What is a Healthy Diet?
Food should always still be a source of deliciousness and enjoyment, however we must remember that the number one reason we are eating is to sustain us, to repair our cells, produce hormones and ultimately provide us with a healthy body, full of energy and vitality.
A healthy, nutrient-rich, balanced diet will keep your blood sugar levels in balance and your weight under control. The sluggishness we all so often feel, the digestive issues, bloating, fatigue and moods are linked to nutritional deficiency and chaotic blood sugar levels. A healthy, well – balanced diet of fresh, wholefoods is therefore the cornerstone of a radiant, active and optimum body.
The National Diet and Nutrition Survey in the US showed that over a staggering 74% of women are falling short on nutrients from their diet, with an 80% decrease in the consumption of omega 3 fatty acids and an intake of 50% more saturated fat than the maximum recommended. In general only 15% of women and 13% of men actually meet the five-a-day target for fruit and vegetables.
There is no getting away from the fact that the manufacturing and processing of food today strips essential nutrients from food. In fact, studies have shown that the vitamin and mineral content of fresh foods we buy has been dropping steadily since the 1940’s. With convenience and packaged food being so popular, it’s becoming more difficult to know the freshness or nutritional content of food.
This is why a healthy diet plan is imperative to our overall health. There is no substitute to a healthy diet. So what is a healthy diet? If diet is a dirty word for you, simply replace it with a word you prefer. A healthy diet is not about deprivation, it has a positive feel to it, it means including all the essential nutrients for our bodies to function optimally, balancing our blood sugar levels, maintaining healthy digestion and a healthy weight that is right for your body. A healthy diet also means that we are not suffering from mood spikes and crashes, meaning we’re keeping irritability at bay, and not relying on “substances” to wake you in the morning or put you to sleep at night (think coffee and wine).
Diet – by no means – refers to weight loss or fad diets. Dieting does not necessarily mean excluding food groups unless you have a diagnosed intolerance or allergy.
So lets aim to ensure you include all the vital food groups – sufficient intake of carbohydrates, fibre and essentials fats, healthy amounts of protein and lots of water.
Water is an essential but often forgotten ingredient in a healthy eating plan. Not only is your body two-thirds water but also water intake and distribution are essential for hormonal balance. Water provides the means for nutrients to travel to all your organs, and for toxins to be removed. In addition it helps your body to metabolise stored fat so it is crucial for weight management. Aim for 1.5 – 2L of water a day, however you should be drinking more if you are active.
Don’t save all your water for meal times; drinking while you eat can dilute important digestive enzymes that help break down food.
Carbs are our main energy source. There are two types – complex and simple. Complex include vegetables and whole grains, such as rye and wheat, and legumes, such as peas and beans. Simple include white sugar, fruit and fruit juices. For optimum health you should limit your intake of simple carbohydrates (with the exception of fruit) and eat plenty of unrefined complex carbohydrates. This means choosing whole-grain bread, brown rice, whole-grain cereals and pasta, instead of the refined white versions, and at least five portions of vegetables each day.
Whole grains are packed with nutrients, such as zinc and selenium and many B vitamins, and they are an essential part of a hormone-balancing diet. Steer clear of white flour and other refined grains, which have little or no nutritional value because of processing. In order to digest and absorb refined foods your body has to use its own vitamins and minerals, thus depleting your stores.
Simple carbohydrates in the forms of sweets, cakes, pies, pastry, white flour, white sugar and refined foods all produce a sudden rise in blood sugar and trigger hormonal imbalances so avoid them if you can. Fruit, although a simple carbohydrate, are full of nutrients, and they’re an excellent snack option, especially for those of you who have a sweet tooth. Eat fruit with a side of protein, nuts are a good option, this will slow down the effect on blood sugar.
Whole grains, fruits and vegetables provide you with plenty of fibre needed to keep your bowels healthy, clearing out toxins and old hormone residues and ensuring that good nutrition gets in. It isn’t difficult to increase your fibre intake, you don’t need add bran everything. In fact bran can actually block the absorption of vital nutrients such as iron and zinc. Just eat more complex carbs like; whole-grain rice, oats and bread, and plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds.
If you suffer from constipation one tablespoon of whole organic linseeds soaked overnight in water and swallowed in the morning can help to soften stools. Eat a mixture of soluble fibre, such as fruit, oats and beans and insoluble (which doesn’t dissolve in water), found in whole grains and nuts. Meals loaded with vegetables, cereals, whole-grains and seeds should provide all the fibre that you need.
Protein is important because it helps to maintain blood sugar balance and gives your body the even supply of amino acids it needs for building and repairing cells, manufacturing hormones and a healthy reproductive function. Since your body can’t store protein the way it does carbohydrate and fat, you need a constant supply and should aim to eat some high quality protein with every meal.
Different protein sources vary in the amount of nutrients they contain, so it’s important to eat a wide variety. Good sources of protein include oily fish, eggs, pulses, beans, nuts and seeds. A handful of nuts and seeds with every meal, or nut or seed oil dressing on salad are great to keep the protein up. Research suggests that eating an egg for breakfast not only give you a protein boost but also keeps you feeling fuller for longer. Choose organic and free-range eggs, because a chicken’s diet and environment are extremely important to the quality of the eggs.
Eating organic red meat and chicken is also a good idea – as the biggest concern with meat is regarding quality. An unnatural diet for the animal and the lack of exercise means that they contain more fat than protein, and can’t always be seen as a good source of protein. Studies show that chickens today have significantly more fat than in the 1970’s, and that is saturated fat. So it’s imperative that you know where your meat and poultry are sourced.
Eating a diet of fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes provides a great source of protein and allows you to limit meat to a couple of times of week if desired.
The concern with dairy products is the possible hormonal effect on our bodies. A cow only produces milk after giving birth, much like us humans. So in order for there to be a constant supply of milk, a few months after giving birth the cow is usually artificially inseminated again in order to keep the cycle going. Pregnancy comes with high levels of hormones, especially estrogen, and these go into the milk supply and dairy products.
Also, buying low fat dairy products may not be the best option. Low fat options are often loaded with sugar, and fat is needed to absorb vitamins such as A, D and E. It’s preferable to get fats from oily fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, however if you love dairy – than the less processed and more as “nature” intended them to be (full fat) the better.
Natural live and organic yoghurt containing the culture lactobacillus acidophilus, which can help your body eliminate hormones it doesn’t need anymore, is a great dairy addition to the fridge.
Fat has a bad reputation and women tend to avoid it, however it’s saturated fats, found in animal meat and the trans fat found in processed food that are harmful. Essential fatty acids found in nuts, seeds and oily fish – play a crucial role in having a healthy body. Good sources include nuts, seeds, flaxseed (linseed) oil, and oily fish.
Saturated fats are generally harmful because they can cause high cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease. They also interfere with your body’s absorption of EFAs.
Saturated fats, which have undergone a chemical process, called hydrogenation and also known as trans fatty acids are the worst culprits and should always be avoided. They’re found in fried foods, cakes, biscuits, chips and pastries.
Phytoestrogens are substances found in food, which are thought to have a hormone balancing effect:
- isoflavones – in legumes such as lentils, soya beans and chick peas
- lignans – in grains and vegetables, the best source being flaxseeds
- coumestans – alfalfa and mung bean sprouts
Phytoestrogens are also being studied for their effectiveness in lowering cholesterol and preventing heart disease.