What to eat daily for good health

| Post published on February 1, 2022
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What you should eat every day to be at your best

The human body is resilient and can survive on a poor diet for a fairly long time but surviving doesn’t mean being well. If you establish a heathy base to your daily diet, you will support your health and still have room for treats!

Health is not just an absence of disease, it’s about feeling good, having enough energy, good digestion, strong immunity and healthy skin and blood pressure. A health-supporting diet can provide all this and as most plant-based staples are not luxury items, it won’t cost a fortune.

 

Daily essentials

There are four food groups that should feature on your daily menu no matter what. They ensure that you get all you need to thrive and prevent a host of chronic diseases. If you also top your diet up with those tricky vitamins B12 and D, you’ll have the best diet possible.

 

1. Fruit and vegetables – at least five servings daily

They are the perfect source of healthy carbohydrates, fibre, antioxidants and minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium, vitamins C, K and most of the B group. They provide healthy energy and help to up your fluid intake.

It’s best to eat fresh whole fruit or make smoothies with it. Frozen fruits are just as nutritious as fresh and often cheaper. Dried, unsweetened fruit is great for snacks and desserts but stay away from candied and tinned fruits and long-life juices as they are all high in sugar.

Make it a rule that you’ll always have some fresh vegetables with your meals. When cooking, remember that the longer you cook your veggies, the more nutrients they tend to lose. One type of vegetable is particularly healthful and may even help prevent cancer – cruciferous veggies, which include kale, broccoli, rocket, Brussels sprouts and spring greens. Aim for one portion daily!

 

2. Wholegrains – two to four servings daily

Wholegrains are an amazing source of complex carbohydrates, giving you healthy energy, fibre essential for your digestive system, protein, many minerals and vitamins and a big family of antioxidants.

This food group includes wholemeal, wholegrain or whole wheat products – bread, pasta, noodles, tortillas, crispbreads, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, barley, spelt, oats and oat-based products, such as muesli, granola and oat cakes.

Bear in mind that some sugary and fatty products that have had a few whole grains thrown may well be marketed as a healthy choice but they are certainly not that!

 

3. Pulses – two to four servings daily

Pulses are a great low-fat source of protein, complex (healthy) carbohydrates, fibre, B group vitamins, minerals including iron, zinc and calcium, and antioxidants. If you want to add more protein in your diet, up your intake of pulses!

We usually think of pulses in their basic form – as beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas and soya – but this food group also includes products made from them, such as burgers, patties, spreads, soups, stews, hummus, falafel, tofu, tempeh, mock meats, soya milk and yoghurts.

Tinned pulses retain much of their nutritional value, which makes them a convenient and healthy food – including baked beans! Roasted pulses are another way to add more beans to your daily menu – perfect for snacking.

 

4. Nuts and seeds – one or two servings daily

Nuts and seeds are excellent for protein, healthy unsaturated fats (apart from coconut), fibre, antioxidants, minerals, vitamin E and B group vitamins. They are a perfect nutrition booster to add to your meals or snacks.

Aim for a regular intake of almonds for calcium, walnuts for omega-3 fats and Brazil nuts for selenium (two a day covers your needs). When it comes to seeds, pumpkin seeds are great for zinc, sesame seeds for calcium while ground flaxseed, shelled hempseed and chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fats. Remember that nut butters and tahini (sesame seed paste/butter) belong in this category, too – spread them on toast, add to smoothies or use them to thicken sauces.

 

Supplements

A healthy diet will provide you with almost all you need – almost. Our food systems and lifestyles have changed a lot so there are some critical nutrients that you may need to supplement, regardless of your diet (and that includes meat-eaters, too).

 

Vitamin B12

You need vitamin B12 to make red blood cells, for a healthy heart and circulation, and it’s also essential for the nervous system. It takes years for B12 deficiency to develop but by the time symptoms develop, it’s usually serious so don’t underestimate it.

You should take at least 50 micrograms daily or 2,000 micrograms once or twice a week.

 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is vital for healthy bones, teeth and muscles and many metabolic functions. It is produced in the skin when exposed to sunlight and this is the main source of vitamin D for most people. However, if you always use sun-cream, cover your skin, spend most of your time indoors or live in the Northern Hemisphere, where we don’t get sufficient sunlight over the winter, you need a supplement – at least from October to April.

There’s a range of quality and affordable vitamin D supplements suitable for vegans (some vitamin D is animal-based so check the label). You need 10-25 micrograms daily – don’t take more than that.

 

Iodine

Iodine is necessary for the thyroid gland and helps to regulate your metabolism. Its presence in plants varies widely but seaweed absorbs it from seawater and is always a good source – in particular nori, laver and dulse. However, the kelp family (kombu, arame, wakame) is extremely iodine-rich and you can get too much. Your best bet is a kelp supplement manufactured to contain just enough. The recommended iodine intake is 140 micrograms daily.

 

Don’t forget to drink!

Making sure you are well hydrated is as important as a healthy diet. We need to keep replenishing water to maintain blood volume, joint lubrication, help kidneys to flush out waste products and to regulate body temperature and breathing. Water and tea are the best options so drink up!

 

Get a handy wallchart to remind you of what you should be eating each day – laminated and perfect for kitchen spaces!

 

About the author
Veronika Charvátová
Veronika Charvátová MSc is a biologist and Viva! Health researcher. Veronika has spent years uncovering the links between nutrition and good health and is an expert on plant-based diets.

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