Most of us DO know what healthy eating is all about: less fried food, less sugar and more vegetables and fruits. When it comes to having good nutrition, however, too many of us don’t know the full details of the benefits of good nutrition and how to go about achieving it.
Nutrition is an essential aspect of a healthy lifestyle and the importance of getting it right cannot be overstated – let’s start by going into the benefits of having a nutritious diet.
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How good nutrition boosts your health
A lot of us mistakenly associate weight loss with fad diets, but eating a nutritious diet is really the best way to go about maintaining a healthy weight and at the same time attaining the necessary nutrients for healthy body function. Swapping unhealthy junk food and snacks out for nutritious food is the first step to keeping your weight within a healthy range relative to your body composition, without the need to jump on the fad-diet bandwagon.
Many chronic diseases such as type-2 diabetes and heart disease are caused by poor nutrition and obesity. With 1 in 9 Singaporeans suffering from diabetes, the emphasis on good nutrition is higher than ever. Taking a preventive approach with a whole food-based nutrition plan also reduces the risk of developing other related diseases such as kidney failure.
• Strengthening your immune system
Our immune system requires essential vitamins and minerals in order to function optimally. Eating a wholesome and varied diet ensures your immune system functions at peak performance and guards against illnesses and immunodeficiency problems.
• Delaying the onset of ageing
Certain types of food such as tomatoes and berries can increase vigour and improve cognitive performance, all the while protecting your body against the effects of ageing.
Eating the right foods can actually make you happier – nutrients such as iron and omega-3 fatty acids found in protein-rich food can boost your mood. This contributes to better overall mental well-being and protects you against mental health issues.
So, how does one build a sensible nutrition plan then? Healthy eating is all about eating balanced proportions of nutrient-rich foods from the various food groups, as well as adopting several healthy eating habits.
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How to achieve good nutrition in your diet
Each food group provides different nutrients and benefits, so eating a balanced diet that includes foods from all five groups is essential. These are the different food groups that you should keep in mind.
1. Whole grains
Whole-grain foods such as brown rice and bread are forms of carbohydrates, specifically unrefined carbohydrates. They provide you with energy, healthy fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and aid with digestion. For people who are diagnosed with coeliacs or those with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, it's important that you include other carbohydrate alternatives to ensure that your abstinence from wheat doesn't cost you in terms of essential nutrients.
“Gluten-free carbohydrate alternatives include rice products, buckwheat (technically a pseudocereal), quinoa and starchy vegetables (e.g. sweet potato, yam, pumpkin, corn),” says Ang Sin Hwee, Associate Sport Dietitian at Singapore Sport Institute. “As following a gluten-free diet may lead you to unknowingly cut out certain nutrients, it is recommended that you seek help from a registered dietitian.”
2. Fruits and vegetables
Various forms of produce are rich sources of vitamins and minerals that help regulate body functions and protect it against chronic diseases. To get the most nutrients out of your fruits and vegetables, eat them whole – for example, eat whole fruits instead of having them juiced.
Protein is the primary nutrient responsible for building and repairing muscle tissue in the body. Animal meat is the most common source of protein, but there are also several plant-based options to choose from such as nuts and legumes. Individuals on plant-based diets should ensure that eat the right combination of plant protein to ensure that their dietary needs are adequately met.
Dairy products are rich in important nutrients like calcium, potassium, phosphorus, vitamins A, D and B12. Foods like milk, yoghurt and cheese are great examples of dairy which can be found in practically every grocer stores.
5. Fat and sugar
Dietary fat (such as the kind you get from fish and olive oil) is essential for good health as they regulate cholesterol levels in your body while promoting healthy cell function. Monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fat all play a role in this aspect of good health. On the other hand, the additional fat you often find in fried food should be minimised as they are largely polyunsaturated fat derived from processed vegetable oils such as soybean and rapeseed.
Due to their low threshold for oxidisation, overconsumption of polyunsaturated fat can lead to inflammatory conditions and the formation of free radicals. Artificial trans fat is also a strict “no-no”. Sugar should also be limited – while the natural sugars present in fruits and whole grains are healthy, the refined sort you get with cakes and snacks can affect your weight and lead to metabolic diseases if consumed in excess.
Apart from eating foods from the above-mentioned food groups, there are three other healthy eating habits to maintain in order to keep your nutrition plan on point.
• Keep portion sizes regulated
Managing portion sizes is all about ensuring that you are getting the right amounts of nutrients and calories from your food. Over-eating or under-eating deprives you of nutrients and can affect your weight, so always regulate your meal portions. When buying food, check out the serving sizes on the nutrition labels to see what amounts to a regular serving and how much it provides in terms of nutrients.
• Prioritise fresh food
Fresh, whole foods are the ones you will derive maximum nutritional benefits from. Always go for foods in their purest, unprocessed form such as fresh fruits, vegetables and meat when possible. If you go with processed alternatives, pick those that have undergone simple changes such as dehydration and flash freezing to minimise nutrient loss. Also, keep an eye on the ingredients list to ensure that you're consuming as little additives with your food as possible.
• Practice healthier seasoning habits
Consider tempering your salt intake with other herbs and spices to add a new dimension of flavour to your food. For example, basil, garlic, paprika and cayenne can turn an ordinary chicken breast dish into a gastronomical delight! Salt is the most common food seasoning used in cooking, but too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure and hypertension, particularly with those who are already susceptible to said conditions.
Maintaining a nutritious eating plan is simple enough; evaluating whether it's nutritious enough can be straightforward as well. Just look out for five simple enough indicators of whether you are getting enough from your food.
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Indicators of a nutritious diet
1. Body composition
A well-structured nutrition plan should allow an individual to maintain a healthy physique within acceptable body fat levels (18-24% for men and 25-31% for women). This also means that it should support metabolic health through a number of means, such as promoting healthy hormone function, insulin sensitivity and physical recovery.
2. Healthy cholesterol levels and blood pressure
Monitoring your cholesterol levels and blood pressure is crucial because having a healthy weight doesn't discount the possibility of issues in these areas. While dietary cholesterol doesn't have as much effect on blood cholesterol levels as we once thought, it can still be influenced by your overall dietary fat intake. On the other end, excessive sodium intake can lead to hyper-extension, of which one of the symptoms happens to be elevated blood pressure levels.
3. Healthy skin and hair
The condition of your skin and hair are good indicators of the quality of your nutrition. If you are getting enough nutrients, your skin should be firm, supple and of a rich hue rather than flaking and pale. Your hair should be smooth and strong rather than dry and brittle; unexplained hair loss is often a sign of malnutrition.
4. Sleep and energy levels
Getting the right amount of nutrients and calories will help you stay energised due to its ability to promote restful sleep. If you find yourself feeling sluggish, It could be a sign of either a distinct lack of calories and/or nutrients, driving your body into “starvation mode” which hampers its restorative capabilities.
5. Regular bowel movements
Your bowel movements reflect whether you are getting sufficient fibre from your diet, so if you find yourself being constipated, load up on more fruits and vegetables to get your digestive system going.
While these five indicators of a nutritious diet may give your a decent idea of how to go about achieving your nutrition goals, getting the help of a certified nutritionist can help improve your odds of success while avoiding the common pitfalls.
Why you should consider seeing a nutritionist
• Advice and meal plans
When you’re a busy working adult, planning your meals to meet your nutritional requirements can be too much work. A nutritionist can handle this easily and probably plan a more nutritious meal than you can. You can also get advice on food and nutrition, instead of searching through possibly unreliable sources on the internet and endlessly questioning their integrity.
No battle plan survives the first contact, and the same goes for nutrition plans. However, a well-trained nutritionist will know exactly how and where to make adjustments to your eating plan in order to get you back on track. From recently-discovered food allergies to accidental bingeing, it's all par for the course to a nutritionist.
• Help you stick to your goal
It can be hard to work through diet-related problems alone. Having a nutritionist means you have someone to work through your problems and relapses with as well as someone to push you towards achieving your nutrition goals. Apart from diet-related advice, nutritionists can also offer emotional support when you are struggling to maintain the diet.
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Picking the right nutritionist
If you’ve decided that seeing a nutritionist is a worthy investment, it’s important to consider the different types of nutritionists. Not all nutritionists are equally qualified, so do a background check before you engage one. Some nutritionists are also registered dietitians who can help you create a tailor-made eating plan. Nutritionists who are not registered dietitians can usually only give advice in specific areas, such as sports nutrition.
There is yet another type of nutritionist called the holistic nutritionist. They focus on overall health and wellness, so if you have a specific health problem or goal to work towards to such as coping with a metabolic disorder, a holistic nutritionist may not be able to help as much. Furthermore, certifications for holistic nutritionists aren't as regulated so there's always the risk of being stuck with a lemon.
Whether or not it's to the advice of a professional or your inner voice, enjoying good nutrition is something that everyone should work towards. Good nutrition contributes heavily to your overall health and wellness and should never be skimped on. You can start your journey by joining our Active Health Coaches at Active Health Labs located island-wide for a fitness and health assessment to get the insights that will help you plan your nutrition plan better. From there on, it's upward and onward!