly setting ourselves up for ill health in the future.