For those struggling to find their way out from a mountain of takeaway boxes and crisp wrappers, Food & Drink Editor Ellie Gibbs gives some basic tips for following a healthy lifestyle
I’ve always been interested in food, and over the past year, my advertised culinary endeavours have lead me to value the importance of food education. I had a vague idea of what was healthy, but I wanted to know specifically about nutrition. If I’m aiming towards a career in this field, learning the facts is necessary—both for my own health and the information I provide to friends and readers.
What I have learnt is that if you are going to put something into your body, at least some of it might as well be good for you. Good for you by no means has to translate as boring or tasteless. Roast veg and chana dal prove this. When I first scanned the list of acceptable ‘whole foods’ I was a little daunted by the lack of sugar. I used to be a chocolate addict, proudly claiming that I couldn’t go a day without it. Now I don’t even crave chocolate—because I allow myself to have it whenever I want.
Eating healthily is not about deprivation or restriction.
You can pretty much eat whatever you want, whenever you want. And you’ll probably find eventually that you don’t want—you’re too full from all those nutritious ingredients. The mentality that you are allowed to eat also seems to work in a reverse psychology kind of way; everyone wants what they can’t have, so if you can have it, it’s less desirable.
Here is the list of whole foods ingredients to generally follow. If you’re like me, this won’t be too different from your normal shopping list, I had to include more fruit (I actually didn’t like fruit before and had to teach myself—gagging on a banana on the train because of the texture…)
…As opposed to ‘simple carbohydrates’ such as refined white bread, pasta, and rice, which cause a sharp increase in blood sugar causing the body to crave more food. This leads to the cycle of sugar addiction which is often the major problem in gaining weight and other health problems. Instead, rather than restricting yourself with a no-carb diet, swap those pieces of cardboard nutritional value for wholegrains: Brown rice, wholemeal bread, beans, pulses and vegetables.
Protein should be a part of every meal or snack and is not limited to meat as a source. I have recently become a vegetarian and do not notice the absence. Whole food sources of protein are: Eggs, yoghurt, cottage cheese, peas, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, grain, quinoa. Soya and tofu are also in this list but are not generally something I use.
Don’t be scared of fat! It’s okay when it’s coming from the right source. I probably eat on average 2 – 3 tablespoons of nut butter, and extra handfuls of nuts throughout the day. As long as you replace the source of fat in your diet with the right things, rather than just eating them on top of the bad fat (i.e. stirring a handful of nuts into your melted Dairy Milk bar and ice cream) you will be fine.
Butter is also absolutely fine and nothing to be scared of, a little on toast is good for you, heaped tablespoons directly into the mouth is not. (Who does this anyway?) And, like I said before, the lack of restriction will help you to avoid overeating. Other fat sources: Nuts, oils, seeds, fish, avocados.
Generally, the rule is don’t buy anything with an ingredient list of over 3 items, or anything you can’t pronounce. Avoid ‘refined’, ‘reduced fat’, and especially ‘diet’ foods that are filled with sugar, salt and additives.
Another important thing to note is to not worry about following this guide to the letter. I value mental health to an equal rank as physical, and you should not panic in a situation where you can’t access these ingredients. It is NEVER better to go hungry. If you are in need of a meal and only have access to a cheeseburger and chips, eat the cheeseburger and chips and don’t feel bad about it.
Also, if you want to make brownies, make brownies. Your body can handle it, just know that you might want to maintain more restraint when reaching for the second slice, because sugar is addictive. If you are trying to get healthy, try to follow this diet around 60 – 80 per cent of the time. There are so many delicious things to make that it really won’t feel like a diet. In fact, it isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle. There are loads of whole food blogs out there to get you started, and I will generally only post recipes of this nature, but as said above I do still make cakes so don’t be confused if the section posts a recipe that goes against all of this advice. Go with the flow, take a relaxed approach and do not get hung up on reaching an aim. Your goal is to (or to continue to) be happy, so don’t worry. Be happy.
Indulge: Grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, lentils, yoghurt, multigrain/wholewheat bread, beans, eggs, oil, herbal tea.
Inhibit: Greasy takeaways, meat, chips, foods with additives, foods high in sugar, carbonated drinks.