While we know that a nutritious breakfast and lunch are associated with emotional wellbeing, yet deciding what healthy food is, isn’t always easy.
Beyond eating your veggies and avoiding soft drinks, there is much confusion about how to identify healthier choices in the supermarket, cafeteria, and restaurant. Health messages such as ‘cut back on fat, but, choose healthy fats’ can be confusing.
This is often the case when people categorise food by just one nutrient. In reality, we need to factor many nutrients and health features into our understanding before we categorise foods.
There are a number of factors that determine how healthy a food is, such as the proteins, carbohydrates, specific lipids, vitamins, minerals, fibre, phytochemicals, nutrient ratios, food ingredients, additives, processing, taste, the energetics of the food, its after-effects, the absorbability of nutrients in your body, and so on.
Food must always look good and taste good. No one will want to eat healthy food that does not taste good. Too often, people have become so used to the flavours of processed foods that are salty, fatty, +and/or sugary, that we forget what real, unadulterated food tastes like. So, first and foremost to take into account is the lovely natural taste of the food itself.
We are eating more ultra-processed foods than before, which is affecting our health. Ultra-processed foods are often rich in saturated fats, sodium, and sugar, which are all the things we should aim to eat lower amounts of to maintain a healthy diet and to decrease the risk of various diseases. These foods also tend to be lower in nutrients and dietary fibre.
Some examples of ultra-processed foods that people are eating more often include:
– fast food (hamburgers, fried chicken)
– salty snacks
– canned soups/meals
– most breakfast cereals
– ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat (eg frozen dinners)
– frozen pizza
– soft drinks
Eating more ultra-processed foods increases the risk of health issues such as obesity and heart disease. There’s also mounting evidence linking these foods to chronic diseases. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in eating less nutritious, shelf-stable foods than pre-pandemic times.
Determining what is healthy
When it comes to selecting food, healthy choices will depend upon your health goals, as an individual. It is important for you to look at your current habits and lifestyle and define what your health goals are. For instance, Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to increase your energy level? This will help prioritise the foods you choose.
At a fundamental level, sufficient nutrition is required to provide the building blocks for the development and function of the body in both children and adults, including cell growth and replication, synthesis of DNA, neurotransmitter and hormone metabolism, as optimal nutrition is of importance for brain development.
As a starting point to making healthier choices, it’s a good idea to limit processed foods and focus on plant-based choices. This means incorporating more unprocessed foods into your diet, (such as fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains) and reducing the amount of animal-based foods in your diet (this includes meat, chicken and fish, as there is a lot of data supporting the fact that they may be inflammatory). Current research indicates that a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables can also be good for the mind.
Fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds will be in the high range of choices. They are high in vitamins, minerals, and fibre, and bring a strong set of physical benefits. The link between physical health and mental health has long been known, including the connection between a healthy diet and mood. The understanding that good nutrition can help with brain development and has an impact on mental wellbeing is monumental.
Nearly any raw, fresh fruit, or fresh vegetable, especially those that are naturally brightly coloured, will have a near-perfect 10 out of 10 health rating.
Nearly all fresh fruit and vegetables can and perhaps should be eaten freely. It is very difficult to overeat fresh fruit and vegetables, in terms of calories, because their fibre content and their water content make them a filling food. I’ve never heard of anyone gaining weight from eating too much fruit or vegetables. In addition, a diet with a higher fruit and vegetable intake is strongly linked to better mental health.
When looking at nutrient density, the number of healthful nutrients need to be in ratio to the caloric content. Food that has a high nutrient density, such as fruit and vegetables, has many nutrients and fewer calories. Food that has a low nutrient density, such as sugary, soft drinks or lollies, has few nutrients and a lot of calories. This leads us to understand that raspberries should be encouraged, sweet potato chips should be eaten in moderation, and instant noodles, as they are the least healthy in this list of three, should be consumed minimally. Thus snacks and sweet desserts are in the lowest recommended category of what to eat for health.
Thus choose an eating style that includes a variety of foods including plant-based foods, limiting refined and processed carbohydrates and sugar, as well as drinking more water and little or no sugar-sweetened beverages.
Eating lean and healthy proteins will help you avoid the feeling of a “sugar crash” after your blood sugar spikes and then drops.
Guidelines for reducing the amount of ultra-processed foods in your diet:
• Plan what meals you’re going to cook for the week. Write what you need on a shopping list, and do your best to adhere to this list.
• Avoid going to the supermarket on an empty stomach to avoid obvious temptations which make it easier for you to slip into your older poor choices while shopping.
• Choose vegetables and fruit that are in season. They tend to have lower prices.
• Buy the kinds of vegetables that can be stored for longer (to avoid unnecessary waste) and can be used for multiple recipes. These include kale, cabbage, carrots, and other root vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, beetroot, onions etc.
• Cook your meals from scratch (e.g., make a lovely dhal with spices instead of choosing canned or fast-food options).
• Look at making meal preparation easier and smoother, especially if you don’t have time to cook new meals every day. Save your leftovers. No matter how small they are, they can be used for something. Cook larger batches and freeze for later meals. Fill your freezer with nutrient- and fibre-rich vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, green peas, lentils and so on.
• Stock up on staple foods and nutritious ingredients at home, such as oats, quinoa, barley, whole grain pasta, brown rice, nuts and seeds, beans, lentils and so on. Buying larger packages of staples tends to be more cost-effective per the quantity.
• While fresh is best because of the living energy (prana) in the food, where it may be difficult to afford or find fresh fruit and vegetables, frozen fruit and vegetables, or canned beans or lentils could be your second-best option. Just make sure to check the nutritional information. Read nutrition labels and choose food with smaller amounts of saturated fats, sodium, and added sugar.
• Choose food with more dietary fibre
• Choose water as a beverage over sugary drinks or alcohol.
Broad guidelines can be indicative towards better or healthier choices but they do not take into account the individualisation of diets that Ayurveda recommends for your unique constitution. A consultation with a registered Ayurvedic consultant will help you customise and individualise a plan to improve your dietary and lifestyle habits and adopt healthy habits towards your wellbeing and longevity goals.
Would you consider spending 10-days to improve your health, your mind and your life?
After a 10-day Nirvana detox program, arising from
– being given the healthier choices explained, with the easy to follow dietary guidelines provided
– guidance regarding understanding package labelling and food marketing
– learning about tastes, and how to prepare and cook healthy food
– personalised) Ayurvedic medicines, tailor-made for your health
Here’s what participants have reported:
• Intake of some sugary foods and drinks reduced
• Participants consumed significantly less ultra-processed food and more whole food compared to pre-detox
• Whole food consumption, such as dairy, meat, fruits, and vegetables increased
• They were able to sleep better, and wake up feeling refreshed
– They had more energy and enthusiasm for life
• Their wind, bloating and bowel actions had significantly changed for the better.
• They had less brain fog and
• They were happier.
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