Basically, a healthy diet is one that is richly balanced in both micronutrients - vitamins and minerals - and macro-nutrients - proteins, carbohydrates, fiber, water and fats. If a diet is deficient in either, it will cause adverse health issues.
What are macronutrients?
These are nutrients that supply the body with energy (calories) and, in order for the body to function optimally, they should be supplied in large amounts.
What are micronutrients?
These nutrients are needed in minute amounts but are crucially important for the body’s enzyme production, hormones and other bio-chemical substances needed for proper growth.
Majority of fad diets eliminate many of these essential nutrients and, although you might notice some weight loss initially, the long term effects are very unhealthy and untenable. Let’s break down the individual nutrients and learn their importance in a healthy diet, as well as problems resulting from deficiencies.
Fat is good if well moderated. Too much, as well as too little, is bad. If your diet is deficient in fat, production of hormones will be disrupted and, consequently many chemical reactions too. Interestingly, the body increases fat storage when there’s little consumption. On the other hand, too much fat in a diet results in high cholesterol levels, risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and gallbladder disease.
Fats are divided into essential and non-essential fats. Essential fats are those the body can not synthesize on its own. They include omega-3 (salmon, cod, halibut, flax seeds, mustard seeds, dried cloves, oregano, sprouts, cabbage, soybeans) and omega-6 fatty acids (corn oil, borage oil, hemp oil, soybean, safflower oil, primrose oil, black currant seed oil). Other types of fats are monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, trans fats, and saturated fats.
Carbohydrates have numerous benefits. Some are healthy, while others are considered ‘empty’, with negligible nutritional value. More importantly, carbohydrates are the body’s default energy source. For an ideal healthy body, a 40 to 60 percent daily caloric intake is required.
If carbohydrates are deficient in a diet, it results into low blood sugar, pancreas fails to release enough insulin, ketosis, dehydration, muscle cramps, headaches, low energy levels and organ malfunction. When carbohydrates are in excess, high insulin levels result, leading to more calories being turned into fat.
Carbohydrates are in three categories; simple, complex starchy and complex fibrous. Simple carbs are easy to digest and, contain a lot of simple sugars. They are best eaten earlier in the day and are abundant in many fruits such as apples, oranges, berries, grapes, bananas, grapefruit, and pears.
Complex starchy carbs supply the body with raw energy and take longer to digest. They are even slower to digest when eaten with fibrous carbs. Sources include legumes, cereal, pastas, potatoes, lentils, pita, among others.
Fibrous carbs are vitamin and mineral dense but can not be absorbed. They keep your intestines healthy such that nutrients are easily absorbed. They are mostly found in vegetables, i.e. cabbage, sprouts, tomatoes, spinach, and many more.
Like carbs, proteins are not all equal. They are vital for muscle growth and fat burning, and boosting metabolism. Proteins provide energy when carbs are less, make enzymes and hormones, transport nutrients, and aid growth. Protein deficiency leads to loss of muscle, slowed metabolism and more stored fat.
Too much protein leads to cancer risk, weaker bones, risk of heart disease, and osteoporosis. Complete proteins are found in meat, poultry, low-fat dairy, eggs and fish, incomplete proteins are found in legumes, vegetables and grains.
Minerals and vitamins are vitally important in moderate amounts. Water facilitates all other major body functions and is a large constituent of many organs and cells.