By Vladimir Marchenko
- What Is Healthy Eating
- What Is a Healthy Diet
- WHO Global Strategy
- Scientific View on Healthy Nutrition
- US Department of Health Recommendations
- How to Start Eating Healthy
Hardly anyone doubts the impact of the food we consume on our body well-being. Unhealthy food can lead to various health problems at any age. How easy is it to change your diet and start eating healthy and consciously?
What Is Healthy Eating
A healthy diet is a daily food range that ensures the normal functioning of internal organs, supplies it with the necessary amount of vitamins and minerals, strengthens immunity, and also helps prevent diseases. A healthy diet, however, should be accompanied by physical exercise, spiritual practice (optionally), and adherence to a sleep schedule. In this case, it does prolong life and ensures the harmonious functioning of the body.
Of course, there is no such thing as a universal and guaranteed recipe for healthy eating. It thoroughly depends on the place of residence, occupation, lifestyle, personal needs, contraindications, as well as on dozens of other criteria, including physiology and genetics. At the same time, there are some general rules and recommendations developed by international health organizations. However, before we get to them, let’s define what healthy foods are.
What Is a Healthy Diet
In a nutshell, healthy foods are products of natural origin. Those that have been grown in the soil, picked from a tree, caught in its natural habitat, and had little or no processing. Hence, vegetables and fruits, meat and fish, nuts, eggs, cereals. Ideally, the food you eat will have no GMO, preservatives or additives like glutamate.
Unhealthy foods include fast food (hamburgers, pizza, chips), “ready-made” frozen meals (lasagna, spring rolls), instant food (noodles, mashed potatoes), especially spices and additives in them, likewise alcohol, fried or too spicy food, salt, etc. In short, any product that has gone through several stages of thermal processing or whose list of ingredients looks like a chemistry book wouldn’t be the healthiest option for you.
WHO Global Strategy
The World Health Organization proposed the global strategy on diet, physical activity and health. Bad eating and physical inactivity are cited as major risk factors for chronic disease. Accordingly, there are only five recommendations for the population and individuals:
- Maintaining energy balance and healthy weight (in accordance with body mass index);
- Limiting fat intake and switching from saturated to unsaturated fats with the total elimination of trans fats from the diet;
- Increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts;
- Limiting the use of free sugars;
- Overall reduction of salt intake, and replacement of table salt with iodized salt.
Scientific View on Healthy Nutrition
Studies conducted over the years claim that healthy food generally has a positive effect on our body. For example, in the paper called “Healthy food choices are happy food choices: Evidence from a real life sample using smartphone based assessments” (Deborah R. Wahl, Karoline Villinger, Laura M. König et al., 2017), it is argued that fruit and vegetables are beneficial not only for physical but also for mental health. It has also been experimentally shown that eating vegetables and fruit has a strong effect on happiness and well-being. The uniqueness of this study was that people, who participated in the evaluation, were describing their feelings for 8 days on 14 major food categories, and vegetables turned out to be the most satisfying for them. Even though, previously it was believed that foods high in fat, sugars or calories have more chances to satisfy you. The slogan "healthy is not tasty" sat quite firmly in the minds of ordinary people and continues to be there to this day. A desire to eat a chocolate bar instead of an apple would be explained as “it is tastier" and "I have read somewhere that chocolate helps with depression."
For example, in the study “Many apples a day keep the blues away - Daily experiences of negative and positive affect and food consumption in young adults” (Bonnie A. White, Caroline C. Horwath, Tamlin S. Conner, 2013) it was admitted that on the days of the highest enjoyment the participants ate more fruits and vegetables (up to 7-8 servings). A similar positive relationship between fruit and veg consumption and well-being was described in the paper “Is Psychological Well-Being Linked to the Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables?” (David G. Blanchflower, Andrew J. Oswald, Sarah Stewart-Brown, 2012) and many other scientific works.
Of course, everything is personal and we do not urge you to abandon chips, burgers, sweets, soda and other delights of yours. It could be done only if it was a conscious choice of a person, who would be absolutely ok with the total exclusion of these products from the menu. Otherwise, restrictions can provoke breakdowns and overeating. It is important to bear in mind that some components of a healthy diet may be contraindicated due to individual intolerance (allergy to fruits, lactose intolerance), others may be unreasonably expensive in your area, or simply be not a preference of yours. There are a lot of factors, so you would probably need a consultation with a nutritionist and other specialists to take a full grasp of what would suit you best.
US Department of Health Recommendations
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), part of the US Department of Health, has released Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020. It offers five guiding principles:
- Follow a healthy diet throughout your life;
- Practice eating various foods, including nutrient-dense foods, but in the recommended portions;
- Limit your intake of calories from sugars, saturated fats, and reduce your sodium intake;
- Switch to healthier food alternatives;
- Promote healthy eating at home, school, work, and in all communities.
Below, there are more specific recommendations. If you have any contraindications - it is best to consult a doctor before switching to a specific diet.
- Vegetables of all kinds (red, dark green, legumes, starchy);
- Cereals, up to 50% of which are whole grains;
- Low-fat dairy products, yoghurts, cheeses;
- Protein products: seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, soy;
More details about the program you can find below: https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/introduction/
How to Start Eating Healthy
Beginners should not plunge into healthy eating abruptly and several general guidelines will allow you to switch to healthier foods without much harm to the body.
1. Switch to healthy eating gradually. The worst thing you can do is arrange a total menu update in one evening. The body will most likely respond with misunderstanding, make you irritable and nervous. Images of juicy burgers and steaming pizza can haunt you for quite a long time, and the urge to "break the rules" can be quite strong. Therefore, you need to give up junk food gradually, by replacing “empty calories” from chips and soda with something more nutritious and healthy. How fast you progress will depend on individual reactions of the body.
2. For a gradual transition, try to find the optimal balance between healthy and unhealthy foods that you are accustomed to eating. For example, 80% healthy food and 20% junk. The proportions can vary - 75/25, 90/10, or instead, you can arrange “junk food day” once a week when you are allowed to visit a fast-food cafe.
3. "Rainbow". The diet should contain foods of different colours. In addition to the fact that this "colour therapy" is somehow more fun, especially in winter, it guarantees that your meal includes a variety of products with different sets of vitamins and minerals.
4. Eat out less often. Yes, we all dream about having no lockdowns and being able to go out whenever we want, however, restaurant cooking does not allow you to control the quality of food you consume. Moreover, we are more prone to order a burger when we see other people eating juicy patties around us.
5. Drink sufficient amounts of water. Maintaining a water balance is an essential part of proper nutrition. Start your morning with a glass of water with a drop of lemon juice inside and drink it regularly throughout the day. Water speeds up your metabolism, and if you're working on losing weight it allows you to eat less food.
6. Avoid frying, choose stewing or boiling instead. As a rule, food cooked in oil turns out to be quite fatty, the oil itself begins to release carcinogens. At least, try to use pans with a ceramic coating that needs less oil and don’t let the food crisp when cooking. In any case, do not reuse oil and avoid deep-frying.
7. Eat less but more often. Since snacks can include whole grain crisps, muesli, apples, yoghurts, dried fruits and more, the diet will not only become more varied but the frequency of meals will also increase. The number of meals can be up to 5-6 times a day. To avoid overeating, nutrition experts advise replacing the plates with saucers to reduce food portions. It will also be useful to master the calculation of consumed calories.
8. The paleo diet. This type of nutrition implies including only those products that were available for our distant ancestors: certain types of meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, fruits, seeds, cereals, and oils. No complicated baking, long food processing or additives. To those who practice paleo, it is usually recommended not to limit yourself and eat when you want and as much as you want, especially in combination with physical activity.
9. Mediterranean diet is one of the most versatile diets that has almost no contraindications. It mainly consists of vegetables, seafood, oils and proteins, with practically no restrictions. However, it contains a complete set of nutrients you may need and is suitable if you want to lose weight.
10. Caring for the microbiome. The intestinal flora directly affects the state of health, and, in turn, depends on what we eat. It consists of both good and bad bacteria, and proper nutrition helps to promote the replication of good bacteria. When the microbiome is balanced, bacteria begin to produce serotonin and dopamine, the hormones of pleasure. Most of the beneficial bacteria use fibre and pectin as a source for replication, while fermented milk products themselves are saturated with “good” bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.
Mental preparation and good sleep are also very important when changing your diet to a healthier one, and mobile apps can also help you with that. Some of them contain reminders of mealtimes, sets of diets and recipes, achievement marks (diaries), calorie calculators and nutritional values of the dishes. However, there are also applications that psychologically tune into proper nutrition using affirmations. In particular, Hypnopedia app has sets of affirmations specifically designed for that, along with other topics that help to boost your willpower, concentration and overall happiness. One of the features of this application is the nighttime playback of such motivational statements during the user's sleep, but without waking him up. The most suitable moment to listen to the affirmations while you sleep is selected using the readings from Apple Watch sensors processed by a know-how algorithm. You can also listen to affirmations during the day, motivating yourself to adhere to proper nutrition. Relaxing sounds and smart alarm clock, also integrated into the app, are suitable for the overall improvement of your sleeping experience.
You can download this app here:Ссылка App Store
Thus, diversifying the menu doesn’t take much effort and almost everyone can make their diet healthier. If for some reason you don’t enjoy following strict diets - you can always find an approach that suits you. One should not abandon healthy eating, especially at an older age, because this is a great opportunity to prolong life and improve health.