Nutrition: What should we eat to really get healthy?
THERE is more to good food than the sum of its nutrients. Of course food is essential for nutrition and nourishment, but it gives us so much more than that.
We eat when we are happy and when we are sad. We eat to socialise and to celebrate.
So when someone tells me that they are on a calorie restricted diet, or low fat diet, a little bit of me cringes inside.
Food should be celebrated and enjoyed, and when we take a moment to stop and notice how the food we eat make us feel, we are more likely to go for the type of food that leaves us feeling energised, satisfied and nourished, rather than food that provides us with empty calories.
This week I have seen far too many social media posts recommending meal replacements and protein bars, diet foods and low calorie meals. We have gone from low fat dieting (which is still far too popular, and not at all good for us) to high protein diet foods.
Balance has gone out the window. No matter how you look it, or how manufacturers package it, these diet foods are processed junk food by any other name.
High protein bars, low calorie bars and similar products tend to be packed with sugar or sweeteners, emulsifiers, humectants, palm oil, flavourings and other ingredients that don't look or sound like anything you find in nature.
One well known low fat snack bar contains 38g sugar per 100g - anything over 22g is classed as a high sugar food. So although this particular bar is being marketing to help weight loss, it is packed with sugar. If you want to get fat, eat sugar...
No matter what diet rules you follow, there are some things that all human beings need as essentials in their diet for good health and wellbeing, and as a nutritionist, one of the things that I strongly advocate is for my clients to eat real food.
Here's my checklist:
- Eat plenty of colourful fruit and vegetables - most of us probably need more than the recommended five a day, but start there and see how many you can squeeze into your diet. Packed with fibre, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, the more colour and variety we can eat, the better. Fresh or frozen - either is good, and at this time of year frozen fruit and veg is a good way to make sure you are getting lots of variety in your diet.
- Choose healthy fats from nuts, seeds, olive oil, oily fish, avocados. These fats help support a healthy cholesterol balance, leave us feeling satiated after a meal, support our immunity, our hormone balance, our nervous system, metabolism, appetite regulation, mental health, skin... in fact every single little cell in our body needs these important fats. Don't neglect them from your diet. A low fat diet is not doing your health (or your waistline) any favours.
- Eat carbohydrates from wholegrains, root veg, pulses, vegetables, fruit for energy and fibre. Carbohydrates are not bad for your health, as long as you don't load up on white bread, white rice, white pasta and other refined grains. Instead, choose the low GI versions like brown rice, sweet potatoes, pulses and wholegrains. You will feel fuller for longer, reduce cravings and help to keep your energy levels sustained.
- Get decent quality protein from eggs, meat, fish, chicken, nuts, seeds, pulses, dairy products. A palm-size portion of protein at each meal helps with muscle strength, bone health, appetite control, body composition, hormone balance and energy.
- Drink water - an essential ingredient in any healthy diet. Not tea, not coffee, not juices or energy drinks, but water. Increase your intake slightly and aim for around 1.5 litres a day and notice how your energy levels feel. Does your digestion change and does your skin look any different?