A balanced diet includes fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains.

What Makes a Healthy Diet?

When we hear the words “healthy eating”, our first thought might be us nibbling hungrily on carrot sticks—or so-called “rabbit food”. We might also imagine waving goodbye to old loves like char kway teow.

Don't worry! A healthy, balanced diet shouldn't (and wouldn't) make us hungry and deprived. Instead, we want to aim for balance, moderation, and variety.

Let's find out what makes a diet healthy, whether we’re trying to change our eating habits to reduce the risks of diabetes, or simply want to eat better.

Find Our Balance

What's a balanced diet? It's making sure that we eat a good balance of food from the important food groups: carbohydrates, meat and other proteins, and fruit and veggies.

Carbohydrates

Carbs are our main source of energy, powering activities from breathing to thinking to running for the bus. There are many types of carbs. Some raise your blood glucose quickly while others do so slowly.

If you have diabetes, eating too many carbs that raise your blood glucose quickly can make it hard to control your condition. It also increases your risk of serious problems.

Want a more nutritious carb? Choose whole grains over refined grains: brown rice over white rice, wholemeal bread over white bread.

Eating more whole grains has been shown to lower the risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart diseases, diabetes and certain cancers. The health benefits of whole grains are not just contributed by fibre or any single nutrient. Instead, the different components all work together to protect your health.

For example, vitamin E, selenium and phytic acid found in whole grains have antioxidant effects which may help prevent damage to blood vessels, while soluble fibre helps reduce blood cholesterol. These play a role in lowering the risk of developing heart disease.

Whole grains may also support weight management as they provide bulk to the diet. This promotes the feeling of fullness and helps reduce the risk of overeating.

Protein

Protein, our body’s building blocks, is the next component. It comes from food like chicken, duck, pork, beef, fish, bean products (like tofu and tau kee), and dairy products. Avoid eating processed foods that contain high levels of salt, sugar and fat.

While most meats contain protein, they are not created equal. Lean meats such as chicken and fish provide more protein per calorie than fatty meats like beef brisket and T-bone steak. Always opt for lean meats so you get your protein without clogging up your arteries.

At least twice a week, choose fish as your protein. Tuna, mackerel, sardines, salmon, tenggiri batang and ikan tenggiri papan are oily fish—the good kind of oily—as they contain omega-3 fatty acids, a "good fat" that supports overall heart health.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with many health benefits including defending against depression and reducing the risk of heart disease.

Fruit and Vegetables

Lastly, let's not forget fruit and veggies, which are low in calories and packed with essential vitamins and minerals, fibre, nutrients, and antioxidants. Dark, leafy greens pack a punch of nutrition and you should aim for at least two servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit each day.

Fruits and vegetables are also great as snacks. Avoid snacking on junk food that is high in sugar or sodium, and choose fruits instead.

While fresh whole fruit and vegetables definitely have the nutrient edge, other options such as frozen, dried or canned can add variety to your diet.

Frozen fruit and vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh produce. So, keep a few handy bags at home. You can use some when your fresh supplies run out midweek. To preserve the nutrients, take them straight out of the freezer and add it to your dish. Do not thaw or soak before you use them.

When selecting dried fruit, opt for those with less sugar. Read the Nutrition Information Panel on packaged food to find out the sugar content of the fruit.

If you want to buy canned fruit, choose products canned in juice rather than those canned in heavy syrup. If you do buy fruit canned in heavy syrup, drain away the canning liquid. Check the labels of canned vegetables and pick those that are canned in water. If the vegetables are canned in brine, make sure the canning liquid is drained.

Why Should We Stick to a Balanced Diet?

A healthy body is built from healthy ingredients and our bodies need proper nutrition. When we do not get sufficient nutrients, we become at increased risks of chronic diseases such as heart disease.

A poor diet and a lack of regular physical activity can also lead to unhealthy weight gain, which increases our risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Our bodies need water, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals to function well. When we eat well and maintain a balanced diet, we reap the many health benefits such as weight loss, reduced risk to cancer and diabetes, stronger heart health, stronger bones, as well as improved mood and memory.

A healthy, balanced diet is also very important for diabetes management, as it can help to control our blood sugar levels.

My Healthy Plate

How do we keep a balanced diet? We can use My Healthy Plate, a tool that reminds us how much of each component to eat during meals.

My Healthy Plate reminds us to eat a balanced diet and to eat in moderation 

It's easy:

  • Fill half the plate with fruit and vegetables.
  • Fill a quarter of the plate with whole grains.
  • Fill a quarter of the plate with meat and other proteins.

Moderation: Not Too Much, Not Too Little

Besides balance, we also want to make sure the amount of food we eat is "just nice". This means eating regular meals in moderation—not starving ourselves silly or bingeing till we burst.

We can again use My Healthy Plate as a visual guide to show how much food should be on our plates.

Sharing food is a great way to eat in moderation, a key component of a balanced diet

Moderation also means learning to enjoy the food we love, instead of falling into the deprivation-binge cycle.

Say we love char kway teow but think it's "sinful", so we banish it from our diets. Over time, our craving for char kway teow builds up until, one day, we "give in" and binge on a $6 plate with extra liao (ingredients).

We feel guilty, and end up binge eating for a few more days before restarting the whole deprivation phase again.

Moderation breaks this vicious cycle and allows us to maintain a healthy, balanced diet for life: we recognise there's nothing "sinful" or "bad" about treating ourselves to a $3 char kway teow for lunch, then choosing a lighter and well-balanced dinner.

V for Variety

Finally, healthy isn't boring and bland "rabbit food". There's a wide variety of healthy, tasty food to choose from!

For example, think outside the box for whole grains: beyond brown rice and wholemeal bread, there are options like wild rice, black glutinous rice, brown rice bee hoon, whole-wheat pasta, soba, thosai, and chapatti.

And eat a rainbow of fruit and veggies, from reds like papaya and peppers, to greens like kiwi and chye sim, to purples like grapes and brinjal. This gives us a good mix of unique nutrients, and our taste buds will be satisfied with the variety of flavours.

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