In the fight against obesity and ill health, we are bombarded with conflicting information. Many articles describe new diets, each demonizing some particular product: sugars, butter, eggs, etc. But popular diets are far from healthy. Our bodies need many different nutrients, and excluding them can lead to malnutrition. On the other hand, relying heavily, especially while in college, on fast food or processed food with high sugar content is a road to obesity, diabetes and even cancer. The trick is to stay away from both extreme options, achieving balance. Here are some essential facts that would help you compose a healthy menu.
We eat a lot of foods that are called processed. This means that they are cleaned and changed in some way to make them tastier and easier to cook. When food technologies were first invented, they were meant to become a great help. A meal rich in fat and sugars could have saved a brave soldier after a long fight or a tired worker after a 10-hour shift. But in our time, the situation is vastly different. Most of our jobs don’t require so much energy. As a result, greasy fast food does more harm than good: the unused energy gets stored in fat tissues, disrupting the normal functions in our body. Also, a lot of people smoke and drink alcohol, that have bad impact on our health, you can read more about this in essays on addiction to have better understanding of the issue.
Unfortunately, pre-made food is so much more convenient than regular meals. It’s often quite tasty as well. Some people may find it cheaper as well. This situation has led to an overwhelming obesity epidemic, as well as a number of other health problems.
In response, multiple kinds of diets have been developed. Some tell you to avoid grains and sugar, for during the hunter-gatherer days of humanity we have not eaten any. Another diet advises eating as much protein as possible, excluding “bad” sugars and fats. But all these new diets lack a crucial parameter: balance.
We have to remember that we eat in order to supply our bodies with several crucial components:
- Fats. We can`t build cells without them. And many hormones can`t be created without fats either;
- Carbohydrates, or sugars. White sugar is not the best product to eat, but sugars are still the main source of energy for our cells. Especially for our brains and muscles;
- Proteins. Our survival depends on having enough proteins. They are used for a variety of important functions.
- Vitamins. Many processes operate only in the presence of these special substances.
- Micronutrients – such as iodine, calcium, and selenium. Deficiency in any of these tiny molecules results in serious problems with development and metabolism.
Without those molecules, our body wouldn’t function or develop properly. Therefore, balanced diets based on foods that contain the most variety of these molecules are needed. According to the recommendations of medical professonals, our meals must always contain five food groups that can provide us with all the necessary nutrients:
Vegetables contain vitamins, micronutrients, and some types of sugars. One of the most important components of vegetables is fiber. It’s also a sugar, but with a number of perks besides providing energy. Fiber helps with digestion and supports a number of useful microorganisms.
There are many different kinds of vegetables: leafy (like spinach and cabbage), starchy (potatoes), red and orange (carrots), legumes (beans), etc. One can choose from this variety and adjust the diet accordingly based both on preferences and health condition (for example, potatoes are not advised in some cases).
The main rule vegetable dishes: avoid frying them in oil. Eat them raw, boiled, or steamed. French fries are NOT healthy, though they are basically made from a vegetable!
Fruits are sweet – but contain different, safer types of sugars like fructose. They can still be used for energy production without significant side effects. Fruits are also an excellent source of vitamins and micronutrients. It’s usually recommended to eat whole fruits and fresh juices, instead of commercially produced canned fruit, jams, and juices in cartons.
Meat and fish.
Meat and fish are important sources of proteins. But as with vegetables, not all types of meat are equally healthy. It’s better to avoid:
- meat with excess fat;
- meat with skin;
- meat that is hard to digest (for example, duck meat can be quite heavy).
Turkey, chicken breast, lean beef, as well as fish are the best protein sources. Legumes and fungi are also rich in protein and can be used as a replacement sometimes.
Grains such as oats, rice, and buckwheat are usually the staple food in many countries. But there are two major groups of grains: processed grains and whole grains. We usually buy processed grains that are changed in order to make cooking easier – oat flakes for oatmeal, for example.
But we pay a high price for simplicity in cooking: these grain contain far less fiber and protein than we need. Sometimes they can be even dangerous – processed rice is known to cause sugar spikes, for instance. Instead, it’s preferable to eat whole grains, such as oats or quinoa.
Dairy has always been a part of the Western diet. We drink milk, use butter and feed our children yogurt. Dairy products are the main source of calcium, as well as protein and fat. But there are also some problems associated with them.
First, some people can`t consume lactose – essential milk sugar. Milk can often contain too much fat as well. It’s recommended to choose low-fat versions of dairy products. For people that have digestion problems, it’s much better to choose low-fat yogurt or plant-based milk made from soy or oats. Goat milk is also better than cow milk in some cases.
While composing a healthy, balanced menu, we need to include foods from all the five groups. But not all groups are equally important. Moreover, not all products within the groups are equally healthy. Here are some ground rules:
- More than half of your meals should contain vegetables. Leafy vegetables are safer than starchy ones.
- There have to be at least 5 portions of fruits and vegetable throughout the day to supply you with necessary fibers and vitamins;
- Unlike our traditional diet, grains should be a part of only a quarter of your daily meals. As was mentioned earlier, try to eat products made from whole grains, not processed ones.
- It’s best to avoid products made from refined white flour – white bread, for instance. Instead, whole grain bread and scones are preferable.
- Another quarter of your menu should contain protein sources: milk, lean meat, legumes, etc.
- Divide your meals into 5 small portions. This way you can avoid over-eating and problems with digestion
- Count the calories. According to the USDA guidelines, people at each age need a particular amount of calories to function normally. Consuming less than the daily norm can lead to losing weight or malnutrition. Exceeding the norm predictably leads to obesity.
- Avoid empty calories. This phrase means food that brings energy, but no useful nutrients. Typical examples are donuts, deep-fried foods, pastries, etc.
- Avoid foods with a high content of sugar and salt.
- Fatty foods – butter, high-fat milk, vegetable oils – should be eaten in small quantities. Butter and vegetable oil contain saturated fats, which are not considered healthy, while olive oil and seafood contain non-saturated fats with many useful properties.
These rules don’t mean you won’t be able to comfort food ever. You can eat them in small quantities, without forgetting your vegetables and other healthy foods.
The beauty of a balanced diet is in the fact that you are not banned from the products you love. You just have need some variety and healthy options in your daily menu, without depriving yourself of anything. Quite the opposite – with a richer, variable menu you would be much happier and healthier.