Depending on who you ask, “healthy eating” can take many forms. Everyone, including nutritionists, influencers, colleagues and family members, seems to have an opinion about the healthiest way to eat. Plus, the nutritional articles you read online can be quite confusing with their conflicting—and often unfounded—suggestions and rules. But what is the definition of a healthy diet? Dietitian Desiree van der Kroek explains what a healthy daily menu looks like.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a healthy diet is one that maintains or improves overall health. Provides the body with essential nutrition: moisture, macro- and micro-nutrients and adequate nutritional energy.
There is a lot of research being done on foods that support people’s health, and that also meet nutritional needs. In the Netherlands we have a health board that reviews all recent scientific studies and bases its advice on this. The most recent recommendations were issued in 2015. The Nutrition Center is addressing the Health Council’s recommendations in the Five Wheel.
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Jane one size fits all
While the definition of healthy eating is simple, deciding what is a healthy diet for you is more challenging. Any young athlete needs more than a 75-year-old who doesn’t move much. In addition to age and exercise, your needs also relate to gender, weight, muscle mass, medical conditions, medication use, and health goals. You may want to lose or gain weight. So there is no set diet that fits everyone.
But in general you can say what people need at least to stay healthy. Fruit and vegetables reduce the risk of heart disease, while excessive intake of red meat and processed foods increases this risk. This applies to everyone. And that you’re undernourished if you only eat fruit, too.
The Nutrition Center calculates, on average, what you need for each age stage to get enough nutrients. For example, the diet of a woman of at least thirty years should contain the following:
- 250 grams of vegetables
- 2 servings of fruit
- 4-5 whole wheat or brown sandwiches
- 4-5 serving spoonfuls of whole grain or 4-5 potatoes
- 1 serving of fish/legumes/meat or eggs
- 25 grams of unsalted nuts
- 2-3 servings of dairy products
- 40 grams of cheese
- 40 grams of fat for cooking and greasing
- 1.5-2 liters of moisture
You don’t have to eat bread or potatoes. If you choose whole grains like unsweetened muesli, oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, or whole-wheat pasta, that’s fine, too. The same goes for dairy or meat products: you can replace them with vegetarian or vegan alternatives. It is important that these products are also included in the wheel of five. Otherwise, you won’t get enough healthy nutrients. If you eat these products daily, you will get enough nutrients and often have room for something extra.
Sample of the daily menu
Now you may be wondering what these recommendations look like in a daily menu. A 30-year-old woman who works in an office and has an average physique, needs about 2,000 calories per day.
A healthy daily menu could look like this:
Breakfast: a bowl of half-fat yogurt (150 ml) with five tablespoons. Unsweetened muesli and a piece of fruit.
Between: 2 whole-grain crackers with low-fat margarine and 2 slices of 30+ cheese.
Lunch: 2 whole wheat bread with 2 fried eggs (baked with 1 tablespoon olive oil). In addition to the raw vegetable salad (70 g).
Dinner: four boiled potatoes, 200 grams of broccoli, 100 grams of feathers (fried with a tablespoon of olive oil).
For sweetening, a bowl of low-fat quark (150 ml) with a handful of fruit.
Between: A handful of unsalted nuts.
Drink: a liter of water, one cup (150 ml) of milk, three cups of coffee (3 x 125 = 375 ml) and three cups of tea (3 x 125 = 375 ml) without sugar.
This daily menu contains about 1,850 calories. After that, you’re left with about 150 calories for products outside of the Wheel of Five. Think a spoonful of sauce from broth with dinner, or a tablespoon of honey in yogurt or in a spiola. You can also choose an extra sandwich of whole wheat, a handful of nuts, or another food from the Five Wheel. It’s also important to vary a lot, so you have a better chance of getting enough vitamins and minerals. Broccoli contains different nutrients than carrots.
As already mentioned, this daily menu is not enough for everyone. For example, if you want to gain weight, do more exercise or if you need more nutrients due to a medical condition. Information from the Board of Health and Nutrition Center provides a good basis, but if you are in doubt as to whether you are eating healthy and meeting your nutritional needs, it is a good idea to contact a doctor or dietitian. A dietitian can calculate exactly what you need in your case.
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