Food makes up the totality of our whole being. The food we eat plays an important role in our energy level, body weight, protection against certain diseases, infections and deficiencies, psychological and physiological functions of the body. Healthy eating is the consumption of a variety of foods that are adequate and balanced in nutrients needed to maintain health.
Healthy eating is a matter of choice and can easily be mastered as a soft skill. Healthy eating comprises of the food choices, quantities of meals, meal timings, snacking and physical activities. Mastering the healthy eating food steps help in making appropriate food choices that promotes good nutrition and positive health outcomes.
Why Is Healthy Nutrition Habit And Self-Care Important?
Healthy eating does not only promotes health and optimum weight but also decrease the risk of certain diseases such as; cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers, hypertension, and others.
It also increase disease resistance, and improves ones memory and concentration.
It also promotes the growth of healthy skin, hair and nails and
Healthy eating is key to maintain a strong immune system
What Are The Food Nutrients Needed For Healthy Nutrition Habit?
For one to be well nourished with a balanced diet, the body requires the nutrients below.
Carbohydrates are metabolized to glucose and used as energy by the cells. Glucose is the main source of energy to the brain, central nervous system, as well as the placenta foetus during pregnancy. There are two types;
- Simple: sugars found in fruits and milk as well as table sugar.
- Complex: starches and dietary fibre which is a component of plant-based foods.
Dietary fibre are found mostly in the outer coverings of leaves, seeds and fruits. Carbohydrates can be polished (refined) or unpolished. Polished carbohydrates includes polished rice, polished breakfast cereals such as oblayoo, ekuegbemin, white flour, white kenkey (niso), abodoo, custard powder, tapiocaetc.
Unpolished carbohydrates: whole meal cereals and their products such as corn, Ga or Fanti kenkey, brown rice, millet, fula, sorghum, fruits, vegetables etc. Tubers and their products such as yam, cassava, gari, cocoyam etc. Starchy fruits such as plantain and banana. Dietary fibre are important for gastrointestinal health and function, beneficial for decreasing the risk of coronary diseases and also helps one to feel full longer preventing eating between meals.
Fats and oil
Fats and oils provides the body with energy, helps transport vitamins A, D,E and K in our bodies and is also a source of fatty acids which is important in the synthesis of cell structures.We have saturated, unsaturated (mono and poly unsaturated), trans-fats and cholesterol. Saturated fats: heavier, denser and usually solid at room temperature. Mostly of animal origin e.g. fat in dairy products (milk, cream, ice-cream, butter and cheese). Red meats (veal, pork, beef, and lamb) in poultry, eggs, plants such as palm, palm kernel and coconut oils.
Unsaturated fats are less heavier and tend to be liquid oils mostly. TRANS FAT is mostly found in meat, dairy, and also hydrogenated margarine. DIETARY CHOLESTEROL: Found in egg yolk, organ meat such as liver, kidneys and intestines. It doesn’t occur in plant foods. It is needed for the synthesis of bile acids and sex hormones production. The body does not really need cholesterol from outside hence too much intake of cholesterol can be harmful to the body
They are the building blocks of the body, consisting of 20 amino acids. 12(non-essential amino acids) are made by the body and 8(essential amino acids) are obtained from proteins consumed in our diet. Protein is important for the Growth and development of the body, Production of metabolic and digestive enzymes, Maintenance, repair and replacement of worn out or damaged tissues. Animal protein contains all the essential amino acids but plant sources must be mixed to get all the essential amino acids. Protein are mostly found in meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, eggs, nuts, beans, etc.
People mostly overlook the consumption of fruits and vegetable eventhough they play a very important role in the human body and are protective in nature. These are foods that provides vitamins (A, B, C, D, E, K, etc.) and minerals (calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium etc.) that helps the body to fight against diseases. These includes vegetables such as, cabbage, tomatoes, kontonmire, pepper, garden eggs, lettuce, carrots, okra, kenaf etc. Fruits such as oranges, banana, pawpaw, water melon, pineapple, grappes, oranges, tamarin baobab etc.
Water keeps the body hydrated and eliminates waste from the body. It also aids in the digestion of food. Water helps to control body temperature, and Provides minute quantities of minerals such as calcium and magnesium Water has no energy but is very vital to the human body hence must be replenished all the time since it cannot be stored.
How Do I Know Am Eating Right?
Now that we know the types of nutrients and how they are very important for the growth and maintenance of the human body, let’s look at how we can make use of the nutrient in developing healthy eating as a soft skill.
Carbohydrates; Carbohydrate is very important in our daily meal. Choose unstrained porridges over polished or strained ones, Eat wheat bread or white bread with vegetables, White rice meals should always be eaten with vegetables or lots of stews or soups. Yam, plantain, banku, akple, fufu and others should be eaten with plenty stew or soup. Avoid large and frequent quantities of salad cream, mayonnaise and ketchup. Eat a wide variety of fruits including the skins if possible as they are useful source of fibre. Choose fresh fruits more often than fruit juices since they are higher in fibre.
Proteins; Choose lean meat, Trim fat from meat and skin from poultry before cooking, Vegetarians should choose from legumes, nuts and seeds to obtain adequate proteins and choose low fat milk and Boiled eggs over fried ones.
Fats and oils; little oil should be used in cooking. Oils should not be seen on stews and soups. Choose boiled, baked or grilled foods over deep fried foods. Cut off all visible fat from meat and poultry before using them in cooking. Eat oily soups like palm nut soup at most twice a week and scoop of oils before serving.
Carbohydrates; 1g = 4 calories. Your daily meal should contain carbohydrate of50-60% from varied sources of carbohydrates. Simple sugars should be eaten in moderation as they give quick energy. Unrefined carbohydrates and dietary fibre should always be the option.
Proteins; 1g = 4 calories, your daily meal should contain protein of 10-15% from varied sources of proteins.
Fats and oils; 1g = 9 calories, 20-30% from varied sources of fats and oils, Less than 10% should be saturated fatty acids with 80% being poly and monounsaturated fatty acids. Trans fats should be low and Cholesterol = 300mg daily
Salt intake; Salt must be used in moderation. Between 2- 5g per day
Water; 6-8 glasses of water daily and more if physical activity is higher.
Snacking; Foods, drinks or sweets consumed in between meals are termed as snacks. Snacking prevents overeating in the next meal. The composition of a snack can render it healthy or unhealthy. A healthy snack must be moderate and varied. An unhealthy snack is one with high amount of sugar, salt, fats and have little or no nutritional value. Prolonged consumption of unhealthy snacks may result in obesity, heart diseases, diabetes, and others.
Meal timing; the body thrives on regularity and functions well when foods are consumed at specific and regular times. Breakfast: 7am– 8am, Lunch: 12pm- 1pm, Supper: 5pm-6pm and Snacks around 10am and 3pm.
How Does Physical Activity Play A Role In My Nutrition Habit?
Any activity that enhances or maintains physical fitness and overall health and wellness is termed as physical activity. Every individual needs some level of physical activity to help maintain a healthy body weight. It reduces body fat, increased lean tissue and lowers the risk of diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, bone diseases and others. It improves mental functioning Recommended exercise is at least 30- 45 minutes daily. Exercises include; brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, etc.
How Do I Maintain Optimum Weight?
The easiest indicator is to know your waist circumference well as the body mass index even though there other methods. After measuring and calculating the BMI and measuring the waist circumference, below can be used to compare if one is maintaining an optimum weight even though is not the only indicator of ones nutritional status.
Body mass index (BMI) < 18.5 – Underweight, 18.5 – 24.9: Normal (healthy), 25- 29.9 overweight, ≥30 Obesity. Waist circumference, >35 inches for women, >40 inches for men.
Excessive intake of carbohydrates, fats and oils and sedentary lifestyles may lead to over nutrition. Over nutrition increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis and other diseases. Undernutrition increases susceptibility to infections, micro nutrients deficiencies, marasmus, kwashiorkor, marasmic kwashiorkor and other diseases as the immune system becomes compromised.
On that note
The best way to stay healthy is to master healthy eating and self-care as soft skills to reduce the risk of diet related conditions. A wise man ones said, it takes 21 days to make a habit a habit. Being conscious of your nutritional needs is not an easy task. Just take it one step at a time because your health is your wealth.
The writer is a Registered Nutritionist, Workplace Nutritionist and Dietetics Advisor (Corporate and Individual) | Certified Children Malnutrition Specialist