How healthy are you and can eating affect that?

How would it feel to be 100 per cent super duper healthy? When I ask that question in the workshops that I run, the first thing people usually say is “to feel energised”, closely followed by “happiness”.

Sunday April 7 was World Health Day. According to the WHO (The World Health Organisation), the definition of health is ‘A state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’

Of course if our physical health is impaired, this can have an impact on our mental wellbeing and perhaps restrict our social interaction too. As human beings, we are complex creatures, with a variety of likes and dislikes, habits and routines, so no two people will thrive on the same diet.

There are so many factors that affect the food choices we make. Our mood, who we are eating with, what’s in the fridge, how much money we have to spend, how much time we have to cook, and even the time of day all have an impact on our choices.

Over the 20 or so years that I have worked as a nutritional therapist I have found that simple habits and little changes are often enough to make us feel a little better than ‘just OK’. Here are a few:

:: Keep well hydrated: Aim to drink about one and a half litres of water a day. Not cordials, tea, coffee, fizzy drinks or juice. Just pure, fresh, clean water.

:: Eat more vegetables: Even if you are getting the recommended five a day, we can all do a little bit better. In some quarters, it is thought we could do well to aim for between seven and 10 portions of vegetables and fruit a day. Aim to munch your way through more vegetables than fruit, as they tend to be more nutrient dense and lower in sugar.

:: Eat enough fat: Fat is an essential nutrient (unlike sugar!), so we need to get some into our diet every day. I am astounded that, given the vast body of research to verify the importance of fat in our diet, some ‘experts’ are still suggesting eating low fat (and highly processed) foods as part of a healthy diet. Most of us could do with eating more fat, not less. Oily fish a few times a week, a handful of nuts or seeds every day and some olive oil.

:: Eat food the way that nature intended us to eat it: Whole, unprocessed foods like fruit and vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, meat, fish and eggs are packed with the nutrition our bodies need to thrive and survive. White, refined and processed food is not.

:: Add plenty of herbs and spices to your diet: Herbs pack a punch of flavour and nutrition into any meal. Turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, parsley, thyme and rosemary are great.

:: Grow something: Salad leaves are really easy to grow, inexpensive and incredibly nutritious.

:: Eat protein – not too much, not too little, just enough: A palm-sized portion of protein with each meal is enough and mix up animal-based protein sources with plant-based sources like beans, lentils, quinoa, tofu, nuts, seeds and nut butters.

:: Choose slow release carbohydrates: Wholegrains and root vegetables with fibre provide our bodies with a sustained supply of energy, compared to the quick fix we get from white and refined grains.

:: Cook: If you can’t, then learn a couple of basic dishes. If you can, then learn a few more. Cooking for yourself means you are in control of the food you eat. It is more economical and tastes a lot better than convenient foods and takeaways.

:: Don’t buy anything that looks too good to be true: Food labelling can be misleading, so read the ingredients list. If you recognise all the ingredients as things you might find in your kitchen, buy it. If the list looks more like a chemistry experiment, leave it.

This blog post first appeared as an article in The Irish News on Saturday 6 April 2019.