I start this article with a quote by Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician and widely regarded as the Father of Medicine: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
We know that medicines are substances taken into the body to treat an underlying medical condition and to promote the well-being of people.
Similarly, eating food is not only to satisfy hunger, but has huge effects on one’s overall health and the quality of life.
And just as we are all cautious about when and what medicines we take in, we must also be particular with our food choices.
Good nutrition is important for everyone and it starts from eating healthy. Healthy eating is all about eating a variety of nutritious foods in adequate portions to provide energy for body functions, keep and improve overall health, and to feel good.
Healthy eating also lowers the risk and helps manage diseases like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke, cancer as well as malnutrition in all forms.
Alongside exercise, eating a healthy diet forms the basis of a healthy lifestyle, which seeks to improve and maintain good health and vitality.
How can I eat healthy? Well, the aspects of healthy eating can be grouped into five which are:
It is important that our meals are balanced anytime we eat. A balanced diet means that your meals consist a bit of all the six food groups: carbohydrates, protein, fats and oils, vitamins and minerals, and last but not the least, water.
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy, thus enabling us to perform our day-to-activities. Whole grains (e.g. brown rice, wheat, maize etc.), tubers (e.g. yam, cassava, cocoyam etc.), and plantain, as well as food made from these, are good sources of carbohydrates. These are known as complex carbohydrates and are high in fibre which is beneficial for you.
Other good sources of carbohydrates are fruit and vegetables which only do not provide fibre, but vitamins and minerals, and contribute to our daily total water intake. Simple sugars such as table sugar (white or brown), honey and sugary products (beverages, sweets etc.) are also a type of carbohydrates.
However, these carbohydrates are high in calories but do not provide additional benefits like vitamins and minerals.
To be on the healthier side, we should therefore aim to include more of whole grains, fruits and vegetables in our diet instead of refined grains and sugars.
Protein is needed by the body to make new cells, repair worn-out cells, produce hormones and enzymes, and to keep our immune system healthy, among others. Its sources can be classified into two - animal and plant protein.
Good sources of animal protein include fish, lean poultry and red meat, eggs, and dairy products (e.g. milk, yoghurt, etc.), whilst that of plant protein include nuts and legumes (e.g. beans).
Fats and oils aid in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K in the body, surround our vital organs to provide protection, and help keep our bodies warm. There are different types of dietary fats and oils which are classified into four groups - saturated, trans, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are together classified as unsaturated fats.
These types of fats are good for you and it is recommended that trans and saturated fats are as much as possible replaced with unsaturated fats in our diets, as they are relatively unhealthy.
Good sources of monounsaturated fats are avocados, most nuts (e.g. almonds, groundnuts, cashew nuts) and olive oil, whilst good sources of polyunsaturated fats include oily fish (tuna, salmon, tilapia etc.), nuts (e.g. walnuts), seeds (e.g. flaxseed) as well as unhydrogenated canola, soybean and sunflower oils.
Vitamins and minerals are very essential to the body.
Vitamin A, for example, promotes clear vision and Vitamin E promotes healthy skin, hair and nails. Calcium help build strong teeth and bones and potassium help the nerves and muscles function effectively.
Vitamins and minerals are mainly obtained from fruits and vegetables however, other complex carbohydrates as well as protein also provide some substantial amounts.
Water is necessary for life, thereby making it vital for good health.
It regulates our body temperatures, moves nutrients through your body, helps the body get rid of waste, and plays a role in the digestion and absorption of nutrients.
It is important to note that dietary water intake isn’t only about taking in plain water.
The intake of beverages and various foods also add up to your daily water intake. Generally, drinking eight glasses of water (approximately 2 litres) may be used as a guide in how much water you should drink daily, but there are a number of factors that influence your need for water like your age, gender, activity level and health status.
As such, the amount of water to be taken per day is highly individual. Healthy foods high in water include vegetables e.g. cucumber, lettuce, tomatoes and cabbage, fruits e.g. watermelon, coconut and orange, soups and some protein foods e.g. chicken and fish (except when fried) as well as milk.
The writer is
an intern dietician