With medical and scientific knowledge constantly being updated there is often confusion regarding which foods are good for us and which to avoid. It even sometimes seems like experts contradict themselves. But one principle will always stand: unprocessed, wholesome foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables and wholegrains will always be healthier for us than processed foods such as chips, pastries, processed meats and sugary snacks. Balance is the key, as with anything in life, and so I like to prescribe eating by the 80/20 rule.
By this I mean that 80 per cent of your daily diet ideally should be made up of unprocessed, wholesome foods. These foods come in their own original packaging made by nature – peels, skins, shells or outer leaves. They either grow in the ground, grow on trees, or come from animals. They are not processed, do not contain artificial flavours, colours, preservatives or sweeteners. These are the foods that were made for human consumption and lead to good health. They provide the nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals needed to protect us from chronic diseases. They also give us energy rather than steal energy from us. In essence this should be our fuel source most of the time.
The other 20 per cent of our diet can be made up of the other foods we enjoy in moderation including the high sugar, salt and fatty foods, as well as alcohol. In small amounts these types of foods are fine but in large amounts they can make you disease-prone, cause diabetes, heart disease and strokes, and can make you overweight. In large quantities these types of foods will also make you fatigued and prone to high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Sadly, many people consume food in the opposite way to the ratio and eat mostly processed foods and very little fresh, wholesome produce.
I would often share this principle at The Biggest Loser Retreat, when I worked there as the health consultant, with mixed responses. Often there was a sense of relief that the secret to eating healthily could be simplified to one basic principle yet, on the other hand, there was disbelief that eating healthily could really be so simple. It doesn’t need to be overcomplicated and difficult – just following the 80/20 rule when it comes to making food choices is a major positive step in the right direction. If we overcomplicate or over restrict our diet we risk becoming overwhelmed and give up trying.
Essential Components of Healthy Eating
Fruits and vegetables – It is an established fact that the more fruits and vegetables we eat the lower our chance of heart disease, cancer and many other health problems. Try as best you can to buy fresh, seasonal produce rather than frozen or canned. Saying that, if you have to make a choice of eating frozen/canned vegetables/fruit or no vegetables/fruit due to budget constraints or remote location then of course you
would choose the former. Try and eat vegetables lightly steamed or raw (not fried), because food in its natural state has all its enzymes. Enzymes are the chemical spark plugs in our bodies that start or speed up chemical processes that help our bodies with things like our digestion. There is no one better fruit or vegetable than another. Enjoy all kinds and eat a variety.
Starches – Starches contain carbohydrates and include grains and starchy vegetables such as potato, corn, carrots, peas and sweet potato, as well as legumes and beans. Our bodies need carbohydrates to create energy and a sense of well-being, but in excess they can raise our insulin levels, which can eventually lead to Type 2 Diabetes. Choose unprocessed varieties such as wholegrain breads, whole-wheat pasta, quinoa, millet, amaranth, buckwheat and brown Basmati or Dongara rice. Do avoid eating too many ‘white’ starches including white bread, white rice, pastries, biscuits and crackers made from white flour. When baking opt for wholemeal flour, almond meal, spelt or
Dairy – Do choose unsweetened dairy products such as plain Greek yoghurt rather than flavoured. Limit cheese to occasional serves of hard and soft cheeses and opt instead for ricotta, cottage or feta cheese. As for milk, I do not recommend drinking unpasteurised milk as this has been linked to potentially life-threatening conditions especially for the young, elderly, pregnant, and sick. Some individuals find they can better digest A2 milk and others do better on lactose-free milk. Both of these are fine to drink. If you are intolerant to all dairy choose unsweetened rice, oat, almond, or soy milk. There is some concern that soy milk may lead to problems with thyroid function after long-term use. Due to this concern limit soy milk to occasional use and opt for one of the other dairy-free alternatives. If you are dairy intolerant, other
sources of high-calcium foods include tinned sardines, tinned salmon, broccoli, and green leafy vegetables such as spinach and bok choy.
Protein – Try cutting down on processed meats like salami and packaged meat slices, which can contain high-levels of cancer-causing agents known as nitrosamines and opt instead for hormone-free, free-range chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, or fresh fish. Lightly grill, bake, steam, boil, or lightly stir-fry your meat rather than smoke, chargrill or barbeque as these processes have been linked with increased risk of bowel cancer. Avoid shark (flake) and swordfish as they have some of the highest levels of mercury and pesticides of any fish in the sea. Men, limit your intake of red meat as men who consume high amounts of red meat increase their chances of prostate cancer by two three
Eggs – Eggs are a good source of protein and contain plenty of vitamins and minerals, as well as beneficial substances like choline, needed for cell membrane synthesis, and lutein, needed for protection of our eyes. Eggs were once thought to greatly elevate cholesterol levels but this does not seem to be the case. I recommend eating around 4–6 eggs per week. Do choose free-range or organic eggs, which often have
a higher omega-3 content than caged chicken eggs. Boil or poach your eggs rather than fry them.
Fats – Have some good fats in your diet as your body needs some fat to survive. The right type of fats in the right amounts is important for your heart, brain, skin, hair and hormone production. Include a small amount of healthy fats found in avocados, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds, as well as in oily fish like salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel and sardines. Keep in mind that tuna, especially the larger
yellow-fin tuna, contains higher levels of mercury than the other oily fish, so limit this particular variety.
Also keep in mind that olive oil is not the best oil to cook with as it has a low smoke point; meaning that when used for cooking at high heat it quickly starts to smoke and produce some toxic chemicals that have been linked to cancer formation. Choose instead to save olive oil for adding to your salads or vegetables as a dressing and cook instead with oils that have a high smoke point. These oils include grape seed oil, rice bran oil, macadamia nut oil, and avocado oil.
Health FACT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Unprocessed, wholesome foods contain the vital nutrients, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and fibre our body needs to function well.