WHO knows what to eat anymore? As a nutritionist, the question I hear most often is what’s the best diet? Do you go Paleo or vegan. Should you eat like the French or fast intermittently? The simple answer is none.
All diets have their pros and cons. The truth is that nutrition science does know what’s good for you, but the message tends to get lost in the competing claims and counterclaims of the latest fad diets. What we do know is that there are key diet fundamentals proven beyond doubt by science; ones we all should follow to stay trim and healthy. Whether you’re eating for wellness or weight loss, follow these guidelines and you’ll start to see positive results.
Eating for Wellness
- Focus on food, not nutrients
In our attempts to pursue a healthier lifestyle, it can be easy to start chasing down nutrients in our food. We look at labels and read how many grams of protein in a shake or bar without considering whether the protein is naturally occurring or whether that low-fat yoghurt has its fair share of sugar. Once you take the focus away from nutrients and eat a diet based primarily on wholefood, we get the nutrients we need.
- Build a better plate
The best meals have a balance of items from different food groups. Half of your plate should be vegetables of different types and colours, one quarter of low GI carbs (like whole grains, pasta, rice and, sweet potato noodles) and one quarter (fist full) lean protein (red meat, skinless chicken, fish, legumes or tofu). Add a few tablespoons of good fats, like avocado, extra virgin olive oil, or sprinkle seeds or nuts.
- Eat food as nature intended
The longer the ingredients list, the more likely the food is highly processed most often with added sugar, salt, processed fat and artificial additives. If you can’t pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t eat it!
- Eat a handful (30g) of nuts and seeds every day
As i always say – just like fruit and vegetables, eating a handful of nuts is a daily must do. Nuts contain a wide variety of essential nutrients and protect against inflammatory-related illnesses. Yes, they’re high in fat. But the good type.
- Limit refined grains
Swap out refined grains for wholegrain varieties. Choosing good quality grain foods every day can help keep weight in check and lower risk of lifestyle-related diseases. Rather than opting for wheat-based grains all the time, experiment with other varieties like oats, quinoa, barley and brown rice.
- Not all fats are created equal
Replace high fat foods and pastries, which contain predominantly saturated fat, such as butter, cream, coconut and palm oil, with foods that mainly contain unsaturated fats, such as extra virgin, cold pressed oils, spreads, nuts, nut butters and avocado. It’s totally fine to have butter, but if you had the choice of olive oil and avocado, I’d choose the latter for extra health benefits.
- Un-sweeten your diet
This doesn’t mean going entirely sugar-free, just moderate your intake. Enjoy natures sweet treats with fresh fruit, a little dried fruit and perhaps a drizzle of honey or maple syrup. Limit foods and drinks containing added sugars such as confectionary, chocolate, sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials, fruit drinks, vitamin waters and energy and sports drinks.
- Quench your thirst with water first
Hydration can curb hunger and boost your metabolism. As far as avoiding dehydration, the proof is in the pee. You will be on the right track if your urine is clear or pale. If it’s darker, keep on drinking!
Eating for Weight Loss
- Be consistent
Missing a meal not only means you’ll run out of steam, but you will likely indulge in larger portions and snack mindlessly later in the day. What’s more, regular, planned meals are more likely to include necessary nutrients, whereas eating on a whim is often full “just whatever is quick or available”. Some people do well with the structured three meals a day, while others prefer five or more smaller meals. Find what works best for you, and stick with it.
- Eat until satisfaction, not fullness
Many of us eat when we are too hungry and eat past the feeling of being comfortably full. Rate your hunger levels before and after eating and make sure you eat at the initial signs of hunger, and only eat until you’re satisfied not stuffed!
Be it porridge, poached eggs or peanut butter on toast, people who eat breakfast have more nutritious diets than people who skip it. They also have better eating habits as they are less likely to be hungry for snacks during the day.
- Schedule a cheat day
I can understand: the moderation message is boring. Perhaps a more attractive message then is to apply the 80/20 rule, where 80% of the time you eat healthy, nourishing food, and the remaining 20% you allow yourself to eat whatever you want, during which time you savour every bite and get on with your life. Remember, no food is forbidden. No one is perfect – nor should your diet be, too.
- Develop and maintain a healthy relationship with food
Refrain from labelling foods good or bad and focus on providing your body with sustaining, nourishing food you enjoy.
- Slow down
It’s not just about what you eat, how you eat matters too. Chew each bite 10 to 12 times before swallowing. Eating slowly brings mindfulness to mealtimes, improves digestion and allows you to feel a sense of fullness without a need to overeat.
- Rethink your drink
Whether it’s a protein shake or superfood smoothie, many people don’t realise just how many calories beverages can contribute to their daily intake. Whole fruits and vegetables are much more filling than juice and it’s likely you’ll consume fewer calories with these choices.
- Eat to fit your body
Healthy eating is about rediscovering your body’s true need for nourishment. Formulating a healthy and balanced eating pattern that suits you and your needs marks a crucial early step in supporting your health and keeping you trim.
This post was originally published in Fitness First Magazine and adapted with permission.
Image credit @lumadeline