Written by Clare
We all get plenty of advice about eating healthily, and in fact there’s more advice and guidance these days about a healthy diet than there ever has been in the past. Parental or family advice can be very influential as we grow up. Sometimes this is a good thing. Sometimes not. Then there are a multitude of diets and eating regimes all giving contradictory advice. This can all be very frustrating when you simply want to change your diet but don't know any longer which bit of advice to go with.
In the past people mostly embarked on a diet to lose weight, however, this is no longer the case. We are far more aware of our health, and the damage we can do to it with the wrong foods and lifestyle. Or from a more postive angle, the benefit we can reap from eating foods that nourish and protect us.
A healthy balanced meal should contain plenty of fruit and vegetables
So what is the right eating plan? Many people decide not to eat meat while others with food intolerances need to be gluten free or dairy free, or are allergic to certain ingredients such as nuts or shellfish. The important point to note from this is that is really hard to have a 'one diet fits all' as we are all unique in our genetic, biochemical, and emotional make up, not to mention lifestyle. Therefore what suits one person may not suit another. However, do not despair! There is a definate basis on which we can build a healthy diet. This basis is that we need to consume a balance and variety of natural and non processed foods. Additionally, there are some sure bets we should avoid which will greatly reduce the chance of weight gain or illness. Everything we consume should be a balance of all the different food groups (assuming you are not intolerant or allergic to some) without over-indulging in any one of them. All foods can be divided into five main groups:
1. Starchy foods such as rice, bread, potatoes, cereals and pasta. These contain carbohydrates that are essential sources of energy, but be careful not to go overboard and chose them wisely. It is important to know that not all carbohydrates are the same. In general, brown is better for you than white. They break down into sugar more slowly, giving you a more gradual source of energy. White carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta break down into sugar in your blood stream so quickly it can be counted as sugar intake, and can gradually contribute to weight gain and diabetes. In general you need more carbs if you are a child or are exercising. Otherwise eat them in moderation. Find the level that is right for you. Try new grains such as quinoa, spelt, rye, millet and oats, and try to avoid lots of potatoes which spike your blood sugar levels.
2. Fruit and vegetables are vital sources of vitamins and minerals as well as fibre. A minimum of 5 portions a day are recommended to stay healthy and have a lower risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers. Experts actually now recommend 5-9 portions a day, with an intake of mainly vegetables rather than fruit. Try to eat a variation of them rather than always the same. Green vegetables contain a different selection of nutrients such as cacium and magnesium, to orange or red vegetables which are high in antioxidants.
3. Meat, fish, eggs and beans are sources of proteins that are essential for growth, repair, detoxification and energy! Protein requirements vary between individuals but a minimum of 15% of our calorie intake should come from protein. Again, vary your intake of protein including lean red meat, lean poultry, fish and seafood, eggs, beans and lentils. If you are vegetarian be vigilant about getting enough as this is a very undermined food group and can leave you feeling unwell, tired should you not eat enough. Keep your intake of processed meat to a minimum as this is known to contribute to colon cancer and is not particuarly nutritious.
4. Milk and dairy foods such as cheese and yoghurt are also sources of protein, and their calcium content helps keep our bones healthy, but some can be high in saturated fat, so keep your dairy content low. If you want yogurt, opt for live yogurt which is a source of gut bacteria, make sure it is not the sweetend kind though. For those who are lactose intolerant,or just to help cut down on dairy its good to know that other sources of calcium include green vegetables (particularly kale, spinach, broccoli and artichokes); beans such as baked beans (usually haricot beans) and soy beans; fruits such as orange, papaya and figs; and nuts (particularly almonds); and if you are a fish eater, halibut, salmon and sardines are good for calcium.
5. Fat is actually a really important part of our diet, despite what you may have been told. It's the type of fat that is important. Trans fats which are present in foods such as chips, crisps are indeed not good for us and clog our arteries. However, healthy fats can actually benefit our health, and are a very nutritious and important part of our diet. We have rather shied away from them over the 'fat-free' years but infact we need fat to absorb certain vitamins and fat is also a building block for our hormones. Foods containing healthy fats such as avocados, oily fish, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, olive oil and butter in moderation are all good for you, will keep you fuller for longer and power up your hormones and neurotransmitters. Find out more about choosing healthy fats.
A note on sugar, processed foods and alcohol. Sugar is a source of energy however we already get this from our other foods which all ultimately get broken down into energy. Adding sugar to our diet raises our insulin levels and eventually may lead to weight gain and other illnesses. Sugar is also inflammatory and can be harmful to our gut flora balance, gut wall and can lead to bloating. Avoid processed foods, cakes, buns and fizzy drinks as much as possible as these are all high in sugar. Also, check labels on foods such as cereals and yogurts as these can often claim to be healthy but have in fact got a high level of 'hidden sugars'. As a general rule 4g is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of sugar. The recommended daily allowance of sugart for an adult is 6 teaspoons. It soon all adds up! Alcohol also contains a lot of sugar and is damaging to health so be aware of what you are drinking. A glass of red wine is better for you than an alco-pop, but you still need to drink carefully.
Don't forget to exercise. Make this your time and pick something that suits you. Running may suit one person but yoga may be another person's saving grace.
You may like to look at the downloadable information on the British Association of Nutritional Therapists's website.
This may all seem a lot to take in. However, it is the basis of what is often described as clean eating. Clean eating is going back to basics, about eating whole foods, or "real" foods — those that are minimally processed, refined, and handled, making them as close to their natural form as possible. As a nutritional therapist I believe we all know our own bodies quite well, so listen to it and learn what balance is right for you in particular. Make one change at a time and before you know it you will be naturally eating a healthier diet.
For a further list of healthy foods, Top 10 Healthy Foods, or to see Britain's favourite fruit and veg, checkout the infographic!
Do you find that you are less bloated when you make a concerted effort to eat healthily?
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