Importance of a balanced diet

Emma Brown - Nutritionist | 01 Jan, 2020

We're all aware we should be eating more of some foods than others, and focus on certain nutrients for health – but why exactly is this important? What actually happens inside our body to make some foods better/worse for us than others?

Essentially our body needs a wide variety of nutrients to function correctly at a cellular level and it gets these from our diet. However it is possible to consume some nutrients in excess which can put a strain on some areas of our body, so getting the balance right is essential to help our body function correctly and have the best chance of warding off disease and degeneration.

Two key elements of a healthy diet are fruits and vegetables, and fibre. If you’re hitting the targets for these, you’re getting off on the right foot. Here's why...

fruit and veg

Why eat fruit and vegetables?

Because they're very good for us, that's why! The nutrients they contain are incredibly important for helping our body function correctly. If we didn't eat any fruits and vegetables, we'd be at risk of nutritional deficiencies which can lead to health problems, their importance is right up there with water and the air that we breath!

Here are some of the nutrients fruits and vegetables contain:

  1. Vitamins – such as vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K and some B vitamins. Our body uses vitamins for countless functions in our body including releasing energy from the foods we eat, playing a role in immune functions, helping to form new cells and heal wounds.
  2. Minerals – including calcium, iron, magnesium and phosphorus. These play a vital role, just like vitamins. For example, calcium is vital for bone health and iron is needed to help us transport oxygen in our cells.
  3. Fibre – this fabulous nutrient is present in the skin of many fruits and vegetables. This, along with the higher water content in many fruits and vegetables, helps to make them more filling. Fibre is also important for digestive health and heart health.
  4. Phytonutrients – these are natural chemicals found in plant foods, so they're particularly abundant in fruits and vegetables. These are a particularly rich source of antioxidants, which help to keep our cells healthy, protecting us from certain cancers and tissue damage.

Research has also shown a direct correlation between people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables and a reduced risk of various diseases such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, some cancers and diabetes.

Tip! Variety is key. More colours means more nutrients, so eat a rainbow!

fibre

What's the big deal about fibre?

Fibre is arguably a super nutrient! It’s undeniably good for our health and we should all be eating more of it where we can – currently the UK average intake is around 17-20g, but we should be eating closer to 30g a day.

Why do we love fibre?

  1. Weight loss – fibre slows down digestion, helping to keep us fuller longer, which in turn helps with appetite control and weight loss.
  2. Cardiovascular disease – fibre has been found to help reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol levels in our blood. Bad cholesterol can increase our risk of cardiovascular disease, so reducing levels of this is important.
  3. Diabetes – eating lots of fibre helps to slow the digestion of food, which in turn helps to stabilise blood sugar levels. This can be an important factor for reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  4. Bowel cancer – research has found a reduced risk of bowel cancer in people who eat more fibre. This may be due to fibre improving transit time and potentially helping to imrpove good bacteria levels in our gut.

Nutritionist Emma Brown (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.