Eating healthy often sounds very complex and not the most appetising thing to achieve — especially with all the confusing messages we encounter from media and the food industry — but it shouldn’t have to be that way. Eating healthy should be enjoyable and simple.
But, what does eating healthy actually mean? In simple terms it means that you are obtaining all the energy and nutrients according to your own needs. I suggest that eating healthy is no more complicated than following these four guidelines that only take a few small shifts to implement in your life:
1. Learn to Juggle Your Food
By changing up your menu and introducing a wide variety of foods into your diet, you’re balancing the different types of nutrients found in food, and ensuring you get everything you need to live a happy and healthy life. One of the great things about eating high-quality foods is that they provide many types of nutrients in one go. These nutrients can be classified as macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients include fats, carbohydrates and proteins, while micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. Generally, foods have more than one type of nutrient, but one kind usually predominates.
- Vegetables contain a great concentration of vitamins and minerals, and carbohydrates.
- Fruits contain mostly carbohydrates and a great concentration of vitamin and minerals. Some fruits like avocado and coconut also contain fatty acids.
- Beans and Legumes (pulses) contain complex carbohydrates, proteins and some minerals and vitamins.
- Grains contain fatty acids, proteins and some minerals.
- Dairy products contain carbohydrates, proteins, fats, some minerals and may be fortified with some vitamins (for example vitamin D).
- Meat mostly contains protein and some minerals.
- Oils contain different types of fat.
Mix and Match: The 4-Step Meal Plan
In order to obtain the best combination of macro- and micronutrients, I’d recommend building your meals off of this framework:
(1) Whole Grain Carbohydrates: They provide most of the energy you will be using throughout the day which will transform into glucose so that your brain can work at optimal conditions.
Found In: Cereals and grains such as rice, quinoa, oats, couscous, centeno, cebada.
What’s On The Package: Aim for any grain products the are whole wheat, rather than over-processed and bleached ‘white’ grains and breads.
(2) Lean Proteins: These help reconstruct damaged tissues and maintain your immune system.
Found In: Fish, pulses, soy, eggs, dairy, chicken, lamb, meat.
What’s On The Package: Try to find meat and proteins that are low in fat. This is less relevant for soy and pulses, but lean meats are the way to go here.
(3) Vitamins and Minerals: These work for your body by protecting your cells and helping other nutrients function most effectively.
Found In: Fruits and vegetables.
What’s On The Package: Whole fruits and vegetables usually carry the most nutrients rather than juices, dried fruits, or ready-to-eat foods like applesauce.
(4) Healthy Fats: These produce hormones that help absorb certain vitamins (called liposoluble) which the body is unable to absorb on its own.
Found In: Avocado, olive oil, seeds, nuts.
What’s On The Package: Mono- and polyunsaturated fats are the ideal rather than saturated or trans fats.
*Depending on your individual needs and biological make-up you may also choose a supplement to complement your diet. These choices are usually best made with the help of a GP or health specialist.
There is a wealth of healthy meals to be made based on these four pillars. A good example of a balanced breakfast might be something like:
Whole grain bread + one boiled egg and yogurt + berries + nuts and olive oil
carbohydrate + protein + vitamin source + fat
Whereas a balanced lunch or dinner using the table above might look something like this:
Rice + salmon + salad (spinach, tomato, slice of lime, cucumber, sliced carrots) + avocado and olive oil
carbohydrate + protein + vitamin source + fat
2. Eat Several Times a Day
If you think that by skipping breakfast or a whole meal you are burning calories think again. When you skip breakfast or deprive your body of nutrients for a prolonged time your body’s reaction is to slow down the metabolism to avoid losing its fuel. So, by skipping meals your body actually tries to save calories. Also if you skip breakfast it is more likely that you will have cravings in the afternoon and compensate for what you didn’t eat in the morning and maybe overeat.
To avoid this, instead of eating a single or few heavy meals, try to spread your energy intake throughout the day, preferably working around your own individual schedule. That way, if you go for a big yoga practice or go for a run in the afternoon, you can plan your meals accordingly so that you won’t feel heavy and lethargic before, but still nourished and hydrated afterwards.
Simply put, you should aim for three small meals and two snacks to help distribute the energy you need throughout the day. Here are a few ways you can do this:
- Keep healthy treats, like nuts, close by.
- If you usually skip breakfast consider waking up earlier, or prepare something the night before.
- Try keeping foods on hand that you can grab on the go, like hard-boiled eggs, natural yogurt or chopped veg.
3. Begin Your Day with a Rainbow
Its easy to forget about your greens and veggies, especially if you only think of them during lunch or dinner time. Vegetables can also be a central part of your breakfast. What about sauteeing some spinach to eat with your eggs, or eating your morning yogurt and granola out of a baked sweet potato? The more colour you put into your bowl, the more vitamins you’re giving yourself resulting in an ultimately healthier you.
Another easy way of increasing the variety of vegetables you eat is through soups. Just make sure you’re staying away from cream or dairy-based soups and opting for the choices with more than one vegetable in the title. Making soups at home is an unexpectedly relaxing activity and you can toss in as many vegetables as you like!
4. Enjoying Your Food Counts Too!
Research indicates that when you are calm and actually enjoy your food, digestion is more efficient and nutrients are better absorbed. Eating too quickly or letting stress lead your food choices can eventually result in bad habits that promote digestive problems which in turn can develop into chronic diseases.
It’s also important to remember that eating is not just a physiological need, but a social and emotional one too! Get away from your computer, change your view for a at least for a little while and pay attention to what you are eating and savouring.
Experiment With Your Food
These four steps aim to simplify the guidelines to eating healthy. Some people might have specific requirements and might need to replace some foods for others. This is a simple and general guide to help us balance what we eat, but if you feel any uncertainty about your health and eating habits it’s always worth a conversation with your GP.
Eating healthy is about paying attention to what you are eating: savour the moment, eat several times a day, always invite your veggies and vary the types of foods you eat. Bon appetit!