Does exercise improve your mental health?
It goes without saying that healthy eating is important but just how important is it to have a healthy diet? 
If you’re exercising lots, does it really matter what you eat? 
Well, the science is clear – when you prioritise diet and nutrition as part of your health and fitness, it makes a huge difference. 
And it’s not just about improving your physical fitness. 
Having a healthy diet is arguably even more important than a good exercise plan, in terms of the other benefits it has to your life and wellbeing. That said, it’s important to have a good balance of both. 
Here’s everything you need to know about why a healthy diet is important and how you can maintain it in your daily life. 

Why is a healthy diet important? 

Simply put, a healthy balanced diet gives you what you need to operate at your best and live a good life. Without the right nutrients, your body is more at risk of disease, infection, fatigue, and low performance. 
Having a healthy diet is particularly important for protecting against heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Although there’s no guarantee of avoiding these things later in life, you’re vastly improving your chances of keeping them at bay. 
Many of these health problems are a by-product of obesity which usually comes because of poor diet and lack of exercise. This not only affects your ability to enjoy life but can become a strain on others around you. There are several factors which contribute to obesity, including the fact that cheaper food is often less healthy. But the financial burden of preventable ill health is much greater than the cost of a healthier diet. 
In England, poor diet is now the biggest risk factor for preventable ill health, narrowly ahead of smoking. 
The worst-case scenario is that poor eating habits can result in untimely death. In the US, diet is responsible for 4 of the top 10 leading causes of death. 
But improving your physical health isn’t the only benefit of eating healthily. 
Chart showing mental health increase

The benefits of eating healthily on mental health and wellbeing 

Did you know that what you eat also has an impact on how you feel? 
It’s proven that what you eat can improve your mood which can have a big impact on your overall wellbeing. Try it – you’ll be amazed at the results. 
What you eat can also improve academic performance, reduce stress, and increase focus which is one of the reasons it’s so important for young people to eat healthily. 
But it will also influence everyday performance at work. Having greater focus and being more present in your work will lead to much greater job satisfaction but you’re also much less likely to get ill and need time away from work. 

What you need in a healthy diet 

So how do you improve your diet? 
A healthy diet is a balanced diet. No single food can give us everything we need. Fruit and veg are very important of course and we’ll go into why in a bit but it’s important to have a mix of other foods too. 
A balanced diet should comprise of; cereals and carbohydrates, legumes and proteins, fruit and vegetables and food from animal sources or equivalents that provide similar nutrients. 
We recognise not everyone eats meat and some people have a solely plant-based diet. This is fine because there are plenty of other foods that provide nutrients such as iron and protein. 
Fruit and veg are particularly important because they have lots of vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, protein, and antioxidants. You’ve heard of eating your 5 a day before and although it may seem like a lot of effort to keep up, it’s scientifically proven to have a significant benefit to your life. We’ve got some tips on how to make it easier below. 
Dark leafy greens like spinach, beans and broccoli are a particularly good source of nutrients. They also don’t have high processed sugars and fats. Fruit has sugars but they are natural, unprocessed sugars and so a lot better for you. 

What about calories? 

Another thing you often hear about related to diet and healthy eating is counting the calories. The way they’re talked about you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re all bad, but this isn’t true. 
You do need calories. The problem most people have is that they eat too many and from the wrong types of food. Calories are just stored energy and they come from all food. 
So called ‘empty calories’ are those that come from food with no other nutritional value. When not paired with exercise, calories have nowhere to go because the energy isn’t being used up and it will end up being stored in your body as fat. 
The best place to get calories from is the food types we mentioned above. They all have calories built in and a load of other nutrients to boot. 

Things to limit 

Balance is also about what you don’t include. 
There’s no question that some food types aren’t great for you and you should significantly reduce your intake of them. 
The worst offenders are fats and oils, particularly saturated or industrially produced trans-fats. Refined and processed sugars are also not healthy. One source suggested sugar should represent no more than 10% of your total energy intake but you could also have less than that. 
Rather than having sweets or fatty snacks in the day you could replace this with fruit. 
Be wary of soft drinks and even fruit juices which have a lot of sugar in. A couple of other popular things that should be limited are alcohol and red and processed meat. These things have their place but are ultimately not healthy when consumed in larger quantities. 
Of course, a lot of this advice is all well and good but implementing into our life can be difficult. Not least because unhealthy food is often tasty, easy to get and in many cases addictive! Here’s some tips that might make eating healthy easier. 

Top tips for creating a healthier diet 

Ingredients matter 

Cooking meals yourself automatically makes your diet healthier but be aware of the ingredients you’re using. 
It’s easy to switch out certain ingredients for others to make a meal that you love, even healthier. It could be a case of swapping the meat for a meat alternative or for beans and pulses. You could use less salt or swap a ready-made sauce in a Bolognese for one you’ve made yourself with passata, onions and herbs. 

Go wholemeal 

A lot of carbohydrate-based meals can be made a lot healthier by swapping out the refined standard version for a whole grain alternative. 
You can change out standard pizza dough, pasta, bread, or rice, for a whole grain alternative which immediately make your meal healthier. This is because they have less sugar and salt than the refined or white flour version and because a lot of the original nutrients from the grain are kept in the food. Some people even prefer the taste and texture. 

Think variety 

Pilates was originally created as a rehabilitation process. 
So if you are struggling with a muscle imbalance or if you just need to improve your physical coordination and balance, it would be a great exercise option. 
It’s also great for the rehabilitation of joint and spinal injuries and it can help prevent muscular injuries. Particularly if your job is straining your muscles or making you feel drained and weak. 
Pilates can help strengthen your muscles and get you back into fighting shape. 

Make 5 a day easier 

It’s not as hard as you think to get your 5 a day in. Try having some tinned fruit as a pudding, dried fruit as a snack during the day and some fruit juice as a drink and you’ve already got 3! 
Add some veg to both or one of your main meals and have a piece of fruit at breakfast or lunch and you’re there. Of course, you don’t have to stop at 5 either. 

Learn all about diet and nutrition as you train 

Having a healthy diet and knowledge of food is an essential part of an overall fitness plan. It’s also a big part of being a personal trainer. 
If you’re planning on pursuing a career in fitness or want to get into that world, you’ll need to know your stuff about diet and nutrition. We did another post that covered everything you need to know about what advice personal trainers can give. 
A lot of this is covered on personal training courses, so be sure to check out the courses we offer and pick one that suits you. 
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