Key principles of a healthy diet

I am not the type of nutritionist who believes there is such a thing as a one-size-fits-all diet. As I spoke about in my recent post, there are many factors which impact what and how much each person should eat to be healthy. That said, there are a few key principles to keep in mind to make sure your diet is healthy as possible. These tips are based on my learnings from Intuitive Eating principles, Health at Every Size and the Well Woman Coaching course from Well College Global. Enjoy!

Balance

All foods contain macronutrients that provide us with energy (carbohydrates and fats) and building blocks for repair (proteins). The diagram below shows examples of foods that typically contain these macronutrients. A balanced diet is one that includes all macronutrients in a proportion that suits the individual.

An imbalanced diet is one that overly restricts one or more food groups, for example very low-fat diets like the Pritikin or MacDougall diets or very low-carb diets such as the Atkins, keto or carnivore diets. The problem with imbalanced diets is that they put the body into an abnormal functioning or survival mode. Some doctors claim that this can have benefits for people suffering with specific, life-altering diseases. I am not here to dispute this claim, rather I believe that for the majority of people, a balanced diet which provides the body with all macro-nutrients and does not force the body into an extreme state is optimal for health.

The risk of low-fat diets include poor nutrient absorption and associated deficiencies, dry skin and hair and a weakened immune system. On the other hand, low-carb diets can cause weakness, fatigue, hair loss and chronic stress in the body. It is best to let go of dietary dogma and opt for a diet that includes a healthy amount of all three macro-nutrients. The exact ratios of each will depend on your personal physiology and lifestyle but my recommendation would be not to go below 20% fat, 20% protein or 40% carbohydrates. The NHS Eatwell Guide shows a balanced plate with examples of foods to eat from each group.

Variety

As well as macronutrients, foods also contain micronutrients that help to keep our bodies functioning optimally and prevent disease. The most well known are vitamins and minerals although other micronutrients such as polyphenols are now being discovered which have remarkable health-giving properties. Vitamins include B-vitamins which support healthy energy and metabolism, vitamin D which is needed for strong bones and teeth and vitamin A for healthy eyes and skin. Essential minerals include calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron.

Each food contains unique combinations of these different micronutrients and therefore eating a variety of foods helps us to improve our chances of getting everything we need. If we exclude whole food groups from the diet or limit our diet to just a few different foods, we may be putting ourselves at risk of nutrient deficiencies. Instead, consume a variety of food from different food groups e.g. fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, meat, fish, nuts and pulses on a daily and weekly basis, finding a balance that suits your taste and lifestyle.

Additionally, food can have harmful properties as well as beneficial ones. for example, tuna fish contains a healthy amount of protein and vitamin D but it also contains mecury, a toxic heavy metal which can build up in the blood stream if we consume tuna too frequently. That isn’t to say we should avoid eating tuna altogether, our bodies have built in detoxification pathways to deal with these things but it is better to consume a variety of foods to avoid over-consumption of toxins found in certain foods.

Whole foods

Whole foods is a word that has been circulating a lot in the nutrition world, especially in the last decade, but what exactly does it mean? Whole foods is a term that refers to foods in their whole and mostly unprocessed form. It doesn’t mean that everything should be eaten raw, exactly as it comes from nature, just that the food is kept in tact as much as possible to make it edible and palatable.

This could mean consuming fresh fruit or juice rather than artificial juice or fruit juice from concentrate, choosing whole wheat bread or pasta instead of refined white flour products or eating home cooked mashed or roasted potatoes over potato crisps or oven fries. When we eat a diet based on whole foods, we are ensuring that our diet is as nutrient dense as possible, i.e. our food gives us the most “bang for our buck”. A whole foods diet also minimises our consumption of artificial additives such as preservatives, flavours and colours which may not be optimal for our health.

Now, anyone who knows me or who has followed my blog for a while will know that I am not one for extremes or restrictive diets. I believe there is a place for all foods, including processed or artificial foods in a balanced diet, if they bring us joy and pleasure. But research shows that eating a diet based mostly on whole and unprocessed foods is more likely to lead to better short and long-term health outcomes. So go ahead and enjoy your treats now and again but be sure to have a solid foundation of nourishing whole foods to build upon.

Individuality

Finally, a healthy diet is one that works for you. Not your friend or some random person you follow on the internet but you. We are all born into individual bodies with unique tastes and needs and whilst we know that eating a balanced diet with a variety of whole foods is optimal for health, within this there is still much scope for individualisation both in the amounts and types of foods that we eat. what works perfectly for one person may make another feel terrible.

Experiment with different foods and meals to find those which taste good, digest well and give you the most energy. Explore your local food culture and try out recipes with local and seasonal produce. Notice how you feel when you eat big meals vs. smaller meals with snacks between or if you practice intermittent fasting vs. eating whenever you are hungry. Don’t listen to strict rules and regulations when it comes to diet because there is better teacher than your own body.

Remember that your body is constantly changing as you move through life and that your diet can also change. Just like your friends diet may not work for you, the diet you followed in your 20s may no longer feel good once you reach your 40s. Allow eating to be a two-way communication between you and your body. This takes mindful awareness and repeated practice but it’s a skill that once you master it will serve you for a lifetime.

Over to you…

Let me know your thoughts on this interesting topic! Do you agree or disagree? Did I miss something? Please like and share this post to support my business and follow my blog for more useful posts on nutrition, yoga and holistic health.

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. My specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting but I also help anyone who is looking to improve their overall health and find the perfect balance for their body. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

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