October 16, 2012 8.33 am This story is over 139 months old

Your health: What makes a healthy diet?

Balanced diets: In her first column, Rachel Linstead looks at what constitutes a balanced diet, and how you can achieve it.

The sayings “a little of what you fancy does you no harm”, and “everything in moderation” actually rings true when talking about a healthy diet, because it means you eat a wide variety of foods. The more variety in your diet, the more vitamins, minerals and nutrients you are giving your body to utilise.

Healthy eating isn’t impossible, you just need to know the basic principles of good nutrition and then you are set for life. Yes, it does take a little bit of work because changing eating habits is one of the hardest things to do, as these are very much ingrained into our lives as we grow up from a child to an adult.

But the hard work is worth it when you start to feel the benefits of what a healthy eating regime can bring.

There are no fad diets described here. Just easy and simple hints and tips to help you make the right choices when it comes to eating a healthy diet, but it’s not about going “on a diet”; it’s about changing your lifestyle and making informed choices that will last you a lifetime.

If you make small changes to your diet each month you’ll find this the easiest way to change your eating habits for the better over a period of time.

One of the keys to healthy eating is eating regularly. Like a car engine our bodies need fuel to work at optimum capacity — if your car doesn’t have any fuel left, does it run? No, and that’s the same for our bodies: without regular meals, your body has to somehow generate its own fuel from its stores or alert you (cravings for sweet foods) that you need to refuel.

It is recommended that you eat three small meals a day (breakfast, lunch and evening meal) and two or three snacks (mid-morning, mid-afternoon and evening/before bed). This keeps your body topped up with fuel throughout the day, so you are less likely to have energy lows or cravings for sweet foods.

For each of your main meals, you should make sure they contain a range of food groups. The easiest way to do this is in percentage form of what your plate should look like:

  • 40% Carbohydrates (rice, pasta, potatoes, bread)
  • 30% Fruit and vegetables
  • 20% Protein and healthy fats (unsaturated fats)
  • 10% Saturated fat, salt and refined sugars

There are a couple more principles to work towards when altering to a balanced diet. These include:

Keep hydrated

The standard advice is around 2 litres of liquid a day but this is again dependent on how active you are and what stage of life you are at.

Watch out for added salt

The recommended daily intake of salt for adults is six grams, always taste your food before adding salt, and check food labels for salt levels, you’ll be amazed how much salt is added to processed foods.

Try to have a meat free day once a week

There are many sources of protein (animal and vegetable). Vegetable protein tends to be lower in fat and contains a range of nutrients.

Keep an eye on your alcohol intake

Alcohol is often referred to as an anti-nutrient as it may strip the body of essential vitamins and minerals, it also means your liver has to work hard to process it.

Rachel Linstead is a nutrition consultant at Firecracker, a nutritional therapy and consultancy service for businesses and individuals.