Do you ever feel confused by the barrage of healthy-eating information we see and hear every day? Low carb, high fat, or is it high carb and low fat? Or should we just eat single-ingredient foods? But hang on, what about whole grains? Here’s the truth (as we see it): 9 simple, timeless bits of nutrition knowledge which will keep you slim, fit and healthy.
1: Get in tune with your hunger
First things first: do you listen to your body’s hunger (and satiety) cues? Do you really know when your body needs to eat, or when it’s asking for water, sleep, or something else? Get in tune with your body’s hunger signals and not only will you manage your weight more effectively, but you’ll slowly be able to beat emotional eating, mindless snacking and other habits which can derail a diet.
2: Eat your greens
Fill at least 50% of your plate with leafy greens (like kale, chard, spinach, watercress and rocket) or cruciferous green vegetables (like broccoli, Brussels sprouts or cabbage). This one simple (and cost-effective) habit will make a huge difference to the way nutrition affects your body, health, weight and mood. Greens contain anti-oxidants, phytochemicals, fibre and powerful micronutrients and will do wonders for your fitness goals whether you aim to build muscle or lose some fat.
3: Fall in love with cooking
Every successful weight loss journey and body recomposition story features someone who loves to cook. And if they didn’t like cooking for themselves at the start, you can bet that they’ve come to love it by the time the “after” photos are taken. Knowing how to cook yourself fresh, healthy meals featuring natural, seasonal ingredients is one of the most powerful tools in your nutritional armoury. Extend this to knowing how to shop (including how to use your local greengrocer, fishmonger and butcher), how to prepare and store food, and how to batch-cook, and you’ll skyrocket your chances of success.
4: Have go-to meals and snacks
Life is busy, but don’t let a hectic schedule threaten your brilliant health and diet efforts. When time is tight, you need to know that there are meals you can whip up, or pre-prepared snacks you can grab, which will keep your nutrition on track. It’s also a great idea to have a few back-up plans in case you’re out and about (grilled chicken breast slices from supermarkets, pre-cut veggie sticks, small pots of real Greek yoghurt).
5: Watch your portion sizes
Over time, our portion sizes can very easily increase. Marriage and co-habitation, seasonal changes in weather, and the impact of stress and anxiety can all contribute to us putting more on to our plates. Don’t base your portion sizes on what your partner eats, or on the size of your crockery. Instead, tune in to that hunger we spoke about earlier, and plate up just as much as you need. Better to feel a little hungry (and go back for a small second helping) than to swallow down an oversized meal out of habit.
6: Learn to read food labels
Ideally, the food we eat wouldn’t have a label at all. But let’s be realistic! So it’s important to learn to read – and understand – food labels. Look beyond the calorie count of packaged food and pay attention to the macronutrients (how much carbohydrate, fat, protein). Then look at how much of the carbohydrate is sugar (not so good) and fibre (better). What about the fat? Is it healthy polyunsaturated fat, or trans fats (avoid!) Are the sodium levels of the product high? And don’t forget to do some mental arithmetic so the numbers relate to the portion size you’ll be eating (which may differ from the suggested serving size). And a final note on the ingredients label: if it’s very long, or contains ingredients you can’t pronounce, consider putting the item back on the shelf.
7: Nature knows best
In general, nature knows best when it comes to nutrition. There’s a reason that dark-coloured vegetables come into season in late Autumn (when we need the antioxidants), and it’s no surprise that salad vegetables and leaves are plentiful in Summer, yet starchy root vegetables are around in Winter. There’s even some evidence that we can benefit from eating local honey, because the local bees have carried compounds from plants in our area which can help us with allergies. And, of course, buying locally helps the local economy, the environment, and gives small businesses and agriculture a helping hand. Can you make a New Year’s Resolution to shop once a week from your greengrocer, farm shop, butcher or fishmonger?
8: Food for energy
Perhaps the most confusing information in the nutrition industry is around macronutrients – particularly carbohydrates. Some health and fitness gurus advise a breakfast full of carbohydrates to fill you with energy, whilst others suggest you keep your carbs for after exercising. What’s the truth? To be perfectly honest, we don’t know. And nor does anyone else. If a health or fitness expert tells you they have the answer, we’d suggest that you keep looking. There is no single answer, and no one-size-fits-all approach to macronutrients. We’d simply say: remember that food is energy (calories). The percentage of those calories that you choose to get from carbohydrates, fats, protein is largely up to you: what fits your routine, what makes you feel great, what makes you sleep well, and what suits your body?
9: Don’t sweat the small stuff
Our final point is hopefully a calming one amidst a confusing sea of advice. When it comes to getting your nutrition and diet right, get the bigger picture in place first. Get into a good routine, which you feel you can sustain for the foreseeable future. Develop a healthy nutrition strategy which fits your lifestyle, rather than trying to manipulate your lifestyle around your diet. Eat natural, fresh foods. Eat enough to fuel activity, but not so much that you put on weight. Eat foods which make you feel well on a physical, emotional and mental level. If something makes you feel bad, leave it out. Have a little of what you fancy, and don’t ban any foods or ingredients from your diet. Use common sense. Once you’ve got the bigger picture in place, then you can start drilling down in to macronutrient breakdown, sports supplements and other finer points.
If you’d like our help at any stage, please do ask. We love helping people develop a nutrition plan which gets them healthy and keeps them happy.