As nutritional therapists, we know that there is an awful lot of confusing and conflicting advice out there about what we should be eating in order to be healthy. The truth is that while it would be convenient if there really was one perfect diet for everyone, what you eat just isn’t and shouldn’t be a one size fits all approach. We are all individual biochemically and have different needs when it comes to the amount and types of food we should be eating, and our nutritional needs vary over the course of our lifetime.
Starting from a basic standpoint, children’s nutritional needs are very different from those of an adult, women’s needs are different from men’s, pregnant women’s needs are different from those of non-pregnant women, elderly people’s needs are different still. Add in other factors such as stress, exercise, genetic variations, food allergies and sensitivities, illness and disease, all of which can change nutritional needs again, and while it may be confusing, it also starts to make sense that we shouldn’t all be eating the same diet in order to be healthy.
There are many different diets out there, such as intermittent fasting, the big brand diet clubs, the paleo diet, the blood type diet, the Mediterranean diet, the Atkins diet – some of these diets are nutritious and work miraculously for some people, but do nothing for others. Some are hard to follow long term and many are downright harmful to health. Added to that, you can’t turn on the TV or pick up a magazine these days without being told you shouldn’t be eating something that used to be a super food, or vice versa – it’s no wonder we’re all confused.
Those with health problems or more specific nutritional needs may benefit from seeing a nutritional therapist for tailored help, but on the whole things are far more complicated than they need to be. We’ve forgotten the very basics of how and what to eat, and a large part of this problem lies in the avalanche of processed foods now available to us. Many of the most popular and prolific diet clubs around even promote their own branded processed foods as part of their programmes. There is a hugely profitable food industry making a very tidy profit from the foods they manufacture to tempt us with. Despite what the labels might claim, none of it is prepared to keep you healthy, especially those that claim to be low-fat or low-calorie, two outdated health claims now thankfully losing ground. Sugar-free is another very deceptive term, as the sugars and sweeteners included are often just as damaging to health than sugar, if not more so. What these food manufacturers really want you to do is spend your money, that’s all. And when it comes to food, instead of thinking about how nourishing a food is, we have become focused instead on how we can save time and money and of course, lose weight.
We evolved over millions of years eating foods found in nature – predominantly meat, fish, nuts and seeds, vegetables and fruit. It wasn’t until the agricultural revolution that cereal grains and dairy products became an ever-increasing part of our diets, and then following the industrial revolution, processed foods became more widely available. The trouble is, our bodies just haven’t caught up yet, we evolve incredibly slowly and while we may look different in many ways than we did millions of years ago, we are still the same as those primitive people on the inside.
It’s no coincidence that rates of diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disease, depression and anxiety have increased dramatically since these processed foods became mainstays of our diet. Remember that what you eat is all your body has to go on to then carry out its huge array of complicated biochemical processes. Real food is a pleasure to eat, and it contains nutrients, slow releasing carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats needed to fuel bodily functions. Processed foods, on the other hand, tend to be nutritionally empty, instead containing high levels of sugar, salt, additives and unhealthy fats. It’s not difficult to see how health can deteriorate if processed foods feature heavily in the diet.
Good food doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming, but most of us need to rethink its place in our lives, moving it right to the top of our list of priorities if we want to be well. This may mean spending a bit more time getting organised – making lists and planning meals for the week, and also a little more money spent buying good quality food. So next time you go shopping…
– Avoid the inside aisles and instead spend more time around the edges of a supermarket – it’s there you will find the real foods – fresh fruit, vegetables, salads, meat and fish.
– Go for fresh food that hasn’t changed much from its natural state, for example a pear in the shop still looks the same as it did when it hung on the tree, whereas a crisp has been processed considerably compared to a potato.
– Remember also that real food goes bad as there are no preservatives to extend their shelf lives, so get smaller amounts and shop more regularly.
– Choose fresh unprocessed cuts of meat and fish instead of those coated in breadcrumbs or batter.
– Be experimental with your fresh food choices each week as variety keep things interesting and delivers a wider range of nutrients.
– Choose lots of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, such as berries, tomatoes, peppers, dark green leafy salads and vegetables, which contain plenty of nutrients and antioxidants for protection against oxidative damage. Buy enough to cover half your plate at dinnertime every day, and ideally include some at lunchtime too.
– Consider getting an organic vegetable box every week or visit your local farmers market instead of the supermarket, that way you support the local growers and it’s often cheaper.
– Avoid refined vegetable and sunflower oils in plastic bottles, cook with coconut oil or butter instead.
– Avoid foods that claim to be low fat, low calorie or without added sugar without looking carefully at the label. Low fat and low calorie foods tend to be higher in additives and sugar, and sugar-free foods tend to contain artificial sweeteners or lots of fruit sugar, neither of which are healthy.
– Try to squeeze some fresh food into your breakfast every day, such as berries, avocado and tomatoes. See our ‘what nutritionists eat for breakfast‘ series for inspiration.
– Some foods are really worth buying organic if you can, see this list.
Let us know what you think about processed foods or if you’ve made the switch to a healthier diet.