A Guide to Eating Right for Optimal Wellness

What constitutes healthy eating looks a little different for everyone. But balanced diets are generally rich in nutrient-dense foods and low in processed ones.

Start by focusing on whole foods that are low in fat, sugar and sodium. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins. Choose drinks with no added sugar or saturated or trans fats.

Fruits & Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables provide a range of important vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that support health. They also contribute to a healthy, balanced diet and can help protect against heart disease, cancer and obesity. It is recommended that you eat a minimum of 4 1/2 cups (300g) of fruits and vegetables a day. This includes fresh, frozen and canned varieties, as well as dried fruits and vegetables such as apricots and sultanas. Try to include a rainbow of colors on your plate each day to get the best combination of nutrients.

Trying to determine what is a fruit and what is a vegetable can be tricky, especially given that many foods that we consider to be vegetables are actually fruits. Generally speaking, a fruit is the fleshy outer structure of a plant that surrounds its seeds, while vegetables encompass all edible parts of the plant. Foods that are eaten raw and can be easily digested, such as cucumbers and avocados, are considered fruits, while things like kale, eggplant, tomatoes, carrots and rhubarb are classed as vegetables.

Some foods, such as beans and potatoes, are sometimes classed as both a fruit and a vegetable. The confusion can be caused by a variety of factors including dietary guidelines, cultural and language differences and the way food is prepared and served.

All fruits and vegetables are healthy choices, but it is recommended that you choose those that are lower in fat as they tend to be higher in nutrient content. Try to avoid processed foods such as frozen, canned and dried fruits and vegetables, as they can be high in sodium and added sugars. When selecting fruits and vegetables, keep in mind that they are best when eaten raw.

Meat & Fish

Protein is essential for good health, and meat, fish, poultry and eggs provide protein as well as important vitamins and minerals such as iodine, iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids. However, too much red meat (beef, pork and lamb) can raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease, and processed meats like deli slices, bacon, hot dogs and salami should be avoided.

Many people debate whether fish is considered meat – but at its core, meat refers to the flesh of animals used as food. And as such, the word could mean any animal flesh, including chicken, turkey, venison, rabbit or fish. The difference is that fish doesn’t contain saturated fat and may have healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Aim for three to four ounces of lean cuts of red meat or poultry per week, and opt for fish, beans, lentils and plant-based proteins on other days. Choose fish options that are low in mercury and high in healthy fatty acids, such as salmon, trout or anchovy.

Opt for low-saturated fat beef and pork, poultry without skin, and skinless, boneless fish. Minimise salt and sodium by choosing lower-sodium cuts of meat, or season with herbs and spices instead of adding salt to foods. If you choose to eat poultry, buy dark meat rather than white, and opt for skinless, boneless breasts. Avoid processed meats, such as deli slices, hot dogs and sausages, as these are high in saturated fat and sodium. Try to buy locally grown, free-range or organic meat and poultry where possible, as this is better for you, your family and friends, the animals and the environment. For a healthy, balanced diet, mix vegetables, whole grains and legumes with protein foods (meat, fish, poultry and dairy) and limit added sugars.

Grains & Nuts

A diet that is low in fat but rich in whole grains, nuts and seeds can help reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease, improve blood sugar control and provide an excellent source of dietary fiber. These foods also are a good source of plant proteins, heart-healthy mono-and polyunsaturated fats, plant omega-3 fatty acids and a host of vitamins and minerals.

Grains are the edible seeds of grass-like plants that were first cultivated more than 10,000 years ago. They are eaten in many different forms, including whole grains that are made of the entire seed (bran, germ and endosperm), as well as processed grains like bread, pasta and cereals. True or cereal grains include wheat, oats, barley, rice, millet, corn (maize), rye and sorghum. Pseudocereal grains are those that do not come from grasses but are very similar and can be used in the same way as cereals, such as quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth.

Nuts are the edible seeds of tree-bearing plants and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios, peanuts and pecans are the most common nuts.

All nuts are high in protein, heart-healthy mono-and polyunsaturated fatty acids and fiber. They are low in saturated and trans fats and are a good source of vitamin E, magnesium and potassium. Nuts are an easy addition to any meal and are a great source of energy.

Dairy & Other Dairy Alternatives

Dairy products are important for a healthy diet because they provide calcium, vitamin D, and protein that support strong bones and muscle health. In addition, consuming dairy-based foods, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, provides other vital nutrients like potassium, phosphorus and selenium.

The nutrient-packed benefits of dairy are well-documented, and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends most people consume three servings of dairy each day. Dairy is also an important part of a healthy weight and may help with managing diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Despite the numerous health benefits of dairy, some consumers are reaching for dairy alternatives to address specific issues and concerns. These range from allergies, such as lactose intolerance, to personal convictions, such as a vegan diet. In general, however, the motivation to try dairy alternative is often curiosity and a desire to diversify their meals. The wellness blog at introduces other alternatives to dairy that you can try.

The dairy alternative category includes a wide variety of plant-based beverages, such as soy, almond and oat milk, as well as nondairy creamers, yogurts and cheeses made from nuts, seeds, grains or legumes. The selection of dairy-like alternatives is booming, with sales estimated to reach $2.95 billion in 2020 – up 54 percent from five years earlier.

As the popularity of these products continues to rise, the nutritional content of each product should be carefully considered. For example, most plant-based beverages are low in phosphorus and calcium. This means that if you are making the switch from dairy to these products, you should be careful to add other sources of these nutrients to your diet. The other good news is that many of these beverages are a great source of protein, iron, zinc and potassium.

Drinking Water

Water is a crucial component of the diet, and many people don’t get enough. It keeps the skin healthy, aids bowel function and is vital to all body systems. Aim for 8 glasses of fluid a day. This can be achieved through drinking water and other beverages such as low-fat milk, 100% fruit juice and decaffeinated teas. Water is also found in some foods, such as fruits and vegetables.

Being dehydrated is no fun – it leaves you feeling tired and sluggish. It can also affect your mood and lead to headaches and dizziness. Dehydration is also a common reason why people seek medical help. Water is important for the health of your spinal cord because it helps to cushion it, keeping the joints flexible and reducing pain.

In addition, adequate hydration promotes weight loss, as the body is more satiated after being properly hydrated. It also boosts the immune system, improves cellular respiration and helps you to sleep better (because dehydration can lead to insomnia).

For those who don’t like drinking plain water, try adding cucumber, lemon, lime, strawberries or mint leaves to a glass of water for added flavor. If you find that you forget to drink water, try keeping a bottle of water on your desk or carrying one with you throughout the day. It’s also a good idea to have a glass of water with each meal and snack, to remind yourself to stay hydrated. Remember, everyone’s hydration needs are different, so listen to your body. For example, if you are taking medication that makes you lose fluids or are older and don’t sense thirst as easily, you may need more fluids than the recommended minimum amount.