Building The Foundations Of A Healthy Diet

I've just returned from my first clinical dietetics placement, and it has given me a wonderful insight into the meaningful and rewarding work that dietitians do, but also highlighted to me how confused people are about what to eat. One common question I was asked was "what do you think I should be eating?" or "Tell me what to do and I'll do it". But unfortunately, it's not always that simple. There isn't one key way of eating that will prevent you from disease, make you reach your dream weight, control your current medical conditions, or anything else that you are wanting to achieve. There is not one diet that will work for everyone, because we are all so different! We all have different likes and dislikes, different budgets and cooking abilities, our genetics are all different, and we all have different goals. Some of us are looking to lose weight, some want to gain weight, some want help managing diabetes, or digestive disorders, or cholesterol levels, and the list goes on. And as we all have different goals, we all need individualised nutrition advice, that relates specifically to you and your goals and your lifestyle, and is something that you will be able to keep doing for the long haul, and that is where the very important role of a dietitian comes in.     

In saying this though, there certainly are more general ways in which we can build the foundations to having a healthy diet. These foundations can be adapted to your life and goals, to help form a way of eating that not only promotes good health, but you will be able to stick to for the rest of your life. Which in the short term can help with things like digestion, energy levels, and mood, and in the long term can help reduce the risk of developing any number of lifestyle related diseases. So here it is, my five foundations of a healthy diet. 

1 - Base your diet around fruit and veg - vegetables are truly fabulous! They are filled with a range of different vitamins and minerals, which support all of the essential functions that our body does everyday. They are also loaded with fibre, which keeps our digestive system healthy, and fills us up without adding excess energy to our meals. They are also delicious, and there are endless vegetable options so you never need to get bored. Here are a few ways to help you enjoy eating your veggies, if you need assistance in this department. A great way to make sure you're eating enough, is to fill half of your plate with colourful veggies at least two of your meals, then to have a couple of pieces of fruit as snacks. Below are some different ways in which I have enjoyed eating my veggies recently. 

2. Add lean protein and a source of smart carbohydrates to all meals - our bodies need a variety of different nutrients everyday in order to function optimally, that means that while basing our diets around fruit and veg is a good place to start it's not the whole picture. Eating lean protein (think chicken, fish, beef, lamb, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, etc) at all meals helps to fill us up and also helps us feel satisfied after eating. Protein also acts as a building block for muscles, so is essential in the continuous repair that occurs for the body's tissues, organs and muscles.

Smart carbohydrates are the types of carbohydrates that are: filled with more nutrition that other types of carbohydrates (for example white bread versus a dark grainy loaf); wholegrain, meaning they still contains the bran, germ and endosperm of the grain, this is important as there is extra nutrition in the outer layers of the grain (b vitamins, fibre, and some antioxidants); and they are lower GI, meaning that the carbohydrate is more slowly digested and provides a slower and more stable release of energy. Examples of smart carbs are: grainy breads, oats, pasta, corn, sweet potato, long grain brown, basmati or Doongara rice, and quinoa. As we can see from the above these foods are important to include in our meals as they contain lots of essential nutrients, fibre to fill us up and for good bowel function, and are a good source of fuel for our body and brain. As you can see from the above photos, all of my meals contain lots of veggies, but also some carbohydrates and protein to keep my plate balanced. 

3. Choose mostly minimally processed foods - the processing of food is not bad, it has revolutionised the way we eat and ensures we are able to have lots of different foods year round, think canned or frozen fruits and vegetables. Milk has been processed to kill bacteria that can cause spoilage and human disease, bread is processed to make the grains easier to digest (and tastier!), and meat is processed to make it easier to cook with (eg. chicken breast, beef mince etc.). All of these types of foods I would call minimally processed, they have gone through processing yes, but this processing has made the food more nutritious, safer to eat, and easier to cook with. These are the types of food that we should be eating most of the time, fruit and veg (fresh, frozen or canned with no added salt is perfectly fine), dairy products, grains, meat and animal products (if you choose to eat them), and healthy fats and oils (avocado, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds). The more heavily processed items such as: chips, biscuits, two-minute noodles, rice crackers, lollies, soft drinks, white bread, etc. don't provide much in the way of nutrition, and should be eaten in smaller amounts on occasions, not everyday. 


4. Eat regularly - eating regularly is a great habit to get into, it ensures our bodies are regularly being provided with calories and nutrients, which helps to keep our energy levels stable and prevents feeling tired and foggy. It can also prevent overeating when we finally do sit down for a meal, as we are inevitably ravenously hungry, or reaching for the lollies, chocolates, donuts, etc. when we are feeling low on energy. Waiting too long between meals is not a good strategy especially if wanting to lose weight, as our choices when we are over-hungry tend to be high energy convenience foods, and tend to not align with our health goals. A good way to start doing this is to make sure you are prepared with portable snacks (fruit, nuts, vita-weats and cheese, peanut butter sandwich on grainy bread), to prevent you going too long with out food and making poor choices. Here is a post I wrote a while ago about healthy snacks. 

5. Don't sweat the small stuff! Try and eat to your appetite most of the time but try not to sweat it when you overindulge on pizza at dinner or eat birthday cake at a party. Food is there to provide our bodies with nutrition, but it is also there to provide us with connection to others, and an opportunity to socialise, which is like nutrition for the soul! Yes, try to make the best food choices for you and your body most of the time, but when you are at a special occasion or out with friends, just enjoy yourself, your company and your food and try not to stress about the food you are eating (this isn't necessarily relevant to allergies and intolerances). Stressing about the food has much more of a negative effect on the body than eating chocolate cake one time, so try to enjoy the food you choose to eat and then be done with it and save your mental space for more important matters.   

What are the foundations to your healthy diet? I'd be very interested to find out in the comments section below.  

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