Find out what are the essential food groups and how to combine them in a healthy diet
Let’s start by explaining what “essential” means. In short, all essential nutrients are the ones without which we would die (this also relates to things we cannot produce in our own bodies).
Red wine is very enjoyable, but despite what many people say, we would not die if we stop drinking it. If we stop eating protein, however, our condition will very quickly deteriorate. The essentials of a balanced & healthy diet can be simply stated as the combination of macro nutrients, micro nutrients and water.
Essential big (macro) nutrients
Macronutrients are split in 3 main groups (all of which would be very familiar)
Energy value: 4 kcals / gram
fish, meat, eggs, plant proteins (e.g. soya, beans & pulses)
Energy value: 9 kcals / gram
vegetable oils such as olive oil & sunflower oil, butters & creams, avocados, nuts, etc.
Energy value: 4 kcals / gram
sugars & starches, bread, potatoes, corn, rice, dietary fibre
What do macronutrients do?
Macronutrients are dietary sources of energy and are the building blocks of our bones, muscles and organs.
Of the macronutrients protein and fat are essential. Below is an overview of the main macronutrients in more detail.
- Make sure your plate has a variety of food groups on it.
- Remember you need at least 5 different fruits and vegetables per day. Try to squeeze at least 3 before lunch!
- Try the “Hara Hachi Bu” method to prevent overeating macronutrients. This ancient Japanese (Okinawan) approach suggests stopping eating when you feel 80% full. It works well for them, as they are among the longest living people on earth.
Essential small (micro) nutrients
Micronutrients are all vitamins and minerals in the diet. Chemically the vitamins are different from minerals. The first are ‘organic’ (carbon based), whereas minerals (like zinc or iron) are inorganic.
Micronutrients play many roles in the body and must be obtained from the diet as we can’t make them within our bodies. They are called micronutrients because we require them in very small quantities (compared to the macronutrients), but they are just as important!
For a full overview please see Chapter 4.
Three simple rules for getting the right balance of micros:
- Make sure and eat a wide variety of foods, from all major food groups. Microntrients are present in many foods, but in varying quantities. The best way to ensure getting enough is to eat a varied healthy diet.
- Eat ‘a rainbow’ of colours amongst fruit and vegetables. Fruit and vegetables are a rich source of micronutrients. By choosing a range of colours you are also choosing a range of micronutrients!
- Get fresh. The fresher the food, the higher the likely micronutrient content. This is also true for cooking, so lightly cooked (e.g. steamed) food will usually retain its vitamins and minerals better.
We are releasing 2 new chapters of our healthy eating guide every week. In the next two chapters we are going to dive deeper in the main macro nutrients and learn more about hydration.