Healthy eating is simply a matter of making the right food choices based on scientific knowledge, avoiding processed foods as much as possible, and including lots of fruits and vegetables in your diet.
A balanced diet will contain the right amounts of macronutrients which are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats as well as micronutrients, namely vitamins and minerals.
Proteins: They are the building blocks of your body. They are responsible for maintaining your muscle mass, hair, nails, skin, and immune system. Good sources of protein include dairy products, eggs, milk, poultry, fish, beans, nuts, and seeds. About 10% to 35% of your calories should be obtained from proteins.
Carbohydrates: They provide energy to your body. Choose unrefined, fiber-rich and complex carbohydrate foods over refined sugars as your energy source. Good sources of carbohydrates include whole wheat bread, oatmeal, spinach, tomatoes, beans, peas, lentils, and fruits. About 45% to 65% of your calories should be obtained from carbohydrates.
Fats: Contrary to popular belief, fats are an essential part of a balanced diet. Fat is needed to absorb vitamins and maintain your brain and heart health. Choose foods that contain “good” fats such as fatty fish, avocadoes, olives, nuts, peanut butter, and sunflower oil. Avoid foods that contain “bad” fats such as fried foods, pastries, red meat, butter, and ice-cream. About 20% to 35% of your calories should be obtained from fats.
Vitamins and minerals are needed only in small amounts and hence they are called micronutrients, but they are essential for vital body functions. For example, calcium is needed for strong bones, iron is needed for transport of oxygen through the blood while vitamin D helps in absorption of calcium. Incorporating a wide variety of foods from all the major food groups into your diet will ensure you get all the necessary vitamins and minerals.
When and how much to eat: In addition to what you eat, portion control and when you eat also plays and important role in healthy eating. Having a good breakfast will jumpstart your metabolism and several small meals throughout the day every 3 hours or so will keep your energy levels up. Avoid eating just before bedtime as studies suggest eating only when you are active and giving your digestive system a break for 14 hours or longer at night is a good way to control your weight.
According to dietary guidelines, women between the ages of 19 and 30 years require 2000-2200 calories and men about 2600-2800 calories. Between 31 and 50 years of age, women require 2000 calories and men about 2400-2600 calories. After 50 years of age, women require 1800 calories and men about 2200 calories. These numbers vary depending on activity level.
Eating for Healthy Bones: Calcium is a key nutrient for maximizing bone health. Until the age of 25-30 years, calcium plays an important role is building up bone mass. After the age of 30, your bone mass starts to decrease, but this process can be slowed down by exercise and taking sufficient calcium in your diet as well as other micronutrients such as vitamin D, magnesium, and phosphorus that help in the absorption of calcium. Important sources of calcium are dairy products, dark green vegetables, beans, and legumes. Vitamin D can be obtained from sunlight, eggs, fortified cereal, and fish. Magnesium and phosphorus are found in nuts, whole grains, seafood, and many vegetables.
Eating healthy not only improves your physical wellbeing, but also plays an important role in optimizing energy levels, mental alertness, and can have a positive effect on your mood.