The importance of a healthy, balanced diet

The importance of a healthy, balanced diet

It’s no secret that a healthy, balanced diet is key to a healthy lifestyle, but why is it so important? And how can you continue to get all the nutrients you need if you have swallowing or chewing difficulties?

In this article, we’ll explore the importance of following a balanced diet and how to do it – even if you struggle to consume certain foods.

What is a balanced diet?

In simple terms, a balanced diet is one that provides your body with the necessary nutrients to function. This means taking nutrients from each of the main food groups in the right quantities or portions, with lots of variety, and should be done alongside regular exercise wherever possible.

What are the main food groups?

Different food products are separated into groups, and you need different amounts of each to provide the fuel and nutrients your body needs.

The main food groups are:

  • Starchy foods and grains – such as potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, cereal and other grains
  • Protein – from beans and pulses, eggs, fish and meat
  • Dairy – such as cheese, milk and yoghurt (or dairy alternatives)
  • Fruit and veg – you should try to eat at least five portions a day (more vegetables than fruit)
  • Fat – from spreads and oils, ideally unsaturated

Foods and drinks that are high in saturated fats, sugar and salt should be limited in a healthy diet, and tend to provide little goodness.

How much of each food group do you need for a balanced diet?

Your diet should contain all of the main food groups, but not in the same quantities – you don’t need as much of some groups as the others.

The bulk of the energy in your diet should come from starchy foods, so your meals should be based around these. Around a third of your food should be fruit and vegetables (at least five portions a day). You should also include some protein and dairy, as well as a small amount of fats from oils and spreads. Certain foods, such as oily fish, can also provide an intake of healthy fats.

Your food intake will depend on your calorie requirement; for example, your age, gender, size and lifestyle will have an impact on how much you should consume. Adults generally require between 2,000 calories (for women) and 2,500 calories (for men).

There’s more information available on the Eatwell Guide on the NHS website, and a healthcare practitioner will be able to help you understand your calorie requirements if you need further assistance.

Why is healthy eating important?

A healthy and balanced diet is key for maintaining your overall health. When combined with other healthy lifestyle habits, such as exercise, there are a wide range of health benefits from following a balanced diet.

What are the benefits of a good diet?

Healthy eating habits can have a positive effect on your health in a number of ways.

Weight control

Following a healthy diet within your recommended calorie intake can help towards weight loss or gain goals, as well as maintaining a healthy weight. Your healthcare practitioner may have recommended that you lose or gain some weight to reach a healthy weight, and following a balanced diet is the best way to do this.

If you are at a healthy weight, you should continue to eat a balanced and varied diet to maintain this.

Providing energy

A good diet provides your body with the necessary energy to function properly. You should get this energy from sources that provide slow-release energy, such as starchy carbohydrates like oats, potatoes, pasta and rice, as well as fruits such as bananas.

Sugary products like chocolate, sweets or fizzy drinks can also provide you with energy, but this is very short-lived and can lead to a slump and feelings of fatigue later in the day.

Heart health

Those who follow an unhealthy diet – particularly one with a lot of saturated fats and salt – may be at a higher risk of developing heart problems.

By following a balanced diet and adopting healthy lifestyle habits, you can reduce the risks of developing heart issues. Try to eat well, and ensure you eat at least one portion of oily fish (such as salmon or sardines) per week, as they contain omega-3 fatty acids which help to support heart health.

Better sleep

Studies have suggested a potential link between dietary habits and sleep quality. Experts recommend a healthy and balanced diet to promote sustainable energy levels throughout the day, and to ensure restful sleep at night.

You should also try not to eat too close to bedtime, as this may keep you from falling asleep easily.

What if you have chewing or swallowing difficulty?

If you have swallowing problems or difficulty chewing, you may feel as though you are unable to easily maintain a healthy diet. If you have such concerns, contact your GP or a healthcare practitioner, who will be able to help. You may be advised to follow a softer food diet.

If you develop new swallowing or chewing difficulties, consult with a medical professional.

Eat well for a healthier lifestyle

As we’ve explained, a balanced diet is essential for supporting your overall health and wellbeing. You should try to eat well and, if possible, exercise every day. Remember to consume food from each of the main food groups, limit foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt, and stick to your recommended calorie intake.

If you do have any dietary or nutritional concerns, seek medical advice before making any changes to your diet.