What is a healthy diet?

You are the only person who can decide what diet is best for you – in conjunction with your doctor and dietitian. When diet means ‘the totality of what and how you eat over the course of several years’, and not ‘fads that cause dramatic weight loss over a short period of time’, deciding to adopt a healthy, balanced diet is the best decision.

A healthy diet, broadly, means one which includes a variety of foods from all food groups, is low in substances which are detrimental to health, maintains healthy weight, does not exclude any foods for anything other than medical reasons, is sufficient in micro nutrients, and fits with your lifestyle and budget.

A variety of foods from all food groups

Food groups form the basic structure of any diet and inclusion of each food group ensures a balanced diet. The food groups are:

  • Dairy and dairy products.
  • Fruit.
  • Cereal and cereal products, including beans, legumes, and starches. Also known as carbohydrates.
  • Meat and meat products, or proteins that include plant proteins like soy.
  • Fats and oils.
  • Vegetables as distinct from fruit.
  • Water.

Low in substances detrimental to health

In addition to including foods from each food group every day, it’s important to ensure that you choose the healthiest possible foods from each group.

  • Dairy: choose fat free over full fat.
  • Carbohydrates: choose wholegrain and starchy vegetables over refined carbohydrates like white bread.
  • Protein: Choose lean protein sources like filleted chicken and fish and plant protein over meat high in saturated fat like beef and lamb.
  • Fats and oils: Choose unsaturated fats like olive oil over saturated and trans fats like butter.

Maintains healthy weight

In addition to eating the healthiest foods from each food group every day, these healthy foods should also be eaten in the correct proportions as some have more kilojoules – energy – than others, and overeating these can cause weight gain.

  • Dairy: Dairy is a very diverse food group, encompassing milk, yoghurt, cheese, ice cream, and others. As a rule, the more fat in the dairy product, the less of it in a portion. For instance, a glass of fat free milk can be considered a portion, but a portion of cheese is equivalent in size to 3 die.
  • Fruit: Generally, a portion size of fruit is half a cup, though many fruits, like bananas and paw paws, come in sizes much larger than this. Two or three portions of fruit a day is what you should aim for.
  • Carbohydrates: Your wholegrain carbohydrates, including starches, should constitute 25% of your plate at meals.
  • Protein: Lean protein should also cover only 25% of your plate at meals.
  • Fats and oils: These are full of energy, and should be used sparingly. You should aim for no more than 2 tablespoons of fats and oils daily.
  • Vegetables: Fill half of your plate with vegetables. Be aware that potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, and butternut are starchy vegetables and form part of the carbohydrate group.
  • Water: While there is some debate about exactly how much water the average person should drink, the guidelines to drink around 8 cups still stands. Water can include any unsweetened, decaffeinated beverage.

Does not exclude foods for anything other medical reasons

A healthy diet is a balanced diet that includes all the major food groups and does not exclude any food, be it dairy, carbohydrates, fat, or any other because this excludes important nutrients from the diet. Diets that do exclude any food or food group are fad diets and are unhealthy. The only reason to exclude a food is because of an intolerance or allergy diagnosed by your doctor. For instance, people who are diagnosed lactose intolerant should not eat dairy; people with coeliac disease should avoid gluten.

Sufficient in micro nutrients

Vitamins and minerals are important in the diet because they help your body perform essential functions. Certain vitamins and minerals for instance, ensure that your nerves function correctly. A healthy, balanced diet as described above should contain enough vitamins and minerals to keep you healthy without having to supplement your diet with pills – unless otherwise prescribed or recommended by your doctor or dietitian.

Fits with your lifestyle and budget

An important aspect of diet is that it should work for you in order that you can stick to it. For instance, an athlete who is spending a lot of time training is burning a lot of energy that needs to be replaced in order to function optimally. In addition, your diet should be in line with your budget. For instance, eating fish in an important part of a balanced diet, but you don’t have to eat salmon; pilchards offer the same benefits and are much cheaper.

A healthy diet does not have to be expensive, boring, or bland. Find your own way to follow the healthy diet guidelines without compromising your health, happiness, or budget.

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