Healthy eating means ensuring your diet includes a variety of healthy, nutritious foods and drinks. Eating the right foods can give you energy, improve your well-being, and help you to feel healthier.
We explain more about healthy eating, the differences between eating healthy and dieting, and how working with a nutritional professional can help you.
What is healthy eating and why is it important?
Healthy eating consists of three main ideas that aim to make you feel energised, balanced and above all, healthier. Healthy eating promotes the long-term aim of maintaining a well-balanced diet.
Having a healthy diet is important for your health and well-being. Eating a wide variety of foods, and ensuring that you don't eat too much salt, sugar, or saturated fats is essential.
What are the benefits of eating healthily?
Healthy eating has numerous benefits for children and adults. These can include:
- improving skin, teeth, and eye health
- helping you to live a longer life
- boosting your natural immunity
- lowering your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers
- supporting digestive system function
- strengthening bones and supporting muscles
- helping achieve or maintain a healthy weight
- supporting brain development and healthy growth in children and teens
What are the main ideas for healthy eating?
The three main ideas for healthy eating:
- eating a balanced diet
- having a healthy attitude towards food
- understanding the environmental impact of your diet
Kick-starting a positive eating regime can be life-changing but for some a little overwhelming. Consulting a professional nutritionist can help ensure you are achieving your food lifestyle changes in a positive and healthy way, paving a clear, individually tailored plan for your journey.
Healthy eating and dieting
It’s important to note that healthy eating is different from dieting, and doesn’t aim to reduce a significant amount of weight in a short space of time. It's more than losing weight, it focuses on all-around good health and its benefits.
‘Dieting’ is used to describe the process of cutting down or cutting out certain food groups, typically to aid rapid weight-loss. Diets aren’t necessarily a healthy option: they can lead to dramatic weight-loss, but because they are only short-term fixes, weight often creeps back on after the diet is finished often leading to an unhealthy ‘yo-yo’ effect of the body’s weight.
The dangers of fad diets
Fad diets, often promising longer life and rapid weight-loss based on pseudoscience theories, have zero scientific proof that they work and can make you feel very unwell, damaging to your health with long-term health issues.
Some diets can make you feel unwell
Crash diets often portray weight-loss as a quick, achievable process by considerably reducing the number of calories you consume. Due to these diets being unbalanced, you might start feeling ill as your body is in shock.
Excluding certain food types can be dangerous
Some diets cut out certain food groups altogether such as dairy products, fish, wheat or meat. This can prevent you from gaining important nutrients that help your body function properly. If you suspect you have an allergy or intolerance to a certain food group, consult a doctor/dietitian for an official diagnosis.
Detox diets might not work
Detox diets often lead to weight-loss because they cut out certain food types to focus on eating a restricted range of foods. These types of diets aren’t a healthy or sustainable option as they restrict your nutrient intake, so you may miss out on essential vitamins and minerals, which can be detrimental to your health.
Safe, sustainable weight-loss
You might lose weight quickly with a fad diet, but losing weight gradually, through eating a healthy, balanced diet (with professional support) is the safest option.
How to eat healthily
Ensuring you eat a wide variety of different foods can help you to meet your micronutrient needs. Making healthier choices and learning more about different food groups, eating a balanced diet, and what foods you should try not to eat too often can all help.
It's important to make sure you get enough calories to help fuel how active you are. This means both eating and drinking enough to give you energy. When we eat too much, we end up storing the excess as fat. When we don't eat enough, we lose weight.
What are healthy foods to eat?
The NHS recommends basing your meats on higher fibre, starchy carbohydrates such as bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, and cereals. These should make up around about a third of what you eat. If you can, opt for whole grain varieties as they offer more fibre and help you feel fuller for longer. The fibre in whole grains helps feed the health-promoting bacteria in your gut, helping to prevent constipation and bloating. They also contain more vitamins and minerals, vital for energy production and overall good health.
There are two types of fibre – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre is found in fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, pulses and porridge oats. Insoluble fibre is found in whole grains, brown rice, seeds and nuts. We need to have a balance of both soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre helps to stabilise blood sugar levels whilst insoluble fibre provides lots of roughage, moving waste through your digestive system and making your stools more bulky and solid but softer and easier to pass.
- Sarah Walford DipCNM BMedSci (Hons).
Eat plenty of fish
Fish is a great source of protein and contains essential vitamins and minerals for a balanced diet. It’s advised to eat it twice a week, with at least one portion being oily fish, such as fresh salmon or mackerel. These types of fish are rich in omega-3 fats that can be very beneficial to your health, promoting optimal bone, joint and brain health and have been known to help improve symptoms of certain mental health conditions.
Get your five a day
You should aim to eat at least five different varieties of fruit and vegetables a day (this is much easier than you think!). To start, try swapping your mid-morning biscuit for a banana and palmful of nuts; switch your evening ice cream for snacking on hummus with carrot/cucumber batons.
Take a look at our five a day fact sheet for more tips.
Avoid too much salt
Approximately three-quarters of the salt we eat is in the food we buy from the supermarket. As well as reducing the amount of salt you add to your meals at the table, you should also consider the amount of salt already added to pre-packaged foods like bread, soups and sauces. Too much salt can raise your blood pressure, which can lead to a stroke or developing heart disease.
Cut down on sugar and saturated fats
We do need a certain amount of fat in our diet, but we should be mindful of how much and the type of fats we’re consuming. As well as eating a small amount of saturated fat found in meat and dairy, it’s also important to consume unsaturated fats in foods such as avocados, oily fish and vegetable oils to make sure you’re eating a mix of fats necessary for good health.
When eating meat, try to get lean cuts and remove any visible fat. Making stews with meat, in addition to grilling meats is also a healthier option, as you don’t burn the fats in a casserole. When cooking with veg, try steaming or stir-frying quickly with a smaller amount of oil to retain more of the goodness.
A large portion of the UK consumes far too much sugar. This can lead to an increase in weight, diabetes and tooth decay. Sugary breakfasts, alcoholic drinks, biscuits, cakes and pastries should be limited and replaced mostly by healthy options like fresh fruit and water.
Explore eating for good health
Many experts believe that eating a healthy, balanced diet, can help you live a longer, healthier and happier life. Find more information on:
- Healthy hair - Can our diets change the health of our hair?
- Healthy teeth - What do we need to eat to prevent tooth decay?
- Mental health - What effect does the food we eat have on mental health?
How can a nutritionist help with healthy eating?
Nutritionists are practitioners trained in understanding the scientific base of nutrition and can provide insights into how the food we eat impacts our health and well-being, based on science and fact. These changes can help boost your mood, improve your overall health and help you maintain a healthy weight. Consulting a nutritionist will ensure that this lifestyle change is safe, right for your personal needs, easy to maintain, and enjoyable.
Typically, a nutritionist can:
- Assess your current eating habits.
- Help you to gain confidence in making healthy food choices.
- Assist with managing diet-related illnesses through a tailored healthy eating plan.
- Help those recovering from a long-term illness as part of the rehabilitation process.
- Take the hard work out of planning healthy meals and fitting in exercising.
- Sort through conflicting external messages on what constitutes ‘healthy’ and what is suitable for an individual.
- Help you to learn more about food and nutrition.
- Help to dispel any misconceptions or misinformation that may have led to unhelpful or inaccurate understandings of what you should and shouldn't eat.
Nutritionists can help you to focus on eating healthy, as well as offering support and guidance towards making healthier lifestyle choices, supporting specific health issues, managing family nutrition, and more. It's important to identify what you hope to achieve and what changes you would like to make. This can help you to find the right nutritionist, with the right area of expertise, to best help you.
All content displayed on Nutritionist Resource is provided for general information purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for advice given by your GP or any other healthcare professional.