What is a healthy diet in 2018?
There is so much misleading information online and elsewhere regarding what constitutes a healthy diet ie a diet that is proven by medical research to increase your longterm health and wellbeing. Is red meat associated with causing cancer? Are antioxidants proven in reducing your risk of cancer? This article tells you what you should be eating in order to maximise your longterm health.
It is now unfortunately long established that regularly eating red meat especially processed meat (eg packaged ham/ sausages/ bacon) increases your risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Processed meat is now classified as a grade 1 carcinogen (ie in the same category as cigarettes/ alcohol).
Fruit and vegetables
Increased intake of fruit and vegetables is associated with lower risk of premature death, heart disease and stroke. High intakes may reduce the risk of cancer eg some evidence suggests tomatoes may lower your risk of prostate cancer.
A diet high in fibre can decrease your risk of heart disease, cancer of your colon, diabetes and death.
Fibre is found in most breakfast cereals, fruit and vegetables.
Whole grain foods (whole wheat bread, brown rice) are healthy. Refined grains (white bread and white rice) are unhealthy. Why is this? Refined grains give you a burst of sugar too quickly which puts too much stress on your pancreas and over time can lead to diabetes. They also can decrease the level of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) in your body,
Some fats are good for you and some fats are not. Polyunsaturated fat is very good for you and is found in fish (omega 3), nuts and seeds like walnuts. Trans-fats (sometimes on food labels as “partially hydrogenated oils”) are very unhealthy- associated with foods from fast food restaurants, commercial baked goods etc. Contrary to what was previously thought saturated fats (found in butter/ cheese/ red meat) are not now thought to increase your risk of heart disease although they do increase your cholesterol blood test.
This includes antioxidant vitamins A, C, E and beta carotene. Studies have not clearly shown that antioxidant vitamins prevent disease especially cancer.
Calcium and vitamin D
These are particularly important in women to prevent osteoporosis. Vitamin D is now recommended in most countries to take during the Winter but some countries advise taking supplements all year long (eg Scotland) to preserve musculoskeletal health.
Taken in moderation red wine may reduce your risk of heart disease. But moderation is the key ie this means no more than 1 drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. If you go above this regularly you increase the risk of breast cancer in women, cancers of the mouth, food pipe, larynx and liver particularly in men.
Salt intake is linked to increasing blood pressure as we get older. Increasing pressure in your blood vessels puts pressure on your heart and blood vessels and can lead to a heart attack or stroke. If everyone in Ireland reduced their salt intake by half a teaspoon per day this would prevent about 900 deaths per year from strokes and heart attacks! If you already have high blood pressure it would be a good idea to look at the salt content on the labels of any food you buy. A low salt content is indicated by any food that contains less than 0.3g per 100g of salt.
If all this is a bit too clunky and cumbersome to remember perhaps the most important thing to concentrate on is your daily calorie intake. A healthy diet to maintain your current weight would total 2000 calories per day for most females and 2500 calories per day for most males. Any less is associated with weight loss.