The most common thing that I see affecting the health of those that ask my nutrition advice is simply that they aren’t eating enough.
Either they are too busy to eat enough, have been taught – like we all were – to eat less to lose weight, so eat rye biscuits for their lunch, or they are eating the processed stuff that has no nutritional value (therefore, for the purpose of today’s blog and healthy eating in general, I am not going to describe it as food).
The most common reasons for this are as follows:
- For the most part, we’ve grown up being taught to be scared of calories and look at food as this one-dimensional “fuel” for the body; energy in and energy out. This kind of thinking warps our relationship with food, getting us into a pattern of “rewarding” and “punishing” ourselves with food and exercise. We’re concerned with portion sizes and we demonise nutrients that are good for us (fats, protein, carbs) because they are “fattening”. It’s dangerous to our self-esteem, our self-worth and to our overall health in the long term. Mostly, it overlooks all of the other amazing and crucial roles that food has for our bodies, and takes away the enjoyment of all food, in my opinion.
- We live in one heck of a stressful and busy world. We feel the pressure to be and have it all, and most of us run ourselves ragged, leaving food low on our priorities list. This means, for a lot of us, skipping meals and relying on a good ol’ cup o’ Joe to get us through the day. But in reality it leaves us wired and tired, often leading into “burn out” mode.
- When processed stuff is so abundant and easy and quick, and marketed to us as much healthier than it actually is, this can be the stuff we go for, because, from the outside, it seems to solve all of our problems. But really, what we are eating has the nutrition practically beaten out of it, is laden with trans fats, sugars and chemicals to give it flavour and a long shelf-life, and then it is fortified with mostly poor quality supplements to justify its consumption as a food – and let’s be honest, that last point is a best case scenario.
These three points have caused a heck of a lot of confusion around what it is to eat healthy and be healthy, which is why it’s part of my mission to show you the absolute basics of what it is to eat healthy food.
Despite eating, most of us are actually malnourished, not even meeting the recommended daily intake (RDI), which is the absolute bare minimum of nutrients we require each day to be free from illness. Without enough food, enough real food, eaten regularly, I see people struggle with their stress levels, their mental wellbeing, their weight. They are fatigued and often exhausted, depressed, anxious and sad, enduring headaches, migraines and wicked period pains or frequent infections.
But I don’t want to sit here and demonise things for you and make you feel like crap about it all. You’re doing the best with the knowledge and ability that you have right now. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t tweak things along the way.
This is all about building you up.
Nutrition is the building blocks for every cell and every function in your body.
I want to educate you – empower you – and have you feeling better by showing you how to eat the food your body needs in a way that you can enjoy. It is possible to eat healthy without making a huge song and dance about it and splash superfoods all over the place on the way – I promise. We’ll do this with regular food, plus a few ingredients you may not have tried yet, but all in all, it’s to support your body, and have you feeling better in the long term.
So let’s get started shall we?
Nail the Basics
Every meal should have a mix of fats, proteins and carbohydrates in it, including snacks – no exceptions. These nutrients are known as the macronutrients because they supply our bodies with energy (aka. calories).
Protein is from your meats, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. They are a good source of energy, help the body to replace and build tissues, especially muscles, and build the brain hormones that are required for good mental health, among many other functions.
Carbohydrates are from vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, most plant foods in general. They provide us with energy, especially glucose for the brain, and in their whole form, are accompanied by fibre, which helps slow down their absorption, lowers cholesterol and improves our gut function (ie. helps you poop).
Fats are best consumed from sources such as extra virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, oily fish, meats, coconut (and coconut oil). Again, they are another source of energy, but they also are required for the production of our hormones, absorption of fat soluble vitamins, keep our skin soft and protect our organs.
Vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals are in all whole foods, especially plants. Foods that are especially high in these include brightly coloured or dark vegetables, fruits and herbs, nuts, seeds, legumes, meat, fish, poultry, seafood, wholegrains. Micronutrients help all the functions in the body occur, such as stress management, sleep onset, muscle relaxation, tissue repair, digestion and absorption of our food, and immune function.
Other stuff our bodies need, include water, probiotics and fibre. All three are required for healthy digestion (I’m talking about your poop again), which also aids immune function and supports mental health among other functions.
Putting it all together
- Make sure you’re drinking 2 litres of water per day at the very least, plus another cup of water for every shot of coffee or cup of caffeinated tea
- Eat FIVE serves of veggies every day. One serve is ½ cup of cooked or 1 cup of raw vegetables. This is actually the minimum recommendation for vegetables in Australia and is easier to achieve than you think. When you eat vegetables in all of your meals (even snacking on ½ cup of veggie sticks with hummus) it all adds up. Get creative – make legume or fish patties with mashed sweet potato (skin on) and grated zucchini, use leftover vegetables in an omelette or frittata, and if you look on your plate and think it could do with more veg, grate up a carrot and top with pumpkin seeds, lemon juice and olive oil.
- Teach yourself to cook. Cooking your own meals means you know exactly what’s going into your food and you get to flavour it however you like. My flavour bases are a good place to start if you have the basics down pat, but if you don’t feel confident at all, why not look up some classes and start kickin butt in the kitchen? Cooking a meal that tastes delicious is incredibly satisfying, and you’d be surprised how easy it is to cook a meal that’s full of flavour.
- If you need to, plan ahead and make your meals in bulk. Otherwise, just cook a little extra of whatever you are cooking to use it for the next meal. Steamed sweet potato goes great with your steak for dinner, and the leftovers can be heated up to eat with your eggs in the morning.
- When in doubt, sprinkle a tablespoon or two of seeds or nuts on top. They add a crunchy texture and go with pretty much everything
- Eat some oily fish three times a week. Tinned or fresh, the omega3s in the fish cannot be produced by the body, so must be eaten in food. Try salmon, mackerel, sardines and anchovies (or for the vegetarians, chia seeds, linseeds, hemp seeds should be included every day)
- Don’t be scared of fat! Eat full fat yoghurt, lots of avocadoes, drizzle your salads in extra virgin olive oil and pour full fat coconut cream over your curries. These will keep you fuller for longer and give you long lasting energy
- Phase bread and pasta out of your diet to more of a sometimes (once or twice a week) food. More than anything it really is just a place filler on your plate, while you could be eating much more nutritionally dense options, like quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, sweet potato, hummus, chickpeas, red kidney beans and salad
- Experiment with cutting your veggies in different ways. This gives more texture and variety to what you’d usually eat. You can grate, finely slice, spiralise, crinkle cut, julienne, and there are plenty of cheap gadgets out there to help you do so
- Try something new. Eating healthy is all about getting a wide variety of foods into your diet, so the best way to do this is to try something you either haven’t tried before, or something that you think you don’t like. You may surprise yourself what you like if you keep trying new things over time, and it opens up a whole host of options for you when you discover a new food
This might be a bit daunting at first, but you really can do it when you put your mind to it. Just like training for a marathon, if you just keep trying, you can eventually make eating in this way feel like more of a habit than a chore. Just don’t forget to actually eat! Your long term health is more important than the task you have to finish in the short term – even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time – and you deserve to take at least 15 minutes to eat something! At the very least, you know that if you do, you’re going to perform better after the food than you would without it.