What constitutes a healthy, balanced diet varies from one person to the next as it is influenced by your biology, genetics, health and lifestyle. For example, an athlete will need different nutrients in different quantities than an older individual who is less active.
The types of food, quantity and timing of when you eat all contribute to a healthy diet. It’s also important to drink enough fluids.
Getting the right balance of foods and hydration for your body is important as your nutrition affects every cellular function of your body, from your immune system, organ health and muscle strength, to your cognition, mood and mental health.
A specialist medical professional, such as a dietitian, can help you determine what a healthy, balanced diet looks like for you.
Although a healthy diet varies from person to person, there are some basic components that your body needs, namely proteins, carbohydrates, fats and fibre, as well as micronutrients, such as calcium and iron.
Completely cutting out any one food group is not recommended. The proportions of each of these food groups that your body needs to function well will depend on your particular lifestyle, health and biology.
An area I would often focus on is fibre. Most people need to consume at least 30 grams per day.
Fibre can be found in wholemeal carbohydrates, nuts, vegetables and fruits. Ensuring you have enough dietary fibre can lead to general health improvements.
As a general rule of thumb, the less processed your food is, the better it is for your body. However, processed foods, such as cheese and bread, are part of our day-to-day lives, and many have been part of the human diet for hundreds of years.
When it comes to following a healthy diet, it isn’t, therefore, about removing all processed foods from your diet but about minimising the amount of highly processed or ultra-processed foods in your diet.
Food processing categories
Foods can be grouped into four categories according to how much they’re processed:
Try to avoid group 4 foods wherever possible and rather than having them as part of your weekly diet, only consume infrequently.
It’s important to note that many vegan or vegetarian meat substitutes and plant-based foods are ultra-processed and, therefore, should not form a regular part of your diet.
Following a healthy, balanced diet that works for your body should, in most cases, mean that you get all of the nutrition that your body needs.
You may still want to take supplements. However, these shouldn’t be used as substitutes for food — this includes shakes or multivitamins and mineral supplements.
Alcoholic drinks do not provide your body with any nutrition, and when consumed in excess, can have many negative effects on your health.
Mr Dafydd Wilson-Evans is an Obesity Specialist Dietitian at Spire Bristol Hospital where he provides effective nutritional interventions to promote sustained weight loss and also improve weight-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Mr Wilson-Evans is also a Bariatric Dietetic Practitioner and believes in a multi-professional approach to weight management, which may involve nutritional, surgical, medical, psychological and exercise treatments.
If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.