A healthy diet contains a certain amount of six groups of substances: proteins, carbohydrates and fats, all of which are caloric (i.e. they create energy), and vegetable fibers (celluloses), vitamins and minerals which, though important, are not caloric. Of course, we need water, and we cannot live without it. The human beings can not survive more than 5 days without meals and water.
To understand the role of these substances in maintaining health, read the accompanying summaries.
Fat (commonly known as lipid) is found in plants (in olives and peanuts, for example), as well as in animals. Fat provides energy, and very small amounts are used for growth and regeneration of the organism. In addition, they make food more tasty and plentiful. Excess fat is stored in the body as a fatty tissue which, although it may have some isolation properties, can cause serious health problems.
Depending on the chemical composition, the fats are either saturated or unsaturated; this difference is important mainly because saturated fats can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood. Animal fat, especially in milk, cheese, and meat are mostly very saturated, and excessive taking of such food partially causes the formation of atheromas from which atherosclerosis develops. Fat in fish, chicken and turkey, and fat in most vegetable oils are mostly unsaturated; in chicken and turkey the fat is mostly found in the skin that you don’t have to eat (if you don’t want to). Polyunsaturated fat – e.g. sunflower oil, safflower oil, maize seed oil and soybean oil – is the healthiest fat.
Proteins are chemical compounds that form a chemical skeleton of living matter. Regular daily protein amounts are needed to body tissue for recovering, replacing and growing. Animal proteins (meat, fish, eggs, cheese) provide a significant percentage of that amount, just how much or body needs. A human body needs a greater variety of vegetable proteins (peas, beans and other legumes, but also grains and bread); the lack of variety can lead to malnutrition in strict vegetarians. Protein improves the taste of food and increases the interest in food. They satisfy, but are not ”heavy”. If you eat more than your body needs, an excess creates additional energy or turns into fat and stores it.
These are chemical compounds taht contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. All food we consider to be ”sweet” contains a high percentage of carbohydrates – e.g. sugar, bread, biscuits, pasta, potatoes and cereals. These foods are a good source of energy, and some are useful because they also contribute to the necessary elements of a balanced diet. Bread of unprocessed flour and potatoes contain, for example, cellulose; cereals contain proteins, and the bread is a good, reliable source of iron.
However, sugar is not a valuable ingredient of nutrition, though it quickly generates energy. Many people who weight more than normal are fat because they take too much calories, usually in the form of sugar or high-sugar foods. In addition, sugar is by no means an essential source of energy, since others, more useful nutrients, such as proteins and fats, can also burn and produce energy. In reducing diet, the lack of sugar will force the body to use fat reserves for energy, and it will still get the essential ingredients of healthy diet.
A digestive tract is unable to digest vegetable fibers (substances such as cellulose and pectin rich in unprocessed flour and cereals, fruit, leafy vegetables and legumes such as lentils). Plant fibers are still very important for nutrition. They not only give the mass and thus help the colon to effectively discharge the waste matter from the body, but can also protect us from diverticulosis and colon or rectum cancer. Given that voluminous foods affect fat yielding in the body, some doctors believe that nutrition with a high content of such foods could even contribute to reducing atheroma development by lowering fat concentrations (including cholesterol concentrations) in the blood.
Vitamins and minerals
Vitamins are usually complex chemical compounds. The human body can not create them all, but it needs them in order to function normally. There are many types of vitamins, and anyone who is using a relatively balanced diet is practically certain that he will get them all.
Minerals needed in a healthy diet are mostly metals and salts, e.g. iron, phosphorus, calcium and sodium chloride (kitchen salt). Like vitamins, minerals are only needed in small quantities, you will probably won’t suffer from a lack of minerals if your diet is well balanced. However, when it comes to salt, it can also hurt you if you suffer from high blood pressure. Even though it seems to you that the food is rather tasteless, it is not advisable to put more salt on it, or eat any other food that has a relatively high salt content.
About half of our body is water. On a daily basis, we lose about 2 liters of moisture that we breath out, urinate, and on sweating. The lost fluid needs to be replaced, but about 70% of the composition of most dishes is water. Therefore, we do not have to actually drink 2 liters of fluid to compensate for the lost amount.
What is healthy and balanced nutrition?
Unhealthy diet does not mean eating the ”wrong” food, but eating too much of one ingredient or insufficient amount of the other. If you eat a variety of foods – and most people do it automatically – your body will probably have all essential nutrients. But, if your choice of meals is limited, your health will suffer.
An excess energy from fatty food or foods that contain too much sugar is stored in the body as fat and can cause serious health problems. Balanced nutrition gives you all the nutrients you need and energy – but no more. Here are some useful guidelines for maintaining a balanced diet:
- Eat meat only once a day. You will gain more weight from beef, mutton, sausages and meat products than from fish and poultry.
- Eat more roasted meat and grilled meat and less fried. If you still fry your food, use unsaturated oil instead of butter or pork fat.
- Reduce dairy products, especially fatty foods like cream, butter, full-fat soft cheese, ice cream and milk (no more than 0.5 l of milk per day). It is better to eat yogurt, margarine, cow cheese and skim milk.
- Do not forget about the required daily amount of voluminous food, which means a lot of leafy vegetables and fruits; eat is raw or slightly boiled because long cooking destroys essential vitamins. Another good source of voluminous food is potato crust. (Remember that food does not have to have a tough and fibrous composition to contain plant fibers.)
- Do not eat more than four eggs a week. Although they have low content of saturated fats, eggs contain many cholesterol.
- For a dessert or a small meal, choose fresh fruit rather than sweets, cakes or pudding.
- Finally, remember that most of the ”rules” about good and bad eating habits seek perfection. But, if you feel healthy, you regularly do some physical activities, and if you’re not overweight, do not worry about food details and simply ignore frequent news and television reports about the latest discoveries of ”good” and ”wrong” diet. Your diet is likely to be as good as it is until it suits the guidelines outlined on this site.