You can read many different definitions and opinions about what it is to “eat healthily”. After 5 years of university I can honestly say that I had only just scratched the surface and I have been learning more about the practical complexities of this topic ever since.

The information out there is clear about healthy eating; less total calories from sweet/refined/highly processed foods, increase wholegrains and lean meat/vegetarian alternatives, low fat dairy and of course get plenty of fruit and vegetables……the problem is that it just isn’t that simple. I can’t count the amount of times that someone has come to see me and started out by saying “I know what I should be doing, I just can’t do it….”

It is no wonder that millions of people today are fixated on the latest “new diet” and trail through websites in the hope that this new wonder food/diet might help them manage their eating or boost their wellbeing in some way.

Over the years I have realised that sometimes the “standard” healthy eating advice doesn’t always fit to today’s world.

Here is why:

  • Disposable income and “healthy food shopping” can be hard to do, not impossible, but it does require some thought and calculation, which tends to put people off.
  • People want to see results immediately, especially if they want to eat better to lose weight. Healthy eating plans of course will reduce weight if they are followed correctly, but for many people the results don’t come fast enough and so motivation is lost.
  • Social pressures are huge barriers: the moment someone tells the people in their so-called support system that they are going to eat “more healthily” they will hear “no, you don’t need to”, “why? You don’t need to lose weight”. This doesn’t help and is generally because these people are made to feel guilty about not doing the same themselves.
  • Lifestyle factors influence choices: socialising, traveling and levels of activity all impact on a person’s diet and can provide barriers to the individual wanting to change.
  • Worklife can inhibit progress due to: long hours in the office, sedentary lifestyles, business meals, evening social events and canteen food to mention a few. To overcome these issues the person needs to make a choice to allow the time to look after themselves.
  • Family life can make you put your own health on the bench: you focus on keeping your family happy and healthy but you don’t have time to look after yourself, sound familiar? Well the irony is that if you found a way to give yourself even 1-2 hours a week away from the family and looked after your own diet, then you will find it easier to keep up with the little ones. Generally that time away, no matter how short, can help you see beyond the chaos and appreciate the little things, instead of just trying to survive the day!
  • People can’t cook anymore: it is assumed that you need to be a gourmet chef in order to eat well. This couldn’t be further from the truth. People just need a few simple recipes to add to their weekly menu, along with a good meal plan for the week to prevent the “ohhh I have no idea what to cook for dinner” and whipping out the fish fingers!

For me personally, healthy eating is the following:

  1. Variety: this is my main focus. I always make sure the foods my family eat are varied well – this is the easiest way to ensure you get a good intake of different nutrients.
    1. Different coloured fruits and vegetables represent different vitamins/minerals and phytonutrients that act as antioxidants.
    2. Consuming a different protein source at lunch and evening meal ensures a good mix of amino acids, the building blocks of protein that support muscle repair and a healthy immune system. Try to enjoy lean poultry, fish, beans, legumes, seeds, lean meat, tofu and eggs on a regular basis.
    3. Consuming dairy foods can support your calcium intake. We only eat natural yogurt or unsweetened Greek yogurt as the low fat alternatives tend to be packed with refined sugar. Where you can, aim to have the live dairy products too as these support a healthy digestive system by providing the bacterial cultures. These “good bacteria” can be stripped from our system, especially if you have taken antibiotics or if you have previously consumed a highly processed diet.
    4. Wholegrains and cereals – a cause of much debate in recent years following the popularity of the “grain-free” diets. In short, many people now feel that grains are unnecessary and only cause digestive complications. I still consume wholegrains in the form of breads, pasta, rice and oats as I am an active person and I need these sources of carbohydrates as fuel to keep me going. Having said that, I don’t consume them in large amounts.
    5. Fats should also be varied: in the form of oils as well as oily foods. I am a big fan of cold pressed, virgin coconut oil and the evidence for it use is still building, I find that this fat adds an amazing flavour to foods (although it is important to be aware that it’s smoke point is only 177°C, so shouldn’t be heated above this to avoid free radical release which causes cell damage). I also enjoy extra virgin olive oil in salads and occasionally I cook with organic, cold pressed rapeseed oil. I love avocado, they play a large role in my smoothie breakfasts! Nuts are amazing sources of healthy fats as well, and should be consumed in moderation if you are looking to lose weight. The last part of my oily foods comes from fish, which is mainly salmon in our house. Either in the form of smoked salmon or as a steamed filet of fish – I eat this at least twice a week.
  2. Balance: not every one of my meals looks like this, but as a general rule I find this works well for most people: ¼ protein, ¼ carbohydrate and ½ vegetables/salad.
  3. Planning: making sure your meals are matched to your activity. An easy way to understand this is to think about your day ahead. If you are at work in the morning, go to the gym at lunch then have a meeting all afternoon, your meals need to match this. The main thing is making sure you have had a good breakfast or at least had a small mid-morning snack that will help fuel your workout. Then your lunch shouldn’t be too heavy because you don’t want to fight falling asleep during your meeting. Being mindful of your meals and mealtimes is essential to boosting your energy and managing weight.
  4. Cooking: I follow the principle of “eating clean”. This means that I avoid eating processed foods as much as possible. Of course you can class peanut butter and smoothies as processed, but I am taking about avoiding foods with additives, preservatives, flavourings and ingredients that you can’t pronounce! Wherever possible I eat fresh, which means I cook (almost) every mealtime. The thought of cooking might put people off, but actually the foods I cook take a maximum of 20 minutes in total to prepare and they are simple enough that my kids can “help”. I get my children involved in the kitchen activities as often as I find it safe to do so! This exposure to cooking and food is a key part to their future understanding of how to live healthily; I believe that what they are exposed to now plants seeds for their future life choices.
  5. Fluids: this is where many people get tripped up. I mainly consume water, teas (white & fruit), occasional smoothies and fresh pressed vegetable/fruit juices and very occasionally a small coffee with a little cream (I am human). Drink to be wary of: fizzy drinks, fruit juices, smoothies, milky coffees (such as cappuccino/latte), yogurt drinks, milk shakes…..alcohol, these are not only calorie bombs but they can cause other issues such as energy highs and lows. Think about whether you are drinking enough, you should have between 35-50ml/Kg body weight/day (if you are of healthy weight, plus this requirement increases with strenuous exercise and hot weather), but also think about what you are choosing as your main fluids.

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