A diet does not mean abstaining from food. It is a healthy lifestyle that includes a variety of foods and the right balance between them, allowing us to maintain a healthy and well-balanced lifestyle for the long term.
Today’s hectic lifestyle, maneuvering between the kids, cooking, house chores and work, makes it difficult to incorporate regular and nutritious meals. Questions that many women tackle are: Am I giving too much food, calories and fat that could result in unhealthy weight gain? Does the food that I prepare provide my family with all of the nutrients that they need? Are they eating enough?
Diversity and balance
The secret to a healthy diet lies in the words “diversity and balance”. The nutritional recommendations and the daily menus must include a variety of foods and a nutritional balance that vary based on our age, gender and medical history.
Diversity – Each type of food that we consume, be it grains, fruit, vegetables, meat, fish etc., contains a wide range of nutrients. Each type of food has its own specific nutrients. Consuming a more diversified and broader range of foods allows for a more extensive exposure to various dietary components and to the essential nutrients that are critical to our health. Essential nutrients include carbohydrates, proteins and fats. By diversifying our food choices, we also enrich our exposure to vitamins, minerals and other important dietary components.
Balance – in order to maintain a healthy weight, our daily food consumption should be properly allocated to 3 main meals and about 3 in-between meals. Quantities depend on the type of food that is being consumed. For example, grains are the foundation of our diet and are therefore present in almost every meal and should be consumed to a greater extent. In opposition, while fats originating in foods such as avocado, tahini and olive oil are nourishing and important, they are also high in calories. Therefore, their consumption should be limited.
The nutritional recommendations and the related daily menu vary based on our age (children, adolescents, adults and elderly), gender and life cycle (women who are pregnant, breast feeding or in menopause). However, there are a number of common principles that will help you adopt important eating habits.
How to maintain a diversified and well-balanced menu
Breakfast – breakfast is important as it follows the fast of the night. It recharges the body with energy and assists the proper functionality of the body in the morning. Many people tend to skip breakfast in order to save on calories and lose weight. However, studies show that regularly eating breakfast in fact contributes to the development of healthy eating habits by reducing the desire to snack on foods that are high in calories and fat later on in the day. Studies demonstrate that people who eat breakfast do better in memory tests and problem solving during the day. Breakfast can be quickly prepared and eaten and still be nutritious:
Breakfast should include carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates (such as grains) provide our body with readily available energy, while protein (dairy products) is important to the body’s growth processes.
Whole grains - Whole grains, unlike refined grains, contain all the components of the grain – bran, endosperm and germ. The production of refined grains (white flour) involves the removal of the layers of bran and germ from the whole wheat grains, consequently reducing their nutritional value as compared to whole grains. The purpose of the refining process is to improve the taste and prolong the shelf life.
Why is the consumption of whole grains recommended? Studies link high consumption of whole grains to a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. Additionally, the consumption of foods that are rich in dietary fibers is beneficial to the functionality of the digestive system. Whole grains contain dietary fibers that contribute to a feeling of fullness.
Drinking - Water is the source of life. Without it there would be no life on Earth. It constitutes about two thirds of the weight of the human body, carries food and oxygen to all cells of the body, assists in the digestion of food and in the functionality of various systems of the body and protects internal organs. It is important to drink plenty of fluids, preferably water. Drinking is particularly important during the hot summers. Water cools our body and helps it maintain a steady temperature by secreting fluids from the body (sweat).
Eat slowly – Pause between bites, relax and pay attention to eating. Focus on eating rather than on other tasks, such as television or reading. It takes time for our body to signal that it is full. Fullness is usually felt about 20 minutes from the end of the meal. Eating quickly encourages excessive eating, whereas eating slowly is more satisfying and healthier. When you feel full, feel free to leave food on your plate. There is no need to polish off the plate.
Vegetables and fruit – They are delicious and colorful and, most importantly, rich in essential nutrients. The color of the vegetable or fruit is indicative of its content of pigments, which offer plenty of healthy benefits. Exposure to various colors of vegetables and fruit allows us access to more pigments. Vegetables should be part of any meal: cooked, frozen, fresh, whole or sliced. Fruit, however, should be consumed in moderation: 2-3 servings of fruit a day. While they are rich in vitamins and minerals, they also contain quite a few calories.
Avoiding sweets – a pity
Many people tend to categorically avoid fun and tasty foods that are high in calories, fat and/or sugar. Abstaining from foods that we like could undermine our efforts. Pick the snack/sweet that is “worth” the high caloric contribution and include it in your menu on a limited basis.
Exercise helps us maintain our weight by increasing the calorie output. It contributes to the proper functionality of the digestive system, strengthens our muscles and bones and more. Thirty minutes of daily exercise, such as bicycle riding, walking, dancing, swimming or any other activity that you like, are highly recommended. But remember, it’s not “all or nothing”. Even an exercise of just 10 minutes a day has its benefits. You can incorporate exercise into your daily routine by choosing walking over a short drive, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or cleaning your house.
Diet is not about what you cannot eat, but rather signifies the adoption of a healthy lifestyle that is comprised of dietary and behavioral habits.
For customized recommendations and guidance, you should consult clinical dietitians.