Eating and drinking wholesome foods is important for a balanced and healthy diet. It promotes our performance and increases our well-being. But why is this so important and what does a healthy diet look like in everyday life? Are there any rules you should follow? And which foods are the healthiest?
In this article we provide clarity and give you valuable tips on the subject of healthy eating as well as numerous suggestions on how to get there.
We also look at how you can prevent the risk of disease by eating healthy. To do this, we take current scientific findings into account and show you how you can actively influence your physical and mental well-being by observing certain rules.
the essentials in brief
- Food variety is essential for a healthy diet. The required amount is based on your energy consumption.
- Fruits and vegetables are the two most important food groups. The German Society for Nutrition recommends three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit daily.
- Ideally, you should get some of your carbohydrates from whole grain products. You can also eat high-fat fish 1-2 times a week, and you should eat animal-based foods even less frequently.
Tips for a healthy diet: what you should know
According to the German Society for Nutrition (DGE), a healthy diet is synonymous with wholesome nutrition. It is considered an important prerequisite for health and optimal performance. On the other hand, poor nutrition leads to nutrition-related diseases, which cause costs of over 50 billion euros in Germany every year (1).
Against this background, the DGE has been promoting wholesome nutrition through educational work since 1953. In this way, it makes an important contribution to the health of the population and indirectly relieves our health system.
What does a healthy diet look like?
But what exactly does it mean to eat whole foods? And what do nutritionists actually mean by nutrition?
First of all, nutrition is nothing other than all processes through which the living organism is supplied with those substances from the outside in solid or liquid form that are necessary for the maintenance of life processes (2).
However, there is no food that contains all the nutrients to keep these so-called life processes going. The DGE therefore recommends a colorful selection of all food groups.
The right amount is crucial!
However, every person has a different basal metabolic rate that determines their energy consumption. Therefore, not only the selection, but also the right amount is crucial for a healthy diet.
If a diverse, balanced diet, supplemented with animal foods, is based on your energy expenditure, then you are already close to what we call healthy nutrition.
What are the healthiest foods?
In one study, nutritionists analyzed more than 1000 foods and assigned nutritional points to each food (3). The higher the score, the greater the likelihood that the food, along with other foods, would meet, but not exceed, the daily nutrient requirement.
We have summarized the ten healthiest foods in this study for you and briefly highlighted their benefits.
- Almonds (97 points) : Almonds are high in monounsaturated fats. They are good for your heart health and can help with diabetes.
- Cherimoya (96 points) : This fruit, which is relatively unknown in Germany, is rich in fructose and vitamins A, C, B1, B2 and potassium.
- Redfish (89 points) : Redfish is high in protein and low in saturated fat.
- Plaice (88 points) : Plaice contains a lot of vitamin B1.
- Chia Seeds (85 points) : Chia seeds contain large amounts of fiber, protein, α-linolenic acid, phenolic acid and vitamins.
- Pumpkin Seeds (84 points) : Pumpkin seeds are among the best plant sources of iron and manganese.
- Swiss chard (78 points) : This vegetable, which is related to the sugar beet, is said to have health-promoting, fat-reducing properties.
- Pork fat (73 points) : Pork fat contains a lot of vitamin B in addition to minerals.
- Beet leaves (70 points) : Beetroot leaves in particular are considered to be very healthy because they contain a lot of calcium, iron, vitamins K and B.
- Red Snapper (69 points) : The reddish fish with white flesh is a protein-rich edible fish that is very popular in the USA.
Other foods with a high nutrient density, i.e. a high number of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals present, are kale, broccoli, dried tomatoes, apples, flaxseed, green tea, blueberries, walnuts and legumes. Of course we can't give you a complete list, but you'll get a first overview and you'll surely come up with a few great recipes.
Almonds contain valuable fatty acids and vitamin E and are an ideal addition to a healthy diet. (Image source: Juan José Valencia Antia / Unsplash)
Please note that the maximum daily limit of nutrient requirements must not be exceeded even when consuming very healthy foods. "A lot" doesn't really help much in this case. Food that is considered healthy can also have unpleasant side effects if consumed excessively or if it is not tolerated.
For example, a representative of healthy foods with undesirable side effects is ginger . This is how Prof. Dr. medical Roman Huber, internist for naturopathic treatments at the University Hospital Freiburg, points out that the pungent substances in ginger can have an irritating effect on people with a very sensitive stomach (4).
What are the rules for a healthy diet?
The basis of a healthy diet are the two food groups fruit and vegetables, which you should include in each of your meals. Pay attention to the right balance between the two groups. Two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables a day is the recommended guideline, which corresponds to 250g of fruit and 400g of vegetables (5). It is best to eat the fruit alone, then you will not have any digestive problems.
Fruits and vegetables are most important.
For more variety, swap a portion of fruit for dried fruit, nuts, and oilseeds. As the calorie content of these foods is higher, the serving size then decreases from 125g to 25g. When it comes to vegetables, you should also make sure that you eat a portion of raw vegetables every day, which you eat before the warm meal - preferably by the early afternoon at the latest, not in the evening.
However, you should refrain from a completely vegan raw food diet. It is considered by nutritionists to be extremely one-sided and therefore permanently unsuitable (6). Another important building block for a healthy diet is wholemeal bread. With a high proportion of carbohydrates, it is not only an ideal source of energy, it also contains important dietary fiber and vitamins.
The DGE recommends at least 30g of dietary fiber from whole grain products a day. However, you should avoid wheat bread, as the wheat proteins and gluten it contains can lead to inflammation and gluten sensitivity (7). In addition to grain products made from whole grains, vegetables and legumes, low-fat potatoes are another source of good carbohydrates .
As the last food group, you incorporate animal foods into your nutritional program. Here, too, the DGE issues recommendations. Consume milk and dairy products daily for bone support, and high-fat fish 1-2 times per week. You should eat meat and sausage even less often. Here, 300g per week is sufficient for a low calorie requirement and 600g for a higher calorie requirement (5).
How should your healthy diet be prepared?
Healthy food should be carefully prepared. In this regard, the DGE advises using as little heat and water as possible so that more nutrients are retained in the food (5). Cooking methods that can be used are stewing or steaming. Also, use little fat to reduce the calorie count.
Gentle preparation is particularly beneficial for vegetables. With animal foods, on the other hand, you should definitely cook the meat sufficiently. This is particularly important for the elderly, young children and pregnant women to prevent foodborne infections, which kill more than 420,000 people worldwide each year (8). You should save on salt when preparing. Instead, season creatively with fresh herbs and spices.
What vitamins and minerals does a healthy diet contain?
On many food packaging you will find the recommended amount of essential nutrients that your body cannot produce itself or can only produce in insufficient quantities. Of course, this also includes the essential vitamins that are an integral part of a healthy diet. When it comes to vitamins, a distinction is made between water-soluble (B vitamins, vitamin C) and fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, K) (9,10).
Vitamin deficiency can have significant consequences for our health. Nutritionists are currently researching the extent to which a vitamin D deficiency promotes severe courses of COVID-19 (11,12). It has already been proven that vitamin C reduces the risk of eye diseases (13).
|B1 (thiamine)||legumes, whole grains||Annoy|
|B2 (Riboflavin)||Dairy and whole grain products||protein and energy metabolism|
|B3 (Niacin)||Meat, fish, offal, yeast, coffee||various metabolic processes|
|B6 (pyridoxine)||Meat, fish, whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts||for nerves and immunity|
|B7 (Biotin)||Liver, egg yolk, yeast, nuts, soybeans, oatmeal, rice||healthy skin and nails|
|B12 (cobalamin)||animal products||Breakdown and conversion of fat and amino acids, blood formation|
|folic acid||green leafy vegetables, legumes, whole grains, egg yolks, liver||Growth processes, blood formation, cell division|
|C||Red peppers, acerola, currants, sea buckthorn, cabbage, citrus fruits||Radical scavenger, immune system, connective tissue, formation of messenger substances and hormones, promotes the absorption of iron|
|A||Egg yolk, liver, milk, spinach, orange and red fruits and vegetables||eyes, skin and mucous membranes|
|D||fatty fish such as eel and salmon, mushrooms. Vitamin D can be produced by the body itself through exposure to sunlight||Bones, muscles, cardiovascular system|
|E||vegetable oils (rapeseed oil), nuts, butter, egg||radical scavenger|
|K||Sunflower oil, meat, especially liver, grains, especially in wheat germ, cabbage, spinach, soybeans, peas and mushrooms||blood clotting|
Just as important as the vitamins that are vital for us are bulk and trace elements. They are also grouped together as minerals and are an integral part of any healthy diet. Although minerals do not provide nutritional energy, they are largely responsible for the development of body tissue, cells, bones, teeth and the undisturbed functioning of the body (14). Magnesium is particularly important for numerous metabolic processes in these processes.
|calcium||Dairy and milk products, green vegetables, nuts, mineral water||Bone. Teeth, heart, nerves, muscles, blood clotting|
|chloride||table salt||salt and water balance|
|chrome||Meat, cheese, whole grains||glucose tolerance|
|iron||Meat, spinach, oatmeal, beetroot, cherries||blood formation|
|fluoride||black tea, shrimp, drinking water, meat, dairy products, fluoridated table salt||Prevention of caries|
|iodine||iodised table salt, sea fish||production of thyroid hormones|
|potassium||Fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, apricots, mushrooms and potatoes||Nerve, muscle, heart function|
|copper||Nuts, legumes, cereal products||Antioxidant action, collaboration with iron|
|magnesium||Vegetables, wheat bran, nuts, sunflower seeds||numerous metabolic processes|
|molybdenum||eggs, legumes, etc||involved in uric acid metabolism|
|sodium||table salt||Salt and water balance in the body, cell function|
|phosphorus||in all foods||Bone|
|selenium||Meat, fish and plant-based foods such as Brazil nuts and legumes||Is bound to proteins in the body and has many functions|
|zinc||Meat, nuts, whole grains||numerous processes in the body, e.g. B. Immune system|
What is meant by healthy fats in nutrition research?
In addition to vitamin E , healthy fats provide essential fatty acids. Here you should make sure that your fat sources contain unsaturated fatty acids as much as possible. If you avoid saturated fat as much as possible, you can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (13). Saturated fatty acids are mainly found in animal foods.
Canola oil is the healthiest.
You can find the healthy unsaturated fatty acids in vegetable oils, margarine, nuts and oily fish. When it comes to oils, rapeseed oil is a real all-rounder that has the lowest proportion of saturated and the highest proportion of unsaturated fatty acids. In addition, rapeseed oil contains alpha-linolenic acid, also known as omega-3 fatty acid, which is vital for our body, as well as vitamin E.
As an alternative to rapeseed oil, you can also incorporate walnut, flaxseed and soybean oil or olive oil into your recipe plan for a healthy diet as a source of omega-3 fatty acids.
What should you consider if you want to eat healthy?
Mindfulness is an integral part of a healthy diet. Listen to your body and only eat when you are hungry. This does not mean the craving for something sweet, which usually disappears after a short time. Arguably the most important rule of mindful eating is to take your time eating.
Only 15-20 minutes after the start of your meal does you feel full, which signals you whether you should continue eating or whether you have eaten enough. If you eat too fast, you may not even realize if you've eaten too much or too little. In this case, the amount of nutrients may not correspond to your basal metabolic rate. Our tip: chew slowly!
Your body image is also directly related to your recovery from illness. In mice infected with viruses, weight-reducing eating behavior and an increased need for sugar were demonstrated. This behavior plays an immensely important role in the healing process (15). Therefore our appeal, always listen to your body if you want to eat healthy or get healthy.
Are there healthy alternatives to chips, chocolate & co?
The first step towards a healthy diet is to replace unhealthy foods with whole foods. You don't have to change your diet overnight. Instead, try gradually replacing individual foods with a healthy alternative. Below we give you tips on alternatives and healthy snacks to help you with this step.
Alternatives to sweet foods
Sweets and chocolate are the biggest challenge and at the same time the biggest enemy of a healthy diet. If you're craving sweets, try dried fruit and nuts as an alternative. Not only are they filling, they also provide your body with valuable vitamins, minerals and fatty acids.
Dried fruits are a good alternative to chocolate and co. (Image source: pixabay / Augenschaschlik)
Lemonades and juices contain a lot of sugar. Water should be your first choice here, supplemented with teas and juice spritzers. Instead of canned fruit with sugar, fresh fruit is a better alternative. Fruit has the highest effect when eaten on its own and on an empty stomach.
Healthier animal foods and vegetable fats
Replace red meat like beef or pork with lower-fat white meat like turkey and chicken as much as possible. Instead of too fat sausage, you better reach for turkey breast and Kassler.
There are now also delicious, vegetarian spreads as a substitute for high-fat sausage. It is better to swap sunflower oil and clarified butter for rapeseed or linseed oil, these oils contain more unsaturated fatty acids and essential omega 3 fatty acids .
Chips contain a high proportion of fat and have far too many calories as a snack between meals. Try salt or sesame sticks as a substitute. Vegetable chips are not a real alternative as they contain almost as many calories as potato chips, while lentil and chickpea chips have slightly less fat.
Alternatives to salt and unhealthy carbohydrates
Save on salt and use fresh herbs and spices instead. You should avoid white flour products as far as possible and switch to whole grain products instead. Instead of beer, wine and cocktails, it is best to use non-alcoholic beer, for example organic yeast wheat without alcohol.
Healthy nutrition is a basic requirement for your well-being, your health and your performance. In combination with physical activity, a healthy diet can guarantee a lifestyle without health restrictions.
Due to the current corona restrictions, there is a trend towards cooking more at home again. Professor Berthold Koletzko, chairman of the Children's Health Foundation, hopes that this development will continue after the restrictions (16). This positive development is confirmed in the current 14th nutrition report of the DGE. According to this, Germans are paying more attention to their diet and eating more vegetables. Despite this, more and more adults are obese, especially men as they age (17).
A healthy diet alone is obviously not enough and only works in combination with an active lifestyle. With this guide you have the most important answers to all important questions for the first step.
Wolfram G. (2003) Basics of nutrition. In: Therapy of internal diseases. p. 810 ff., Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. Source
Kühnau J.: Basics of nutrition. In: Cremer, HD et al. (Ed.): Nutrition and Dietetics. Thieme, Stuttgart, January 1, 1980, Part 1, p. 1 Source
Kim S, Sung J, Foo M, Jin YS, Kim PJ (2015) Uncovering the Nutritional Landscape of Food. PLoS ONE 10(3): e0118697 source
Article of the Bayrischer Rundfunk on the subject of ginger in medicine Source
German Society for Nutrition e. V. , eat and drink wholesome according to the 10 rules of the DGE Source
A. Ströhle, Chr. Löser, I. Behrendt, C. Leitzmann, A. Hahn; Current Nutritional Medicine; January 2016; pp. 47-65; Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart Source
Zevallos VF, Raker V, Tenzer S, Jimenez-Calvente C, Ashfaq-Khan M, Rüssel N, Pickert G, Schild H, Steinbrink K, Schuppan D. Nutritional Wheat Amylase-Trypsin Inhibitors Promote Intestinal Inflammation via Activation of Myeloid Cells. Gastroenterology. 2017 Apr;152(5):1100-1113.e12. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2016.12.006. Epub 2016 Dec 16. PMID: 27993525. Source
WHO estimates of the global burden of foodborne diseases: foodborne disease burden epidemiology reference group 2007-2015, p.101; World Health Organization, 2015 source
Reddy P, Jialal I. Biochemistry, Fat Soluble Vitamins. [Updated 2020 Sep 21]. In: StatPearls [web]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 JanuarySource
Bruno, Eugene J Jr MHS*; Ziegenfuss, Tim N. PhD Water-soluble Vitamins, Current Sports Medicine Reports: August 2005 - Volume 4 - Issue 4 - p 207-213
doi: 10.1097/01.CSMR.0000306209.56939.48 source
Pereira M, Dantas Damascena A, Galvão Azevedo LM, de Almeida Oliveira T, da Mota Santana J. Vitamin D deficiency aggravates COVID-19: systematic review and meta-analysis. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2020 Nov 4:1-9. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2020.1841090. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33146028. Source
Mitchell F. Vitamin-D and COVID-19: do deficient risk a poorer outcome? Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2020 Jul;8(7):570. doi: 10.1016/S2213-8587(20)30183-2. Epub 2020 May 20. PMID: 32445630; PMCID: PMC7239633. Source
Yonova-Doing, et al. ; Genetic and Dietary Factors Influencing the Progression of Nuclear Cataract, Ophthalmology, article in press, March 2016. DOI: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2016.01.036. Source
Krotz A., Backes G., Indispensable for the metabolism, article from February 4th, 2020, Techniker Krankenkasse Source
Wang A, Huen SC, Luan HH, Yu S, Zhang C, Gallezot JD, Booth CJ, Medzhitov R. Opposing Effects of Fasting Metabolism on Tissue Tolerance in Bacterial and Viral Inflammation. Cell. 2016 Sep 8;166(6):1512-1525.e12. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2016.07.026. PMID: 27610573; PMCID: PMC5555589. Source
Healthy eating should be fun and taste good, article from March 6th, 2021, Press and Information Office of the German Federal Government Source
So eats Germany, article on the nutrition report of the German Society for Nutrition, Press and Information Office of the German Federal Government Source