To be in good health, eating a healthy diet is one of the most important things that you can do. When you eat a good diet, you will feel energetic and you reduce your risk of minor illnesses and more serious diseases. It will also show in your hair and skin. But what is a healthy diet?
Eating healthily means eating a varied diet consisting of the right foods in the right proportions to maintain good health and achieve a healthy body weight.
This means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, and consuming the right amount of food and drink to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. There are some universally acknowledged recommendations to follow to ensure that your diet is healthy.
Eat plenty of fruit and veg
It is recommended that we should eat at least 5 portions of fruit and veg per day. Fruit and vegetables are a source of essential vitamins and minerals that the body needs. The research shows that people who have a high intake of fruit and vegetables have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. It is quite easy to meet the 5 a day target; try adding vegetables into sauces, chopping up fruit and adding it to cereal or yoghurt, or drink a 150ml glass of fruit juice with your breakfast.
Base your diet on starchy foods
Starchy foods such as bread, rice and pasta should form around 1/3 of what we eat. Always choose wholegrain or wholemeal versions which tend to have more fibre, vitamins, and minerals. These foods will keep you full for longer and provide you with a sustained source of energy.
Eat low fat dairy
Low fat dairy foods like cheese and yoghurt provide the body with a good source of protein. They also contain calcium for healthy bones. Lower fat dairy will give you these benefits but without the saturated fat content of the higher fat versions.
Include plenty of pulses, eggs, meat, and fish in your diet as these are all good sources of protein, and other nutrients that the body needs. Protein is the building block of all the body’s tissues and we need it for healthy growth and repair. Choose lean meats where possible.
Eat the right kind of fat
We need some fat in our diet, but it should be the right type of fat. Fats should be included in the diet in small amounts, and saturated fat should be limited. Consuming too much saturated fat can raise cholesterol levels in the blood and increase the risk of getting heart disease. Saturated fat is present in foods like hard cheese, cakes, biscuits, and processed meats. The kind of fat that is best for your body is unsaturated ‘healthy’ fats which are found in oily fish, avocados, and nuts.
Cut down on sugar
If you consume a lot of sugar, it increases your risk of becoming obese, getting diabetes or tooth decay. Sugary drinks especially are high in calories, have no nutritional value and can lead to weight gain. Many food and drink products available on the market contain a large amount of added sugars, and a lot of these are hidden in foods we might not expect like bread, soups, and sauces.
Eat more fish, especially the oily variety
Oily fish contains essential omega 3 fats which can keep the heart healthy. Oily fish includes salmon and mackerel. Canned fish is acceptable too, though it can contain a lot of salt and some of the omega 3 is lost in the canning process.
Eat less salt
Eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. You may not add salt to your food, but a lot of salt is added to food in the manufacturing process, and soup, bread and sauces can contain copious amounts. As a guide, if a food contains more than 1.5g of salt per 100g of a product means that it is high in salt. It is recommended that we do not consume more than 6g of salt per day.
The health cost of an unhealthy diet
The statistics on the cost of an unhealthy diet to our health do not make for pleasant reading. Here are some known facts about the risk to our health when we have a poor diet.
A high intake of saturated fat and salt, and a low intake of fruit and vegetables has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
A massive 16 million deaths across the world can be linked to not eating enough fruit and vegetables.
It is estimated that reducing salt intake from the current average levels of 9–12 g per day to the recommended level of 5-6 g per day would have a major impact on incidences of high blood pressure and heart disease. Heart disease remains one of the biggest causes of death worldwide.
When considering whether our diet is unhealthy or unhealthy, we should think about whether it is the food itself that is unhealthy or if it’s the cooking method we use or what we add to the food. For example, pasta is a healthy food but if you add a creamy sauce or cheese to it, it pushes up the fat content. Cooking methods also make a difference. Fries are made from potatoes which aren’t unhealthy, but when you cook them in fat, the fat and calorie content shoots up.
Healthy cooking methods
By using healthy cooking methods, you can really cut the fat and calorie content of your meals. What’s better, these methods help to retain the nutrients in the food too.
When you bake food, you don’t usually need to add fat. Try baking fish, poultry, and other lean meats.
Braising involves browning the food first in a pan, then cooking it with a small amount of liquid, like water or broth. You can then use the liquid afterwards to make a sauce or gravy.
Broiling and grilling
Both broiling and grilling allow fat to drip out of, and away from the food.
Poaching does not require fat, instead food is simmered in water or broth until it is cooked.
Roasting uses dry heat from an oven to cook food. Food can be roasted on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan, where fat can drip away while the food cooks.
This is a fast cooking method. If you cook the food in a non-stick pan, you can cook without using any fat. You can also use cooking spray or water instead of oil.
Steaming involves cooking food in a perforated container above hot liquid, there is no need for fat.
Stir frying is another quick cooking method that only requires a small amount of oil or cooking spray.
Using herbs and spices to flavour food
This is a good way of adding flavour so you don’t need to use fat or salt to improve the taste of food.
Unhealthy cooking methods
This method adds a lot of saturated fat to meals. A high intake of saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease, so avoid this method at all costs.
Cooking with butter adds a lot of saturated fat to meals, which again increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. With some recipes, you can substitute the fat with applesauce which will make your dish moist without adding countless calories.
So, can a food like bacon ever be considered healthy?
Bacon is pork that has usually been dry-cured (rubbed with salt and other flavourings) or wet cured (soaked in brine). Bacon is sold as smoked or unsmoked, and there are three types of bacon rasher; back bacon, streaky bacon, and middle bacon. These different cuts come from the loin, belly, and both combined respectively.
Is bacon bad for you?
A World Health Organisation report stated that processed meats like bacon, ham and sausages were as damaging to health as smoking. Processed meat is classed as a ‘cancer- causing substance’, along with alcohol, asbestos, arsenic and cigarettes. The reason for this is when meat is smoked, cured, or salted, cancer-causing substances called carcinogens can form. Red meat is also on the list as there is a strong link between high consumption and bowel cancer. So, the evidence does not look good. But it appears that bacon is on the list of foods that can be made healthy-ish, if you adjust the cooking method, eat it in moderation, and select the right cut.
Healthier ways of cooking bacon
An average slice of thick-cut bacon has about 45 calories and 3 grams of fat, so you could get away with adding a few slices to a family meal without adding unwanted inches to your waistline. Here’s some healthier ways to cook bacon without the health risk.
Cook the bacon on a rack and roast at 400 degrees for around 20 minutes until it is cooked through. Try serving it with eggs, pancakes, or French toast. Roasting will tenderise the bacon nicely.
Fry small chopped pieces of bacon until they are crisp and slightly browned. Remove the bacon from the pan and set it aside. Sauté some onions or kale and add the bacon. This is a lovely side dish or a delicious addition to risotto.
Put 3-4 slices of bacon on a microwaveable plate lined with a kitchen towel. Cook it for 2-4 minutes, depending on the power of your microwave, then allow it to sit for a moment. Use the cooked bacon for sandwiches or crumble them into a salad.
Delicious healthy-ish bacon recipes to try
Kale and Bacon Risotto
4 slices bacon, roughly chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Arborio rice
3 cups low-salt chicken broth
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (roughly 1 large lemon)
3/4 cup diced cooked chicken
3 medium curly kale leaves, stemmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces (roughly 3 cups)
1 roasted carrot, chopped
1 roasted parsnip, chopped
1 roasted shallot, chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place a baking rack in the middle of the oven. Cook the bacon in a large saucepan over a medium heat for about 10 minutes or until it is crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan and lay it on some kitchen towels.
Add the onions, salt, and pepper, then reduce the heat to low and cook until the onions are tender. Add the rice and stir the mixture for 2 minutes. Add the broth and lemon juice and bring to the boil. Cover and bake in the oven for 25 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and return to a medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken, bacon, kale, roasted vegetables, and the broth.
Kale and bacon frittata
1/4 cup skimmed milk
4 large eggs
4 large egg whites
4 slices bacon, chopped
2 cups finely chopped kale
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup shredded reduced fat cheese
1/4 cup chopped tomatoes
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Whisk the milk, eggs, and egg whites together in a bowl and set the mixture aside. Cook the bacon in a large non-stick pan on a medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the kale and cook it until it wilts. Season lightly with salt and pepper, then add the egg mixture to the pan and allow it to scramble. Sprinkle the cheese over it.
Put the pan in the oven and cook it until the eggs are set and the cheese has melted, or for around 10-15 minutes. Allow it to cool slightly, then cut it into wedges. Top the frittata with the tomatoes before serving.
Grilled Shrimp with Bacon, tomato, and scallion vinaigrette
8 ounces bacon, rind removed, cut into large diced pieces
2 tablespoons canola oil, plus more for brushing
6 plum tomatoes, cored and diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
3 green onions, green and pale green parts, thinly sliced
16 large shrimp, peeled and deveined, heads off
Put the bacon in a large pan and cook over a medium heat until the bacon is crisp. Stir occasionally. Heat the canola oil over medium-high heat in another pan, then add the tomato, salt, and pepper. Cook until soft.
Add the bacon to the tomato mixture and add the cilantro, vinegar, thyme, and green onions. Cook until the mixture is heated right through, then set it aside and keep it warm.
Brush the shrimp with the canola oil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Take 2 skewers and thread 2 shrimp onto each. Grill the shrimp for about 2 minutes on each side, ensure they are cooked through. They should be slightly charred. Remove the shrimp from the skewers and drizzle them with the vinaigrette.
Eating healthily is one of the most important things we can do for our health. If we give our body the right balance of nutrients, it will function at its best. It makes us feel energetic, it makes us look better, and feel better. Life can be better enjoyed when you are in a state of good health. Most of us know the standard healthy eating ‘rules’; eat less salt, sugar, and fat, eat more fruit and vegetables and include plenty of protein and fibre to provide the body with the essential nutrients it needs. But modern life makes that hard at times. The amount of processed and convenience food available to us now is unbelievable, and we often succumb, whether it’s because we are pressed for time or we just get confused about what constitutes a healthy food choice.
But if we take the opportunity to educate ourselves on how to swap unhealthy foods for healthier ones, and on healthier cooking and preparation methods, we can eat well. We can eat delicious food without piling on the pounds or risking our health. Often what makes a food unhealthy is the way it is cooked. Fries are made from potatoes; rich in vitamin C, starch, and fibre. What makes them unhealthy is that they are cooked in fat.
Many foods start out healthy then end up as an unhealthy choice. Bacon is one of them, if it’s fried, that is. Bacon has been given a bad press but we can enjoy it occasionally if we use a healthier cooking method, such as grilling, baking or roasting, where the fat can drip away. This leaves you with a much less fatty and calorific meal.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying bacon and other ‘bad’ foods as part of an overall balanced diet. A healthy lifestyle includes all things in moderation and that really is the key.