Firstly, we should debunk the myth that there is one ‘perfect’ diet to suit us all. Common sense tells us that we all have different nutritional requirements and different ways to fulfil them. Often, when people refer to a diet, what they really mean is a weight loss programme whereas actually, your diet is just what you eat. What we’re talking about in the ‘perfect’ diet is what gives you the best combination of nutrients to keep you in optimum health.
So, while an individual’s diet is exactly that – individual, a ‘perfect’ diet could be said to adhere to a set of nutritional rules to maximise the health benefits:
Generally-speaking, a great diet should be nutrient dense and contain proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. You need to make sure that you are taking in sufficient nutrients rather than specific food groups. The nutrients will be found across a range of food groups but if you focus on, or restrict, specific food groups you may miss out on certain nutrients. Choose foods that are high in vitamins and minerals and whenever you can, choose fresh foods as that’s when they are most nutrient-dense.
Try to be mindful about your diet. You should be able to buy healthy food easily and regularly so keep it simple, think about sustainability and try to advocate a positive environmental impact.
However, if you can, try to eat high-quality food - better quality food is an investment in your health. Obviously, you should stay within your means, but think of long-term health gains rather than short-term gratification which isn’t doing you much good, even if you can’t see it.
As fresh is best, try to keep processed foods (those that have added chemicals or have been through some process) to a minimum. It’s true what our grandmothers said - eat food that comes from the earth, grown or raised, was alive before we ate it, and hasn’t been artificially altered.
Eat seasonally. This will give you the option of a wide variety of foods which helps avoid a boring diet and gives you plenty of nutrients. Try to vary what you have so that you don’t end up missing out on any nutrients that you need and try to eat as much coloured fruit and veg as you can. Many people tend to get little variety, so why not be a bit more adventurous?
There’s nothing new about this point: drink plenty of water but be aware that too much liquid causes you to lose electrolytes. Around 1.2 to 2 litres per day is recommended. Obviously, adjust accordingly if the weather is hot or you are exercising.
Keep an eye on your weight. Even a fantastically healthy diet will cause you to gain weight if you are taking in more calories than you are burning up. Plan to take in the fuel you need for the activity levels you have. Likewise, if you are losing weight when you don’t want to, you may need to increase your intake.
So, there we have it. A blue-print for healthy eating with plenty of leeway for a few treats - after all, great food is one of life’s great joys - and you should reap the benefits in the long-term.