Healthy eating is on everyone’s lips, even if it is only in the form of words and we are not very clear what it is. To this day, no one doubts that “eating healthy” or “eating well” is key to maintaining health. There are studies that support it. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), six of the ten risks that most affect health are six directly related to food and cause 40% of deaths. Given the data, it seems obvious that eating well is the basis for being healthy. Before the dishes, however, we do not always make good decisions: when it comes time to choose foods, prepare and taste them, we move away from a healthy diet, sometimes on a whim and sometimes by ignorance.
To solve the latter, the following article puts on the table what is healthy eating, what are its characteristics and what is the difference between a varied diet and a balanced diet.
The GREP-AEDN, a group of nutrition experts formed in 2005 within the Spanish Association of Dietitians-Nutritionists, has just reached a consensus on the concept of “healthy eating”. This is a significant step towards improving public health if one considers that, in the opinion of WHO, improving nutrition could be the single most important factor in reducing disease in Europe. The goal of the GREP-AEDN has been to “promote public health through a proposal that reflects the scientific evidence available on the relationship between food and health.”
Sixteen dieticians-nutritionists from the very different fields in which these health professionals develop their competencies have participated in the elaboration of the consensual definition of “healthy eating”. As justification, they point out that, although there are multiple definitions of this concept, they are sometimes controversial.
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A healthy diet is, for GREP-AEDN, one that allows achieving and maintaining optimal functioning of the body, maintaining or restoring health, reducing the risk of disease, ensuring reproduction, gestation, and lactation, and promoting a Growth and development. It must be satisfactory, sufficient, complete, balanced, harmonic, safe, adapted, sustainable and affordable.
Key Features of Healthy Eating
The definition of “healthy eating” incorporates various concepts – such as harmony, balance or sustainability – that can generate doubts. Therefore, the GREP-AEDN has detailed them one by one, to avoid ambiguities. Thus, in order for our food to be considered healthy, it should be:
Satisfactory: pleasant and pleasant for the senses.
Sufficient: it covers the energy needs, depending on the needs of the different stages or circumstances of life.
Complete: that contains all the nutrition that the body needs in adequate amounts.
Balanced: with a greater presence of a wide variety of fresh foods and, above all, of vegetable origin, and with little or no presence of both alcoholic beverages and foods with low nutritional quality.
Harmonic: with a proportional balance of the macronutrients that integrate it.
Safe: no dose of biological or chemical contaminants that exceed the safety limits established by the competent authorities, or exempt from toxic, physical, chemical or biological contaminants that may be harmful to sensitive individuals.
Adapted: that adapts to the individual characteristics (physiological and/or pathophysiological situation), social, cultural and the environment of the individual.
Sustainable: Make your contribution to climate change as small as possible and prioritize indigenous products.
Affordable: that allows social interaction and coexistence and that is economically viable for the individual.
Varied or balanced diet?
In 2006, the European Commission published a Euro barometer called ‘ Health and food ‘. In it, he asked a representative sample of the European population what he thought defined healthy eating. Most responded “follow a balanced diet”, but also “consume a variety of different foods”.
Only a year later, the book ‘ Nutrition in Public Health ‘ was published, in which Dr. Miguel Angel Royo detailed two questions:
On the one hand, although the dietary variety can improve the nutritional profile of the diet, it can also modify the satiety threshold and, therefore, increase the amount of food eaten.
On the other hand, that in populations with a dietary pattern of the western character, a greater variety of the diet is associated with a greater consumption of foods that are highly processed and with a high energy density.
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As this may influence the development and maintenance of obesity, this expert in public health and nutrition noted that “it seems reasonable to redirect the recommendation to consume a varied diet towards those foods considered healthy, such as cereals (especially whole grains), fruits and vegetables”. As detailed in this article by Eroski Consumer, we should be wary of the concept of “varied diet” or “eating everything” in the current context, where there is a large supply of unhealthy foods with “invisible enemies.” In fact, studies published in 2001, 2003, 2006 and 2011 have pointed out that the greater the dietary variety, the greater the risk of obesity.
Thus, although the GREP-AEDN has incorporated dietary balance as an important aspect to be considered in any healthy diet, it has not incorporated the word “variety” into its definition but has included it within the concept of “balanced diet” “. As described above, a balanced diet is for this group of dietitian-nutritionists, the one with the greatest presence of a wide variety of fresh foods and, above all, of vegetable origin, with little or no presence of both Alcoholic beverages and foods with low nutritional quality. The World Health Organization includes the “variety” to define a healthy diet in a manner similar to that expressed by the GREP-AEDN: “follow a nutritious diet based on a variety of foods of mostly vegetable origin, rather than animal”.