A balanced nutrition is healthy for the body and the head – and easier to integrate in the everyday life than one thinks. oKO-TEST reveals what is necessary for this, which types of nutrition are suitable and which tips can help you with the implementation.
- The diet should be varied and diverse in order to provide the body with the nutrients it needs.
- The choice of food and stimulants and the way a person eats and drinks affect the body, health and performance.
- Vegetarian or even vegan diets are healthy, but need more awareness to make up for deficiencies.
No meat, low carbohydrates or eating like in the stone age? With the multitude of nutritional concepts we are confronted with today, there is often uncertainty: what does healthy eating actually mean?
Some supposedly healthy diets are not suitable for everyone – because of allergies, intolerances or ethical beliefs. Other concepts do not fit as a permanent diet, that is, for every day, for example, low carb. The right diet is therefore an individual issue in each case. However, there are some basics and helpful tips to eat healthier and more balanced.
What is healthy eating?
"Contrary to the widespread perception that dietary recommendations are constantly changing, many of the scientifically based recommendations remain stable over long periods of time.", states the German Society for Nutrition (DGE). International recommendations are also often very similar to those of the DGE.
This is also reflected in the so-called "Planetary Health Diet": This plant-based diet was developed in early 2019 by scientists from 16 countries. It suggests not only a healthy menu, but should also have a positive and lasting effect on the earth.
Even if there is no universal definition for healthy nutrition: In any case, it is important to eat a varied and diverse diet so that the body gets all the nutrients it needs.
The DGE guidelines can provide guidance for choosing the right foods and planning healthy meals. The recommendations are suitable if you eat a mixed diet and want to ensure an optimal supply of nutrients.
The right diet: health benefits
The DGE last revised its nutrition recommendations in 2017 based on current scientific findings. "At the same time, the recommendations leave room for individual latitude and are not to be understood as rigid commands or prohibitions.", emphasizes the DGE.
Among the health benefits of the recommended diet is:
- Fruits and vegetables lowers the risk of many diseases – especially cardiovascular diseases. The latter, according to the DGE, also unsaturated fatty acids.
- Dietary fiber from Whole grain products reduce the risk of lipid metabolism disorders, type 2 diabetes mellitus, colon cancer and cardiovascular disease.
- Fatty fish According to the DGE, reduces the risk of strokes and is of particular importance for the health of the cardiovascular system.
- Plenty of red meat and sausage Increases the risk of colorectal cancer, according to the DGE – so only a small amount, if any, is advisable.
- Regularly milk and dairy products eating dietary fiber supports bone health and is associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer.
- Eating regularly physical activity, lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes mellitus, obesity, breast/bowel cancer and depression, and is also good for bone health, according to the DGE.
The DGE’s 10 rules for healthy eating
These are the updated ten rules of the DGE for healthy nutrition:
- Enjoy food diversityTo prevent one-sided nutrition and deficiency symptoms, the best recipe is to eat as many different foods as possible. However, you should choose mainly vegetable food.
- Vegetables and fruit – take "5 a day": Vegetables and fruits should be eaten more frequently than other foods in a healthy diet. They are filling and provide us with important nutrients, fiber and phytochemicals. The DGE recommends at least three servings of vegetables (equivalent to 400g) and two servings of fruit (250g) daily. She emphasizes: "The colorful selection also includes legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and beans as well as (unsalted) nuts."
- Choose whole grainsA balanced diet also includes grain products such as bread, rice, pasta and flour. Whole grains are always the healthiest choice: you get plenty of fiber, vitamins and minerals in addition to energy-giving carbohydrates. Another recommended source of carbohydrates: potatoes, preferably cooked (as boiled or jacket potatoes) or from the oven.
- Supplement the selection with animal foodsThe DGE also advises eating fish in moderation (one to two meals per week), meat and sausage (no more than 300-600g per week) and eggs (as a deliberate addition to the diet). Milk and dairy products such as yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, quark or cheese may be on the table daily according to the guidelines.
- Use health-promoting fats: Fat is not fundamentally bad, but it depends on the type: Well-selected fat sources provide the body with vitamin E as well as vital unsaturated fatty acids. The DGE recommends rapeseed oil, olive oil, walnut oil, linseed oil, soybean oil and margarine instead of butter. Avoid coconut fat, palm oil, palm (kernel) oil, animal lard and hidden fats in processed foods – for example, in confectionery, pastries, sausage, fast food and ready meals.
- Cut down on sugar and saltThe DGE advises a maximum of six grams of table salt per day – if you often exceed this, you should reduce the amount of salty foods. You should also avoid sweetened foods and beverages.
- It is best to drink waterAccordingly, the recommendation is to quench thirst with water and unsweetened herbal and fruit teas instead of sweetened beverages. Juice spritzers with three parts water and one part juice are also suitable. In total, you should drink a good 1.5 liters of fluid daily. Alcoholic beverages are not recommended – because regular alcohol consumption, no matter in what quantities, is harmful to health. (Read more: Even in small quantities: Alcohol is so dangerous)
- Preparing food gentlyIt depends not only on what you eat, but also on how you prepare it. Rule of thumb: cook with little water or fat for as long as necessary and as short as possible. Methods such as steaming or stewing preserve nutrients.
- Eat mindfully and enjoyIf you eat slowly and consciously, you will not only enjoy it more, but you will also feel when you are full. The DGE therefore stresses the importance of taking breaks and time to eat.
- Watch your weight and keep movingTo be physically active belongs apart from the nutrition absolutely to a healthy way of life. The DGE recommends 30 to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity every day – this includes not only sports, but also everyday exercise such as walking or cycling to work. In addition over and underweight should be avoided.
Healthy diet: vegetarian and vegan
The DGE believes it makes sense to supplement plant foods with animal foods. He says this makes it easier to provide the body with all the nutrients it needs.
This does not mean, however, that a vegetarian or vegan diet is not healthy according to the DGE – quite the opposite: Those who eat this way are fulfilling many of the advices that nutrition experts give today.
The nourishing scientist Annette Sabersky came for oko test to the result: Both vegetarian and vegan nutrition are suitable and healthy as continuous food – if you consider a few things.
Planning a healthy vegetarian diet
Vegetarian food with lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes and healthy vegetable fats provides all the necessary nutrients – and has been proven to protect against various "diseases of affluence" such as diabetes, overweight and high blood pressure. To avoid deficiencies, vegetarians should nevertheless pay attention to individual substances such as vitamin D, iodine, zinc, calcium, and iron.
The same is true for vegan diets, which avoid all animal foods. Here it is also important to supplement vitamin B 12 and, in addition to the substances mentioned, to pay attention to vitamin B2, selenium and the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. As a vegan, it is best to cook a varied diet with fresh foods such as vegetables and fruits, small amounts of seaweed, plus whole grains, (sweet) potatoes, legumes, tofu, cow’s milk alternatives, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan and are looking for orientation in order to select foods in the right quantities, you are well advised to use the food pyramid of the interest group ProVeg. The main differences to the DGE rules are: Instead of animal foods such as meat and fish, protein products and legumes get a place, nuts and seeds play a greater role, and eggs and dairy products are only one option.
You can read more about this here:
- Food pyramid – in such a way you nourish yourselves healthily
Balanced diet: tips for everyday life
Even though most people have the desire to eat healthily, a balanced diet often fails due to everyday life: lack of time, stress, convenience and the omnipresence of fast food and unhealthy eating options get in the way of good intentions.
These ten tips will make it easier for you to integrate healthy eating into your life:
- Try to include in every meal some fresh vegetables or fruit incorporate: For example, dice an apple for your cereal, or mix in briefly sauteed vegetables (such as zucchini, carrot, or bell bell pepper) with pasta with tomato sauce.
- Meal Prep Step 1Plan your meals more consciously, cook a little more in the evening and take something with you to work the next day.
- Meal Prep Step 2: When you have time (on weekends, for example), cook in advance and freeze food in portions. Especially with soups and many vegetable dishes this works well – and so you have in stressful periods in the evening or in the office directly a healthy meal ready.
- Vegetable pans, pasta sauces, casseroles or salads: many dishes are ideal for adding a little Extra portion of legumes to integrate. Try lentil bolognese, white bean and tomato salad, or an exotic yellow lentil soup.
- Taste your food creatively first with herbs and spices before adding salt – and don’t put a salt shaker on the table for seasoning.
- If you’re in a hurry or don’t have fresh vegetables in the house: Reach for them rather than eat them Frozen vegetables than to the can or the glass – what is frozen directly after the harvest, still contains many important nutrients, which are partly lost with canned food.
- At salad bars, avoid fatty dressings as much as possible, and make the Salad with vinegar, oil and herbs at.
- Instead of sweet fruit yogurts, choose better Natural yogurt, which you can mix with fresh fruit mix.
- Replace sweet Snacks by a handful Nuts, Raw vegetables Or portioned Obst.
- They do not like to drink exclusively Water? Give a dash of lemon or lime juice to this. And instead of sugary iced tea, put a pitcher of freshly brewed herbal or fruit tea in the refrigerator in the summer and drink it cold.
Healthy eating for weight loss?
If you want to lose weight and therefore go on a diet, you are not necessarily doing your body any good. We’ve checked out eight different diets and diets. Only two of them are both healthy and sustainable.
If you want to focus on healthy eating for weight loss, see our test on the topic here:
Healthy food for children
For children, a balanced diet is especially important for healthy development. The German Federal Center for Health Education (BZhA) emphasizes that a healthy diet, plenty of exercise and the ability to deal with stress have a positive influence on each other. Therefore, the right diet for children also supports the development of the other areas.
The BZhA mentions four simple basic rules for a healthy diet for children:
- The child should drink a lot, especially water or sugar-free drinks.
- You should offer plenty of plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, cereals and potatoes.
- On the other hand, you should only offer animal foods such as meat, sausage, fish, eggs and milk and dairy products in moderation.
- You should be particularly careful with salt, sugar, sweets and high-fat snacks or products with a lot of saturated fatty acids – such as potato chips or chocolate cream.
In addition, you should avoid special complementary foods, convenience foods and so-called children’s foods (read also: Squeezies: Six reasons against fruit porridge from the bag). Instead, it is important that children learn about food diversity at an early age – and participate in varied, healthy family meals from about one year of age onwards.
But be careful: in infancy, the risk of small, round foods getting into the windpipe is still high. Therefore, still avoid foods such as nuts, seeds, almonds, legumes, berries, fish containing bones, raw root vegetables or other hard pieces the size of a peanut.
For more helpful information, see our Kids and Family guidebook.