A big part of taking charge of our life is to have the courage to examine our lifestyle and see whether we have any habits that are draining our energy levels and preventing us from maximising our potential.
One of the most important places to start is our eating habits. Too many people take the easy way out by saying that nutrition advice keeps changing so much – fats are bad, fats are good, carbs are good, carbs are bad – that they no longer know what is healthy and what is not. This approach is usually an excuse to continue with eating habits that we know are not good for us.
Does good nutrition advice actually keep changing?
While there are certainly lots of food fads and questionable claims for the benefits of extreme diets, the general healthy eating advice does not vary. And it is actually very simple to follow. Michael Pollan, a highly regarded nutrition writer and researcher, summarises it in seven, easy-to-remember words.
“EAT FOOD, NOT TOO MUCH, MOSTLY PLANTS.”
What does he mean by this instruction? He means that we need to choose REAL FOOD – such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, eggs, dairy products, fish and meat – that has not been overly processed or adulterated in any way. He advises people to not eat anything that their great-grandmothers wouldn’t recognise as food.
The more processed a food is, the less nutritious and tasty it becomes, necessitating a range of additives to make it edible and have a long shelf life. We need to be suspicious of foods, such as processed cereals, that make extravagant health claims because of ‘added’ nutrients. For instance, when white flour is made from whole wheat over 20 nutrients are severely depleted but less than five of these nutrients are replaced artificially and yet the flour is described as ‘enriched’.
Real food, such as fruit and vegetables, never has to make such health claims because its nutritional value remains intact.
NOT TOO MUCH
It is not just what we eat but also how much and how quickly. Throughout the world plate sizes and meal, portions have become steadily bigger over the last few generations. By eating too much and too quickly we don’t allow our natural satiety mechanism to kick in and tell us that we’ve eaten enough until it’s too late.
A double cheeseburger with French fries and a large milkshake contain around 2,000 Calories – equivalent to the total daily requirement of an active adult woman!.
In a list of the 100 most nutritious foods available for humans, compiled by a panel of scientists reviewing over 1,000 commonly eaten foods, plant foods dominate the list. The most nutritious food, scoring 97 out of a 100, is almonds. Of the list of 100, 75 are plant foods. The remaining 25 foods include different types of fish and seafood and only one type of meat.
Choosing a wide variety of plant food as our main meal will, therefore, maximise our nutritional status and health, and provide protection from acute and chronic diseases and many of the negative effects of ageing.
- Avoid processed foods containing more than five ingredients, especially if they include a range of ingredients you don’t know or can’t pronounce.
- Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually go bad. There are exceptions, like honey, but foodstuffs like cereals that never go bad are generally not real food.
- Reduce plate sizes and serving portions. Minimise snacking between meals and aim to eat at least one meal a day around the table with family and friends. Always leave the table wanting a little bit more, or 90% full.
- Make plant foods the basis of your meals, with animal foods such as meat and dairy, a small side portion.
Some healthy recipes for you to try: