When it comes to diet and nutrition, the rules and restrictions of healthy eating can seem overwhelming – and quite honestly, entirely off-putting. One week, headlines tell us that we should all be eating less fat, the next week the message is low sugar. No wonder we end up feeling dazed and confused about the ingredients of a healthy diet.
I have been in the nutrition game for a couple of decades now and have seen plenty of diet trends come and go, so in an effort to take the nonsense out of nutrition, here are my top ten ideas that have stood the test of time.
- Don’t diet! Food is so much more than the sum of its calories. Instead of restricting calories, counting points, or managing macros, I think it’s time we got back to valuing the powerful effects of the food on our plate. Healthy, nutritious food has the potential to make us feel and function well. If we can connect more to the food on our plate, and appreciate its health effects, then the healthy choice is the easy choice.
- Eat your greens. Green leafy vegetables are powerhouses of nutrition. Aim to eat at least one portion of green leafy vegetables every day. Broccoli, cabbage, leeks, rocket, watercress, spinach – the darker the green the better. Green leafy veg are packed with chlorophyll – the ingredient that allows a plant to harness energy. Anything that contains chlorophyll is a good source of magnesium, a key nutrient for energy, hormone balance and muscle function that can become depleted by stress, poor dietary choices and some medications.
- Bulk out with brassicas. A lot of the green leafy veg mentionned above belong to the brassica, or cruciferous, group of vegetables. Packed with sulphur containing antioxidants, this group of veggies seem to have super powers in terms of our health. Aim to eat one vegetable from this group daily. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, pak choi, rocket, turnip and watercress are included.
- Get cultured. Include some probiotics foods in your diet regularly. Live yoghurt, kefir, kombucha or sauerkraut all contains beneficial bacteria that have benefits far beyond digestive health.
- Drink enough water. Not too much, not too little, just enough. For most of us that’s about one and a half litres a day, but this can vary from person to person, depnding on things like the weather, how much we exercise, and how much we sweat.
- Eat a little bit more fibre. With benefits for our gut, blood sugar balance, weight management and cardiovascular health, increasing our fibre with wholegrains, pulses and vegetables is a good idea.
- Eat enough fat. Fat is an essential nutrient (unlike sugar!), so including foods like oily fish, nuts and seeds, olive oil, avocado and houmous provides us with essential omegas 3 and 6 to support our health and keep us well.
- Slow down. Take time to savour and enjoy the food on your plate. Research shows that if we eat too quickly, we absorb less from our food – no matter how healthy it is.
- Adopt a Mediterranean diet. More vegetables, plenty of garlic and herbs, some oily fish and pulses, the Mediterranean diet is packed with foods to support our health and longevity.
- Treat your treats as treats. There is no such thing as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ food, but there is such a thing as a good or bad diet. An occasional bar of chocolate, bag of crisps or sweetie treat is totally fine, and part of a healthy, balanced approach to diet and nutrition, as long as most of what we eat if nourishing, tasty and helathy.
This blog post first appeared as my column in The Irish News on Saturday 22 June 2019.