A healthy and varied diet is essential in order to function optimally, to keep your body healthy and to feel good about yourself. What and how much you are eating has a direct influence on your state of mind and your immune system.

A healthy diet consists of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, water, vitamins and minerals. What are these nutrients and how much of these do you need? This is explained in the article below.

 

Macronutrients

Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are also known as macronutrients. The body needs these in large quantities because these nutrients are the body’s energy source. Without these nutrients, the body would not be able to function.

 

Carbohydrates

Sugars, starches and fibre are carbohydrates and are our body’s primary fuel, especially for the brain and red blood cells. Your intestines convert the carbohydrates into glucose, which allows your body to function.

The Health Council recommends getting 40 to 70% of your energy from carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates affect your blood sugar. Some carbohydrates make your blood sugar rise quickly (fast carbohydrates) and other carbohydrates make your blood sugar rise more slowly (slow carbohydrates).

It is better for your body if your blood sugar level rises slowly. This way, spikes in your blood sugar are prevented. The risk of type 2 diabetes is higher when your blood sugar spikes more often.

 

Slow carbohydrates

Slow carbohydrates are digested more slowly. As a result, your body absorbs energy from the food more slowly and, thus, releases it more gradually. This results in fewer spikes in your blood sugar.

Examples of slow carbohydrates are brown rice, whole grain bread, whole grain couscous, quinoa and vegetables.

 

Fast carbohydrates

Fast carbohydrates are absorbed into the blood more quickly, causing spikes in your blood sugar. After eating fast carbohydrates, you will feel very energetic for a period of time (a peak), but after this, your blood sugar will drop, which will result in fatigue.

Examples of fast carbohydrates are biscuits, crisps, sweets and white flour products such as pasta, bread and white rice.

Healthy examples: brown bread, whole grain pasta, brown rice, (sweet) potatoes, beans, quinoa, legumes, vegetables and fruit.

Unhealthy examples: white bread, cookies, alcohol, soft drinks, sweets, cake, white rice, pizza, sauces, crisps, cocktail nuts and processed breakfast cereals.

 

Protein

Almost every type of food contains some protein. Proteins can be found in both vegetable and animal sources. Proteins are necessary for the construction and maintenance of the muscles, organs and the blood, amongst other things. They are the building blocks of every cell in our body and muscles. In addition, proteins repair, protect and improve all types of body tissue. Proteins are involved in processes such as digestion, metabolism and the functioning of our brain. This is partly why proteins are so important to us!

Healthy examples: eggs, fish, quark, cottage cheese, nuts and seeds.

Unhealthy Examples:

 

Fats

Fat provides energy to the body. It is a source of energy, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and essential fatty acids. Fats can be divided into two types, namely saturated and unsaturated fat. Fat in foods always consists of a combination of both of these types. The risk of cardiovascular disease can be reduced when you eat products with unsaturated fats.

Healthy fats (unsaturated fats): vegetable oils, avocado, fatty fish such as herring, salmon, mackerel, sardine and trout.

Unhealthy fats (saturated fats): Beware of meats with a lot of saturated fat, such as bacon, lamb chops, and minced beef. It is also important to eat processed meat, such as sausage, ham and pâté, in moderation. The clue is in the name; the meat is processed to influence the taste or shelf life. This is not very healthy, as manufacturers often add salt, flavour enhancers and preservatives to processed meat.

 

Vitamins and minerals

Vitamins and minerals are also called micronutrients. These nutrients do not provide energy, but they are necessary for the release of energy from macronutrients and for many other important bodily functions.

Vitamins

Vitamins are substances that you get through food and drink in small amounts. You need vitamins in order for your body to function. They are used in the production of bones or for your immune system, for example. There are 13 types of vitamins: vitamins A, C, D, E, K and 8 types of vitamin B.

Examples: carrots and eggs (vitamin A), bread, milk, fish (vitamin B), potatoes (vitamin C), mushrooms and fatty fish (vitamin D), grains and eggs (vitamin E), cabbage and tomatoes (vitamin K)

Tips:

  • About 50% of the vitamins are lost during cooking. Therefore, do not cook, bake or fry your food longer than necessary. The loss of vitamins is smaller in meat and potatoes than in spinach and broccoli, for example. This is due to the structure of the food. Compact products retain vitamins better. Furthermore, it is important to cook with as little water as possible. When cooking with a lot of water, the vitamin C content can drop enormously.
  • Vitamins can be lost when food is stored. It is important to place the food in a cool place or in the freezer. Furthermore, vegetables cannot be stored for too long after they’re cut because the vitamins have been broken down.

Minerals

Minerals, like vitamins, are substances that can be found in food and drink in small amounts. They are also indispensable and essential for your body to function properly. Examples of minerals are calcium, chromium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and magnesium. In addition, there are ‘trace elements’; minerals that the body needs very little of, such as chromium, iron, fluoride, copper, manganese, molybdenum, selenium and zinc.

Examples: spinach, steak and apple syrup (iron), potatoes (phosphorus), cheese and milk (calcium), spinach, chickpeas and banana (magnesium), oysters and oranges (zinc), Brazil nuts and boiled egg (selenium), grain products (chromium), chicken legs and herring (phosphorus) and rice (manganese).

Note: too much sodium (salt) increases the risk of blood and cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, sprinkle salt on your food in moderation. Or try eating ‘salt-free’ for a period of time and use herbs to flavour your food instead.

 

Sources

Diabetesfonds, Gezondheidsraad, Voedingscentrum, Voedingscentrum, Voedingscentrum

 

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