Healthy eating means making sure you have a balanced diet that includes all the right food groups. It’s easy to fall into patterns of unhealthy eating when you’re stressed or busy, like during exams.
But if you eat the right things, you’ll find you’ll have more energy to deal with stress or hard work. Plus you’ll improve your immune system, meaning you’ll get less colds and infections. Give your body what it wants and you’ll find you feel better, mentally and physically.
What do you need to be healthy?
- Carbohydrates (sugars and starchy food), for energy
- Proteins, for building muscle
- Fats, for energy and making cell walls
- Fibre, to keep the gut healthy
- Vitamins and minerals, for a wide range of functions
- Water, to flush out waste products
Get the balance right
- Eat moderate amounts of protein – a fist-sized portion at every meal. Go for lean meats, poultry, eggs, fish, beans, lower-fat cheeses, semi-skimmed milk, yoghurts, or soya products.
- Eat unrefined carbohydrates, such as potatoes in their skins, brown rice, wholegrain bread and wholegrained pasta.
- Fats are essential to health in small amounts. You need roughly equal amounts of saturates (e.g. butter), monounsaturates (e.g. olive oil) and polyunsaturates (e.g. sunflower oil).
- Vitamins and minerals are best obtained from eating a wide variety of foods. The ones in the tablets (and added to fortified cereals etc) are often not in the same natural forms that are found in food, and may not be absorbed as effectively.
Make the effort
When you’re tired, it always seems easier to order a take away or microwave some processed food to satisfy your hunger pangs. But in the long-run, sugary, fatty foods won’t satisfy your body’s need for vitamins and nutrients. Some tips on getting it right:
- Five-a-day – try to include fruit and vegetables with every meal. Ideally we should eat at least five portions a day.
- Snacking – when you feel like a snack, try substituting nuts or fruit for crisps or chocolate.
- Avoid drinking too many fizzy drinks – the sugar levels are extremely high so drink water, milk or natural fruit juice instead.
- Distract yourself – sometimes when we’re bored we fixate on food as a means of entertaining ourselves. If you find yourself obsessing about a bar of chocolate or a kebab, simply focus on something else, like going for a run or having a chat.
- Eat a good breakfast – it’s often the one we leave out cause we’re in a rush but eating a good breakfast means you’ll refuel your body for the day ahead. You won’t need to snack as much later either.
- Combine a balanced diet with regular moderate exercise to feel and look your best.
For more tips on healthy eating , check Nutrition.ie. For advice on simple recipes, including cooking on a budget, see Greatfood.ie. and for tips on eating during exams, read this factsheet from INDI.
Every week there’s a new diet that people are talking about, from a cabbage soup diet to a baby food diet. Fad diets might seem like an easy way to lose weight, but most of them simply don’t work. They all involve cutting something out of the diet, when the best way to stay healthy is to get the right amount of all the food groups.
You might lose a lot of weight really fast if you stick to one of these diets, but the weight does tend to come back when you return to eating normally. Plus there’s a danger to your health if you’re not getting enough vitamins and minerals.
Detox diets are particuarly popular at the moment. It’s claimed that they cleanse your body of toxins and can help you lose weight. If you’re considering starting a detox diet talk to you GP first, because some can be harmful to your health. Read this factsheet from INDI for an overview of detox diets.
If you eat a balanced, nutritious diet and combine it with regular exercise, you should be able to reach a weight that’s right for you. For more information on making sure you’re a healthy weight, talk to your local GP.
Taking your body mass index (BMI) can also be a good starting point for evaluating your weight. Check the Nutrition and Health Foundation to calculate your BMI.
Don’t stress out
While it’s important to eat healthily, becoming too focused on your diet can lead to negative thinking. Don’t view food as the enemy. If you eat something unhealthy, try not to feel guilty, just aim to eat more healthily the next day.
If you feel like you’re stressing out about what you eat, or how much you weigh, see Bodywhys for more information. Read eating disorders for more information on how they begin and how to cope with them.