Healthy eating is a massive determinant of health outcomes, however still remains a conundrum for many. For good reason!
“What is healthy eating?” This is a question with many varied answers which can change on a regular basis (as new scientific research is rolled out and as our health priorities change).
In this article I will walk you through some definitions of Healthy Eating and share my Thoughts to conclude.
It is important to note that the definition of healthy eating has changed over the years as many variables impact our nutrition priorities including; our food systems, socio-economic status, our health concerns, world events, and nutritional research.
It’s no wonder “Healthy Eating” can be so confusing!
Several definitions are outlined here to explore the answer to the question: “What is Healthy Eating?”
The Government of Canada:
“Healthy eating means eating a variety of foods from the four food groups to feel good and maintain your health. Eating well along with being active can also lower your risk of disease and help you reach–and maintain–a healthy weight.”
– Government of Canada
“Healthy eating means eating a variety of foods that give you the nutrients you need to maintain your health, feel good, and have energy. These nutrients include protein, carbohydrates, fat, water, vitamins, and minerals.”
Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
“… a healthy eating pattern is not a rigid prescription, but rather, an adaptable framework in which individuals can enjoy foods that meet their personal, cultural, and traditional preferences and fit within their budget.
Consume a healthy eating pattern that accounts for all foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level.
– Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020:
Dietary Guidelines for the Brazilian Population:
“Adequate and healthy diet is a basic human right. This right implies ensuring permanent and regular access, in a socially fair manner, to food and ways of eating that satisfy the social and biological requirements of everybody. It also takes into account special dietary needs, and the needs to be culturally appropriate, and allow for differences in gender, race, and ethnicity. Adequate and healthy diet should be accessible both physically and financially, and harmonious in quantity and quality, meeting the needs of variety, balance, moderation, and pleasure. Furthermore, it should derive from sustainable practices of production and distribution.”
– Dietary Guidelines for the Brazilian Population 2nd Edition
Common themes which I noted and agree with:
- Emphasis on variety.
When I meet with clients, this is a facet of eating people commonly forget! Don’t just have almonds, almonds, almonds, variety offers your body the opportunity to benefit from a range of nutrients – no one nutritious food can provide all you need.
- Emphasis on nutrition to achieve maintenance of health.
This means, eating well to prevent the onset of chronic diseases as well as eating according the way to best mange the conditions you may have. This means there is no one size fits all diet!
- Emphasis on eating to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and consume appropriate calories.
This is what most people think of when I discuss healthy eating with them. Indeed diet plays a large role in weight management, however, many people over-stress the weight and food relationship to the point where other facets of healthy eating are forgotten, like the next point.
- Emphasis on eating to “feeling good”, finding pleasure in eating, with individual preferences being accepted, including cultural traditions.
Healthy eating doesn’t mean never having cake! It also doesn’t mean skipping two meals in order to have three slices of cake. Balancing less nutritious foods in an overall nutrient dense diet is one of the hardest parts of eating well. Restriction and being overly focused on “clean eating” is not superior, in fact this can lead to the development of a strenuous relationship with food – which is not conducive to long term well being.
- Acknowledgement that nutritious food should be accessible and affordable to all.
This is a facet which looks to our governments and food systems, as well as us as individuals. To have nutritious foods accessible, we need to advocate for local farmers, for sustainable farming practises, for shops to be located in areas where public transportation can get to, and for healthy food to be affordable.
Ultimately, healthy eating will look different on everyone, as we all have varying nutritional needs, preferences, and health goals. Healthy eating is flexible, varied, balanced, moderate and of course pleasurable.