What Does "Healthy Eating" Mean?
Updated: Aug 23
Are you looking to take charge of your health and well-being? Maintaining a healthy diet is beneficial and essential for the proper functioning of the human body. A well-balanced diet provides the necessary nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, protein, and healthy fats, that the body requires to function correctly. It helps reduce the risk of chronic diseases, maintain a healthy weight, improve mental health, and boost immunity. Just like a car needs quality fuel to perform at its best, our body needs the proper nutrients to function optimally. However, the human body is much more complex than a car, and selecting the right fuel can be challenging. This in-depth article will explore the six fundamental components of a healthy diet, including total daily energy expenditure, macronutrients, micronutrients, food quality, hydration, and balancing macronutrients, empowering you to make informed choices and create an eating plan that supports your needs.
Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)
TDEE stands for Total Daily Energy Expenditure, the total calories a person burns daily through physical activity, exercise, and metabolic processes like digestion, breathing, and circulation. TDEE is influenced by various factors, including:
Knowing your TDEE can help create a nutrition and exercise plan tailored to your needs and goals. For example, if you want to lose weight, you can create a calorie deficit by consuming fewer calories than your TDEE while maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet. On the other hand, if you want to gain weight, you can create a calorie surplus by consuming more calories than your TDEE while still ensuring you get enough protein and other nutrients to support muscle growth.
Calculating your TDEE involves estimating the total calories your body burns daily, considering your activity level, body composition, and other factors. Here's a simple formula you can use to calculate your TDEE:
TDEE = BMR x PAL
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
BMR is the number of calories your body burns at rest to perform essential functions like breathing and circulation. You can estimate your BMR using a calculator, considering your age, gender, weight, and height.
For Men: BMR = 88.362 + (13.397 x weight in kg) + (4.799 x height in cm) - (5.677 x age in years)
For Women: BMR = 447.593 + (9.247 x weight in kg) + (3.098 x height in cm) - (4.330 x age in years)
*Note that these equations estimate BMR and may not be accurate for everyone. BMR can be affected by various factors, including body composition, hormonal imbalances, and medical conditions. To get a more precise estimate of your BMR, you can use a BMR calculator or get a metabolic test done by a healthcare professional.
Physical Activity Level (PAL)
PAL is a multiplier that considers your activity level, including exercise, daily activities, and non-exercise physical activity. PAL values range from 1.2 (sedentary) to 2.5 (very active). You can choose a PAL value that best reflects your activity level.
PAL 1.2: Sedentary lifestyle with minimal physical activity
PAL 1.4: Mostly sedentary lifestyle with little physical activity
PAL 1.6: Mostly sedentary lifestyle with occasional physical activity
PAL 1.8: Sedentary job with regular physical activity or light manual labour
PAL 2.0: Moderate physical activity or light manual labour with additional exercise or recreational activities
PAL 2.2: Moderate to heavy physical activity or moderately heavy manual labour
PAL 2.4: Heavy physical activity or heavy manual labour
PAL 2.5: Heavy to very heavy physical activity or very heavy manual labour
*It's worth noting that PAL values are not fixed and can vary based on an individual's age, sex, weight, height, and other factors.
Once you have estimated your BMR and chosen a PAL value, you can multiply the two numbers to calculate your TDEE. Here's an example:
Let's say you're a 30-year-old woman who weighs 70 kg (154 lbs) and is 170 cm (5'7") tall. Your BMR is estimated to be 1,550 calories per day. If you're moderately active, with a PAL value of 1.55, your TDEE would be TDEE = 1,550 x 1.55 = 2,403 calories per day.
You must consume around 2,403 calories daily to maintain your current weight. If you wanted to lose weight, you could create a calorie deficit by consuming fewer calories than your TDEE while ensuring you get enough nutrients to support your health and well-being.
This brings us to the first conclusion on the topic. One of the main components of a healthy diet is the AMOUNT of food! Before you read further, use the above formulas to calculate your TDEE.
Macronutrients are the nutrients that the body needs in large amounts to function properly. Each macronutrient serves a specific role in the body, and a balanced intake is crucial for optimal health. There are three macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Carbohydrates play a vital role in providing the body with energy, making them a crucial macronutrient in a healthy diet. They are naturally present in various foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, and sugars. Carbohydrates provide four calories per gram and are recommended to make up 45-65% of daily calorie intake.
There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates, or simple sugars, have one or two sugar molecules that the body quickly breaks down and absorbs. They are found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and milk, as well as in processed foods like candy, soda, and baked goods. However, consuming too many simple carbohydrates can lead to a rapid rise and subsequent crash in blood sugar levels, causing fatigue and hunger. Therefore, it is best to consume simple carbohydrates in moderation as part of a balanced diet, choosing whole, unprocessed foods containing fibre, vitamins, and minerals.
On the other hand, complex carbohydrates, also known as polysaccharides, are made up of long chains of sugar molecules that take longer to break down and provide a slower, sustained energy source. Complex carbohydrates are naturally present in whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits, making them an excellent choice for a healthy diet. They are rich in fibre, vitamins, and minerals that are beneficial for overall health, and can help regulate blood sugar levels, promote feelings of fullness, and support digestive health.
The percentage of daily calories from carbohydrates should be based on individual energy needs. Physically active individuals with high energy expenditure will require more carbohydrates to fuel their activities, while sedentary individuals will need fewer carbohydrates.
The recommended percentage range of carbohydrates in a healthy diet considers the need for a balanced macronutrient intake. A diet too low in carbohydrates may not provide enough energy to support physical activity and bodily functions. At the same time, a diet too high in carbohydrates may lead to weight gain and other health problems. Therefore, consuming carbohydrates as part of a balanced diet that includes other essential nutrients such as proteins, healthy fats, and micronutrients is crucial. Some complex carbohydrates include brown rice, quinoa, whole-grain bread, lentils, sweet potatoes, and oats.
Protein is a crucial nutrient in maintaining tissues, producing hormones and enzymes, and supporting a robust immune system. The body requires nine essential amino acids that you cannot produce independently. Protein contains four calories per gram, and experts recommend that it should make up 10-35% of daily calorie intake.
The recommended percentage range of protein in a healthy diet considers a person's daily protein requirements, which can vary depending on factors such as age, gender, weight, activity level, and overall health status. Generally, adults are advised to consume a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. A balanced macronutrient intake is crucial, and consuming too little protein can lead to inadequate amino acids to support bodily functions. On the other hand, consuming excessive protein can lead to excess calories and strain the kidneys.
Choosing lean protein sources such as poultry, fish, beans, and nuts can be healthier than high-fat meats. Plant-based protein sources such as lentils, tofu, and quinoa can benefit overall health. They are typically lower in saturated fat and cholesterol and often contain additional nutrients such as fibre and antioxidants.
Fats are vital nutrients that serve critical functions in the body, including providing energy, aiding in the growth and repair of cells, protecting organs, and helping the body absorb specific vitamins. Sources of dietary fat include oils, butter, cheese, nuts, and meats. Fats contain nine calories per gram, and the recommended daily intake is approximately 20-35% of the daily calorie intake.
There are three primary types of dietary fat:
Saturated fats: These fats are typically solid at room temperature and are found in many animal-based foods, such as meat, butter, cheese, cream, and other full-fat dairy products. Some plant-based sources of saturated fats include coconut oil and palm oil. Saturated fats are fatty acids with no double bonds between the carbon atoms, which makes them more stable and less likely to spoil than unsaturated fats. However, consuming a diet high in saturated fats has adverse health effects, such as increased cholesterol levels and an increased risk of heart disease and other health problems. It is worth noting that not all sources of saturated fats are equally unhealthy. For example, studies suggest that the type of saturated fat found in dairy products may have a neutral or positive effect on heart health. Additionally, some plant-based sources of saturated fats, such as coconut oil, have been marketed as "healthy" but should still be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
Unsaturated fats: These fats are liquid at room temperature and are primarily found in plant-based foods such as nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, and fatty fish. There are two types of unsaturated fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Both help reduce inflammation and improve cholesterol levels when consumed in moderation as part of a healthy diet. Polyunsaturated fats are particularly crucial as they contain essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6 that the body cannot produce independently and must obtain through diet. These fatty acids play crucial roles in brain function and overall health. Some sources of monounsaturated fats include olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds. In contrast, some sources of polyunsaturated fats include fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils such as sunflower and soybean oil.
Trans fats: These fats are created through hydrogenation, which turns liquid oils into solid fats. While small amounts of trans fats are found naturally in some animal products, most trans fats are formed during food processing. Trans fats have been linked to adverse health effects, as they can increase LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) and decrease HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol) in the blood, leading to the buildup of plaque in the arteries. This buildup can eventually cause heart disease, stroke, and other health problems. Trans fats are more stable than other fats and can resist oxidation. This process can lead to the formation of free radicals in the body, damaging cells and contributing to the development of chronic diseases. Trans fats can also interfere with the body's regular production of fatty acids, leading to inflammation, insulin resistance, and other health problems. Familiar sources of trans fats include fried and baked foods, snack foods, margarine, and processed foods.
While fats are essential for a healthy diet, the types of fats we consume are crucial. Saturated fats should be limited, while unsaturated fats should be emphasised, especially those containing essential fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6. Trans fats should be avoided whenever possible, as they have been linked to various adverse health effects. Making informed choices about the types of fats we eat can support our overall health and well-being.
Micronutrients are vital nutrients the body needs in small amounts, including vitamins and minerals. Unlike macronutrients, which are required in large quantities, micronutrients play a crucial role in various bodily functions, such as immune function, metabolism, and growth and development. There are two categories of micronutrients: vitamins and minerals.
Vitamins are organic compounds that the body requires to maintain proper health. There are 13 essential vitamins that the human body needs, divided into two categories: fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and water-soluble vitamins (B vitamins and vitamin C). Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body's fatty tissues and liver and can be harmful if consumed excessively. Water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body and must be replenished regularly. Each vitamin plays a vital role in healthy living, such as vitamin A for vision, immune function, and skin health, and vitamin C for collagen production and wound healing.
Minerals are inorganic compounds that the body needs to perform various functions, such as bone growth, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction. There are many essential minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, sodium, zinc, iodine, selenium, copper, and manganese. Supplements can be helpful if you cannot get enough minerals through your diet, but it is essential to consult a healthcare professional before starting any new supplements.
Micronutrients are essential for healthy eating because they help maintain overall health and prevent nutrient deficiencies that can lead to various health problems. For example, a lack of vitamin C can lead to scurvy, while an iron deficiency can lead to anemia. Micronutrients like antioxidants can also protect the body against cell damage caused by free radicals, which can contribute to chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Therefore, it is crucial to consume a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods rich in vitamins and minerals to promote good health and disease prevention.
Food quality plays a critical role in healthy eating as it directly impacts the nutritional value of our meals. High-quality foods are typically nutrient-dense and contain essential vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients for proper body function, immune function, growth, and development. On the other hand, low-quality foods are usually high in calories, sugar, unhealthy fats, and sodium, providing little to no nutritional value.
It's worth noting that even foods from the same food group can have vastly different qualities. For example, a beef pie would be considered low-quality, while a rib-eye steak is a high-quality food item. High-quality foods are also free of harmful chemicals, toxins, and pollutants that can accumulate in the body and cause health issues.
Consuming high-quality foods with a high bioavailability of nutrients can help the body absorb and utilise the nutrients more efficiently. In contrast, overconsumption of low-quality foods can lead to nutrient deficiencies, weight gain, and an increased risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Some examples of high-quality foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains like brown rice and quinoa, lean protein sources like chicken breast, fish, and tofu, nuts and seeds, and low-fat dairy products like milk, yoghurt, and cheese. On the other hand, low-quality foods include highly processed foods, fast food meals, sugary drinks, foods high in saturated and trans fats, and packaged foods high in sodium.
While it's essential to note that no food is inherently "good" or "bad," consuming a balanced diet with a variety of food groups that includes more high-quality foods and limits low-quality foods can help promote healthy eating and overall health and well-being.
Proper hydration is essential for optimal health; every cell, tissue, and organ relies on water to function correctly. Water is vital to healthy eating and is required for many critical bodily functions. While the recommended amount of water intake varies based on physical activity, body size, and climate, a general guideline is to consume at least eight glasses daily.
Adequate hydration is necessary for optimal nutrient transport, body temperature regulation, waste removal, joint lubrication, and cognitive function. When the body is dehydrated, physical performance may be reduced, and individuals may experience headaches, dizziness, fatigue, constipation, digestive issues, and urinary and kidney problems. It is important to note that besides water, other sources of hydration include herbal teas, fresh fruits and vegetables, and broths.
It's worth mentioning that certain foods and drinks can dehydrate the body, which can lead to additional fluid loss. To optimise hydration, it's best to limit alcohol, caffeinated beverages, and salty, processed, and spicy foods. On average, the human body is composed of approximately 60% water, highlighting the significance of proper hydration for healthy living.
Balancing your intake of macronutrients
A balanced diet is crucial for maintaining good health. Failure to consume a diverse range of nutrients can have severe repercussions on the body, such as weakening the immune system and making it more susceptible to illnesses and infections. In the short term, a nutrient-poor diet can lead to fatigue, muscle weakness, and poor concentration. In the long run, it can increase the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
To achieve balance, the focus should be on whole foods, including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Tools like a food scale or measuring cups can help understand how much to eat to support healthy eating habits. Seeking guidance from a registered dietitian or nutritionist can provide a personalised approach to achieving a balanced diet.
In conclusion, adopting healthy eating habits is crucial for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It involves consuming a balanced diet tailored to your needs, including your total daily energy expenditure, BMR, and PAL. Understanding the importance of macronutrients, micronutrients, food quality, and hydration is also essential. You can achieve optimal health and well-being by consuming various nutrient-dense foods, staying hydrated, and balancing your macronutrients. Remember, healthy eating is a journey, and small changes over time can significantly improve health. So, let's commit to prioritising our health and making healthy eating a lifelong habit.
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