Vital Elements of a Healthy Diet

healthy diet

Healthy Diet written by Alan Anderson

When it comes to a healthy diet there is so much conflicting information around. It can be difficult to sort fact from fad and fiction. Diet is one subject I tend to avoid. That’s because there are so many strong opinions about what’s healthy and what’s not.  I fully understand I am likely to get roasted for this post. However, I feel compelled to share my own humble view and experience of creating a healthy diet.

I have never been in to fad weight loss methods for two reasons. Firstly, many of them are so strict they are difficult to maintain long term. Secondly, many of them are too extreme to be proven as healthy in the long term. Despite this, I have always wanted to know what is a healthy diet.

Be Your Own Tribe

I believe it’s possible to develop healthy eating without getting caught up in extreme diet factions.  like paleo, low-fat, vegan, low-carb, raw, mediterranean and the like. My issue with many of these diets is that they take one healthy concept to the extreme and try to create tribes of followers. This tribalism around food and diet often seems to be more about driving sales of books and courses than truth about sustainable healthy eating.

There I’ve said it!

If I have offended you already, please accept my apology and hopefully you will read my next post on a less challenging issue.  However, if I have peaked your interest, please read on. Within every supposed ‘healthy diet’ there are always elements of truth that can be extracted.

Finding and combining these elements of truth can  then help form a simple, well structured and balanced way of eating.  I am not a nutritionist, but just want to share what I have experienced. Below are my pragmatic views about healthy diet forged in the fires of life experience and personal research.

healthy diet -principles

Principles of a Healthy Diet

I now stick to four core principles for my own healthy diet. These include :

  1. becoming aware of the nutrients in food and therefore moving towards fresh options, then managing the overall
  2. intake of calories especially from processed foods with added sugar, then
  3. understanding which foods are healthiest based on their glycemic index
  4. and finally limiting unhealthy foods with high levels of fat, salt and sugar (glucose).

Our bodies need a wide range of natural nutrients including vitamins, minerals, protein and a small amount of complex carbohydrate. This is why I prefer to avoid extreme diets as they often demonize one of the essential food groups which may contain nutrients our body needs for long term health.

healthy diet -awareness

Healthy Diet – Food Awareness

The struggle to maintain a healthy diet for most people comes from our modern food supply. We have never lived in a time when so much calorie dense foods are available everywhere at any time. Our food system is also filled with many highly processed foods which are cheap to produce. The down side is that these processed foods break the four core health principles I mentioned above. They often contain high levels of  added sugar and salt to improve flavor and texture.

Also, they can contain high levels of processed carbs which are too easily broken down into excess calories in our body. This fast breakdown can create spikes in our blood sugar and also fat production in our body. Long term, this is seen by experts as one of the major factors in the rise of obesity worldwide.

Example

Lets compare two different carbohydrates as an example of this. Take a standard loaf of white bread. These are generally high in processed carbs which quickly break down to give us empty calories with very few natural nutrients or fiber.  Unfortunately, highly processed carbs can produce a big peak in our blood sugar levels.  This can give us more calories than we need at the time. These excess calories are then converted into fat.

Now let’s compare this with the impact of a loaf of whole grain bread. Whole grain bread is less processed and so breaks down more slowly. This means it produces a much lower spike in our blood sugar. Also, the sugar created is released to body more slowly. This gives our body a more sustained release of energy so we feel fuller for longer. Whole-grains are also naturally full of nutrients that our body needs as well as being high in fiber which is great for digestive health. This high fiber also helps us feel fuller for longer so we have less cravings for snacks between meals.

Simple Science

Scientists have been able to measure the rate at which foods are broken down into blood sugar. This is called the glycemic index or G.I for short. By understanding the G.I of common foods, it becomes possible to make healthy choices based on scientific fact. I will explain more about the G.I of foods later, particular when it comes to healthy carbs and and sugar.

This does not mean  you can’t enjoy your favorite fresh baguette, but introduces two key concepts. These are moderation and balance. A diet needs to be healthy but also sustainable. So, like me, if you love proper french baguette then simply have it as a treat rather than and everyday staple.

 

healthy diet -balance

The Golden Rule for a Healthy Diet

Balance and moderation are the golden rule of a healthy diet. In life, we will always end up in situations where we don’t have our personal choice available to us.  So, a small amount of processed foods is not a problem to a healthy diet as long as we eat them in moderation.  Nowadays I add in some of these options as a treat or when I’m traveling and don’t have fresh and whole-foods readily available.

Other foods like fried breakfast, white rice, pancakes and other sugary foods are now firmly on my special treats list. Simply apply balance and moderation to your healthy diet and you don’t need to feel guilty about indulging in the occasional burger or pizza or doughnut.

healthy diet

Healthy Diet – Every Day Nutritious Foods

Here is a small list of foods I eat regularly as part of a healthy diet. With the idea of balance and moderation in mind this includes fresh vegetables, whole-grains, protein and complex carbohydrates.

Fresh Vegetables

Fresh vegetables are a major source of vitamins and minerals and fiber. These include seasonal greens such as pak-choi, spinach, broccoli, kale, mustard greens, bell peppers and lettuce. Other fresh colorful vegetables add an extra source of vital nutrients. These include tomatoes, yellow, orange and red bell peppers as well as carrots, pumpkin, squash, and sweet potato. I am not a vegetarian, but over time, fresh vegetables know make up a large percentage of my everyday diet.

healthy diet -protein

Protein

Every balanced diet requires some quality protein which provides vital amino acids for body health. Good quality protein is available from fresh fish, poultry, tofu and to a lesser degree red meat. Also, many white beans, lentils, black beans and red beans can be a great source of protein and are also high in fiber. In moderation, nuts  and seeds like cashews, walnuts, almonds, quinoa, pumpkin and chia seeds can be a good source of protein and healthy fats.

healthy diet -carbs

Grains and Carbohydrates

In recent years, grains and carbs have received a bad rap. Small amounts of whole grains and complex carbs can still be a great source of nutrients and fiber as part of a healthy diet.

Comparing the glycemic index of any food is a great way to see how much it will impact your blood sugar and therefore it’s inclusion in a healthy diet.

A well made whole grain bread has a very low glycemic value compared to standard white bread. This means it will break down slowly and will therefore produce a smaller blood sugar peak.

Here is a list of sixty everyday foods with their glycemic index measured by Harvard Medical School. I found this a great way of finding healthy foods to add to my diet. This allows you to add nutrient and fiber rich whole foods to your diet. This leads me to another category that is often misunderstood…fruit.

healthy diet -fruit

 Fruit

 Many people remove fruit from their diet because they see it as high in sugar. You will see from the Harvard Medical School list above that there are three main types of sugar. These are fructose, sucrose and glucose which have a wide range on the glycemic index scale from 15 to 103.

The good news here is fruit contains mainly fructose which has a relatively low glycemic value. Combine that with the fact that fruits are relatively high in fiber and they become a healthy alternative when eaten in moderation.

From this list you can see why it is important to limit your intake of sugary foods that contain glucose and too a lesser degree sucrose.

SUGARS Glycemic index
Fructose 15 ± 4
Sucrose 65 ± 4
Glucose 103 ± 3
Honey 61 ± 3

healthy diet -drinks

Drinks

Based on the information above, it’s important to avoid drinks with high sugar (glucose) content. Unfortunately, most alcoholic drinks have a high glycemic index. This means it should only be used in moderation.

Healthy Diet – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

With so much conflicting information out there about healthy eating. That’s why I use the G.I measurements of food to give some trustworthy data about common foods.  This allowed me to sort the the good, the bad and the down right ugly. So, my suggestion is to use this information as a guide to what foods you add to your diet and which foods you eat less of or remove completely.

Armed with this information, it becomes possible to look at all the foods available too us and make a well considered choice. I now also choose foods that have low added sugar. When adding carbohydrate I try and use those that are unprocessed whole foods because these are generally have a lower  glycemic index value.

As you now scan food labels, you will quickly see the processed foods that aree packed full of added sugar (glucose). As well as looking at the glycemic index of foods, it’s also important to consider the glycemic load. In essence, this about reducing the portion size of foods with moderate to high glycemic value. You can read more about glycemic load here.

Healthy Diet – Moving Forward

Developing my own healthy diet has been about understanding a little science to assist with choosing a the best foods. This has also allowed me to avoid any of the more extreme diets.

The first step for me was to add a wider range of nutrient dense fresh vegetables into my regular diet. Then, I slowly replaced processed foods with more high fiber, low G.I whole foods. The key word here is slowly. Start one meal and new recipe at a time. Over time, you will feel the difference.

For me the key has been to add more fresh vegetables to each meal while slowly reducing the amount of meat.  I include small portions of carbohydrates like brown or wild rice , wholemeal pasta, and rolled oats which have a lower glycemic index value.  I also steadily increased the portion size of the fresh vegetables and salads in each meal. If I need to snack, I generally choose a small piece of fresh fruit or a handful of unsalted nuts or seeds.

Overall, this now means I can indulge in a sugary treat occasionally knowing it will not impact my long term healthy eating regime.

What next?

Moving towards a healthy diet is about gradually moving away from processed foods to those that include nutrient dense fresh foods and whole foods that are high in natural fiber. So, take some small steps today to shift yourself steadily towards a healthy diet.

If you would like to see some healthy snack ideas you might enjoy this previous post.

11 Healthy Snacks to Beat Your Cravings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *