Food plays many different roles in our lives these days. It is used in celebrations, as entertainment, as a way to show love and also as a hobby, but we must always remember that food’s main role is to supply nutrition to our bodies. To keep healthy, to cure aliments, and to protect against disease we should focus on the food we eat and the ingredients we should avoid. Here are 10 ways that nutrition can improve health:
1. Drink plenty of water. This simple and very cheap ingredient is essential to human existence. We can only live a few days without it and we often don’t realise just how important it is to our well-being. Water lubricates our joints, it cushions the brain, it flushes out waste and toxins, it helps digestion, it forms mucus, and it helps us breathe. So it’s no wonder we can feel the ill-effects of dehydration very quickly. If you add in some hot weather or exercise and the need for water is even greater. Make sure you drink 6 to 10 large glasses of water each and every day and you will feel healthier as your body functions better. Don’t make excuses about not liking it, just get on with it, starting with a room-temperature glassful first thing in the morning. Add a slice of lemon or orange if it makes it easier but get yourself into a routine and enjoy the benefits which can include fewer headaches, easier digestion, more energy and a clearer mind.
2. Ditch the refined sugar. There is more and more evidence that sugar is detrimental to your health and there are claims that it is highly addictive and as dangerous to over consume as alcohol. The kind to avoid is pure sugar that has been added in to food, such soda drinks, biscuits, puddings and even tinned goods. Most food will be turned into sugar by the body after consumption, and then used as fuel, but carbohydrates, veg, fruit and grains also have fibre which slows the release of this energy and stops an immediate rush of insulin. Refined sugar goes straight to the bloodstream in a quick hit causing a sugar and insulin spike which is considered bad for you. If you have a sweet tooth, cutting out sugar will be hard but do it in baby steps and feel the benefits as the sugar rush and crash stops being a feature in your day. Avoid sugary soda and drink water, don’t eat ‘fat free’ aternatives as usually these have added sugar to make them taste good. Also limit puddings to once a week or special occasions and replace biscuits and cake with fruit, toast, nuts and crudites. Even if you only cut out half what you ate before, this is still helpful to your health.
3. Eat a rainbow every day. Fill your plate, bowl or packed lunch box with as many natural colours as you can, and you will find you have munched your way through your five-a-day without even thinking about it. Nature has given us an easy sign – if it’s naturally bright then it must be good for you! Red tomatoes, purple beetroot, orange carrots, yellow pepper, blueberries and green apples are packed with all the vitamins, minerals and trace elements you need to be healthy. The colours are visually pleasing and cheerful, but they also are a guide to the goodness inside. Orange vegetables and fruit give you vitamins A and C, purple offers vitamins C and K, whereas green is excellent for B, E and K. Eating a mixture of colours give you a range of vitamins keeping you healthy. All these wonderful nutrients will boost your immune system and help you fight off flu, viruses, infections. Once you are used to eating all these lovely jewel-like colours, you will find the drab beige of pizza, pastry, chips and bread quite unappealing and that will help keep you on track for making better nutritional choices.
4. Go nuts. As long as you don’t have an allergy, nuts are nutritional powerhouses. They are packed with energy, antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids, protein and minerals and they can be eaten in a wide variety of ways. They make excellent snacks because they are small, widely available, can be eaten raw with no prep and don’t need to be kept cool. Eat them on the move to keep you going between meals with their slow release energy. They are quite calorific so don’t eat too many at a time, and avoid ones with salt or sugar to consume them as a healthy snack. Of course, they also taste yummy in salads and with yogurt or breakfast celeal. Alongside nuts, also look at consuming seeds as part of your daily routine. Both these natural foods are super healthy.
5. Broccoli – the everyday superfood. These little green ‘trees’ should be high on your weekly grocery list because broccoli is claimed to have many health benefits. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli may help you to fight against cancer, they repair cell damage in tissues and they are thought to clear toxins from the body. This veg also regulates glucose production and delivers more than 100% of your daily vitamin C requirements, along with around 40% of vitamin A requirements. Small amounts of magnesium, iron, calcium, vitamin B6, phosphorus and potassium are also in this veggie too. And it is very low in calories so you can eat as much as you like with each meal. One of the best things about broccoli is the variety of ways you can eat it so it never gets boring. Traditionally it is boiled and served alongside meat, but broccoli can be steamed, grilled, roasted and eaten raw. Add them to salads, put them in a green smoothie, use them in a stir fry or blacken them on a barbeque. And broccoli soup is a real winner on a winter’s day.
6. Are you full of beans? If not, then you should consider adding more legumes to your diet. They are really good for your digestive health and can help with a lot of tummy troubles. In general, people do not eat enough fibre so using beans more often in your meals can help with this. Beans contain both soluble and insoluble fibre which is great stopping constipation and they help reduce bloating. Most beans have a high percentage of protein, so they are essential for vegetarian and vegans. As beans are cheaper than meat, it is also a good food source for anyone on a limited budget, such as students. They really fill you up quickly so can be used to help you consume fewer calories if you are trying to lose weight. The high fiber content of legumes means they are low on the glycaemic index so they regulate blood sugar levels and stop spikes occurring. If you are trying to reduce cholesterol levels, then a diet high in beans could be very helpful. There are lots of recipes out there that include beans of all kinds, so make sure you have a hearty helping every day to feel the health benefits.
7. Healthy fats. Fat has been considered the dietary enemy for a long time, so it is often confusing to hear that you should consume some fat every day to stay healthy. But you must be smart about which fat to eat. As a very rough guideline, fat that comes from plants and trees are usually healthy, those that are from animals or that have been manufactured tend not to be. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the best for us and they are good for brain function, cell growth, they reduce inflammation, reduce clogging in arteries and help with skin and nail health. Olive oil is one of the healthy fats and is readily available in the supermarket. Oils made from walnuts and flaxseeds are packed with healthy nutrients and make lovely salad dressings. Food that is high in natural fat, such as avocados, salmon and almond nut butter can be eaten guilt free as the fat is of the healthy variety, just consider that the calories are also on the high side if you are trying to lose weight.
8. Cut out the white flour. Highly milled white flour has been stripped of the goodness found in whole grains, and has preservatives and additives put in making it a bad choice for your health. This white flour is cheap and plentiful, so it can be an ingredient that dominates people’s diet. It’s in bread, bagels, biscuits, cakes and sauces but it has little nutrition and may increase blood pressure, inflammatory disease, depression and even some cancers. Cutting it out can only be a good thing, and making more healthy selections such as whole-grain flour will help you feel better. Swap ordinary flour for almond, chickpea or coconut flour and use alternatives like black beans to create wonderful and filling snacks. If changing to whole wheat flour is too much for your tastebuds, try mixing half and half at first. At least you are reducing your intake and taking positive steps towards a healthier you.
9. Enjoy a daily coffee. Recent studies have discovered that one or two cups of good coffee a day can have some great health benefits, and it could even protect you against cancer. There are a lot of anti-oxidants in coffee and this is the magic ingredient. For the best benefits, it should be black coffee with no sugar or sugary syrups or course, do not undo the good by adding bad food to the cup. The study also reveals that two cups should be the daily limit as more than this could be detrimental.
10. Treat yourself to chocolate. When you are eating healthy, it is a good idea to have some nice treats around as well. Chocolate is one of those foods that people crave and look forward to, so instead of cutting it out all together, make a good choice and go for a quality dark chocolate. Cocoa flavonoids found in chocolate are believed, according to a 2012 study, to increase blood flow and be good for the heart. Some of the cheaper brands of chocolate add sugar, oils and other ingredients to the cocoa which makes them more harmful to your health, so reach for one that is purer. The stronger taste of the better chocolate usually means you cannot consume so much of it at one time as well. Remember that it is a treat, so take time to enjoy as small amount at a time.
The key to healthy eating is making sure you have a wide range of every food group. Too much of one thing is not a good idea, so make sure you shop with a list and incorporate carbohydrates, vitamins, fats, minerals and proteins into every day. Try not to eat too many calories because your body simply does not need it, and try to ensure that every bite is beneficial to your body. If you are changing the way you eat to help with a condition or preventing a disease, then changing slowly is better than giving up altogether because you are finding it difficult. Making improvements each week and altering the way you select food gradually are still steps in the right direction. Try new ingredients and be open to different combinations and you will find you can eat well and enjoy life.