What does a healthy diet look like?

By completing the nutrition check in your Evergreen Life app, you may have found that there are some areas you want to change or improve when it comes to your diet. In this article, we want to help you better understand the questionnaire so you can decide what you’d like to focus on in order to improve your score if that is right for you.  Whilst there are many differing opinions about what a healthy diet looks like, we’ve suggested some practical solutions based on areas where experts are broadly in agreement.

However, it’s important to note that even the best dietary advice might not be right for you personally. Our unique gut microbiome means that our bodies ability to digest food varies greatly and a food that might be healthy for one person may cause problems in another. It is even predicted that microbiome testing might become an important strand of personalising nutrition and even managing health conditions.

Remember, small changes over time add up to big results in the long run so if you’re new to improving your diet, perhaps change one or two things and see how you feel. Retake the nutrition check once you’ve made the changes to see how your Wellness Score in your app changes.  

5 a day?

The case for eating your fruits and vegetables very clear. Pooled data from scientific studies show that eating your greens is linked with reduced rates of cancer, coronary heart disease and stroke. In 2017, an estimated 3.9 million deaths worldwide were attributed to inadequate intake of fruit and vegetables.  

But why are fruits and vegetables so good for us? Well, there’s literally thousands of compounds within them that act as ‘nature’s pharmacy’ including vitamins and minerals, dietary fibre and a host of beneficial non-nutrient substances like plant sterols, flavonoids and other antioxidants. The best way to get the benefit is to consume a variety. So, don’t just stick to your usual choices - branch out and eat what’s in season, put lemon in your tea, fill your meals with broccoli… you get the idea! If you’re stuck, check out this list of powerhouse fruits and vegetables to load up on essential vitamins.  

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and NHS recommends that everyone should have at least five 80g portions as a minimum - advice that’s been around for 25 years. But, studies are actually saying that 800g (that’s 10 portions) per day significantly reduces your risk of heart disease and cancer. So, can one apple a day really keep the doctor away?

The whole story

Whole grains contain bran and germ, which are rich in dietary fibre and micronutrients. Higher intake of whole grains is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. They’re a much better choice than white varieties in terms of nutrients.  

Whilst whole grains (but not the whole wheat or pulverised (flour) type) have a lower glycaemic index than refined grains, if you have diabetes or want to lose weight, you should also take into consideration the total carbohydrate load. Read more about this in our article on glycaemic index vs load.

Something’s a bit fishy

A healthy diet should contain at least two portions of fish a week and should include at least one portion of oily fish.

Oily fish, including trout, salmon, sardines and tuna, are the richest source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which can help prevent heart disease. There are thousands of studies that show the health benefits of these important fatty acids across a variety of different diseases., especially in pregnant and breastfeeding women, for example, where they can help the baby’s nervous system to develop.

Equally, as with all dietary choices, the source of fish we buy is particularly important. Polluted oceans, rivers and seas means that many fish may contain elevated levels of toxic compounds. Also, choosing sustainably caught fish is something to consider in order to protect stocks from over-fishing and marine ecosystems. The Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide is a good source of information to learn more.

Nuts and seeds

Unsalted, unroasted nuts and seeds can make up part of a healthy diet when eaten in the right quantities, and the right types. They're packed full of nutrients like vitamins, protein and unsaturated fats. In recent studies, nuts have been shown to play an important role in preventing certain diseases. For example, snacking on a handful (about 30g) of nuts or seeds every day was shown to reduce the risk of a stroke and early death in a study of 7,000 men and women.

But more isn't always better - and nuts are a prime example. If you have issues with inflammation or digestion, nuts and seeds might not be that great for you. It’s all about striking a balance that works for your body's needs. Some people also find nuts easier to digest after soaking.

Red meat

Eating a lot of red and highly processed meat probably increases your risk of bowel (colorectal) cancer. Limit to 90g per day (about the size of a pack of cards) or think of the meat as a side and the vegetables as the main. This advice comes from the NHS, but it’s important to bear in mind that all red meat is being compared as one - whether it’s highly processed and containing additives or the finest organic grass-fed beef.

A spoonful of sugar?

Reducing daily sugar intake is one of the best ways to improve a “less healthy” diet score.

  • Adults should have no more than 30g of free sugars a day, (roughly equivalent to 7 sugar cubes).
  • Children aged 7 to 10 should have no more than 24g of free sugars a day (6 sugar cubes).
  • Children aged 4 to 6 should have no more than 19g of free sugars a day (5 sugar cubes).
  • There's no guideline limit for children under the age of 4, but it's recommended they avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and food with sugar added to it. Find out more about what to feed young children in the link within the references below.

Fast, cheap and easy

We all know how easy it is to grab the cheapest, most convenient food when we all have busy, on-the-go lives. But it’s worth being mindful that the food choices we make affect our health and mood. If you’re regularly eating processed, convenient food, try replacing these with some of the foods suggested in this article in the food groups that will help you feel physically and mentally better.  

The foods on our supermarket shelves are influenced by what we actually buy and often the price, look and taste and shelf-life are the powerful drivers.  When we buy real food we send a message to the supermarkets that this is what we need to see more of.

You’re helping to find out what a healthy diet looks like

There's a lot of advice around healthy habits and dietary advice from nutritional studies. But these take a long time to be developed and can be restricted, only focusing on one or two things at a time. Despite there being a wealth of data, obesity and diabetes are at an all-time high. Basically, there’s a lot more to learn - and that’s where you come in. Your answers to the dietary questionnaire will help us shape what makes a healthy diet, so keep checking back for more questionnaires to improve the health and wellbeing for you and others.