Eating the right foods in the right proportions not only provides fuel for mind and body for the day ahead, but it will also help to maintain the correct body weight, help to prevent illness and to stay physically and mentally fit.
It is difficult to determine what really is the best diet as it depends on what you want to achieve. There are numerous diets and programmes advertised that claim to achieve different things, but as I see it, there are really only two main targets that people usually want to achieve:
The most nutritious diet
- A nutritious diet
- Losing weight
would consist of a balanced variety of foods, containing carbohydrate, protein, sugar, fat and fibre from each of the main food groups, with an intake of around 2,000 calories per day for an adult woman, 2,500 for an adult man and around 1,200 - 2,200 for children (depending on age).
The five main food groups are:
- Fruit & vegetables
- Bread, rice, potatoes and pasta
- Milk and dairy
- Meat, fish, eggs and beans
- Food or drink high in fat and/or sugar
Fruit and vegetables should consist of approximately one third of your daily diet, and research suggests that eating at least five portions of fruit or vegetables per day can help to protect against diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
By choosing fruit or vegetables as a first choice for a snack (rather than a high sugar snack such as chocolate) you can help to reduce obesity and the associated problems this condition can bring on.
Bread, rice, potatoes and pasta contain starchy carbohydrates, the body's main source of energy and should form another third of a healthy, balanced diet.
Lesser refined carbohydrates such as wholegrain pasta, brown rice and wholemeal bread are much higher quality carbohydrates and more beneficial to the body than foods that have been processed to a higher degree (such as white bread or white pasta) as they contain less of the original grain.
The final groups of foods should collectively make up the final third of a healthy balanced diet. These should be eaten in smaller proportions, but not left out entirely (as they contain essential minerals and nutrients that are vital to our well-being).
Although milk and dairy foods are essential to a healthy diet, as an important source of calcium (vital for healthy teeth and bones), they should also be eaten in moderation as they invariably contain a high level of saturated (or animal) fats, which can cause obesity, high cholesterol and narrowing of the arteries.
Meat, fish, eggs and beans form the major source of protein in our diet and, as a major functional and structural component of cells, especially muscles, is essential for growth and repair.
Foods high in fat and/or sugar should be eaten sparingly, as, although they are an important source of energy for the body, they actually have very little nutritional value and are known as "empty calories".
They contain high quantities of saturated fats, sugar, salts and trans fatty acids, which are associated with developing certain diseases and conditions.
Together with eating a balanced variety of foods from the above food groups, you should also try to:
Best diet for losing weight
- Drink plenty of water - around eight glasses per day
- Not skip breakfast - after a period of fasting (overnight, your body is in a state of fasting) you need to break the fast and refuel your body ready for the day ahead.
- Eat less salt - no more than 6g per day
Diets are very individual, as every person is different, but as a general rule of thumb, if you are trying to lose weight, you should ensure that the amount of calories you intake should not exceed the number of calories you expend (or burn).
When trying to lose weight, you should also try to maintain a balanced diet, otherwise you could make yourself more susceptible to injury or illness.
Some people have been known to "crash diet" through simply not eating or eating very little for a period of time, and, while this does invariably result in the desired weight loss, it can prove to be counter-productive and potentially detrimental to health through lethargy and tiredness and overeating after the crash.
A sensible approach to weight loss would be to achieve around 1lb - 2lb weight loss per week, which would involve consuming 500 - 1,000 calories less per day to achieve an energy deficit of 3,500 - 7,000 calories per week.
Steps to achieve this should collectively include:
- Taking more exercise - this is perhaps the quickest way to burn calories and energy and will also help to boost energy levels
- Eating smaller portions
- Replace high fat/sugar foods with lower fat alternatives such as fruit and vegetables
- Eat foods higher in protein, which will help to curb your appetite - reduce excess calories by removing skin from chicken, cut off obvious pieces of fat from meat and use less or no oil when cooking
- Try incorporating two pieces of fish per week into your diet
- Try to use unrefined carbohydrates such as wholegrain rice, wholemeal bread or wholewheat pasta which are higher in fiber and and help to make you feel fuller for longer
- Try to only eat three meals a day and cut out sugary snacks - if you feel hungry between meals, try eating an apple or a chopped carrot to tide you over until your next proper meal
- Reduce the amount of alcohol you consume - it contains lots of calories!