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Simple Steps to Healthy Eating

Updated: Feb 13, 2020

About four months into the Health Coach Training Programme, I have learned a range of dietary theories including Raw Food, Vegan, Vegetarian, Zone, Atkins with many more different theories to come for the rest of the year. I've also learned a great deal about Dietary Fats, Proteins and Carbohydrates, how to buy organic and the least contaminated foods, and focus on nutrient dense foods. I've also become more mindful about non-food aspects or primary foods such as relationships, physical activities, quality of sleep and self-care.

The programme places an emphasize on bio-individuality and aspects of life other than the food we put into our bodies. Each individual should have a unique way of progressing his or her own wellness goals.

1. Bio-individuality

One person's food is another's poison. A vegan diet may work amazingly for your friend, but maybe your digestive system cannot handle it as well and you get gassy after consuming grains and beans. There is no one magic diet that fits all. Everyone needs to experiment what works best for himself or herself. Even what used to work for you may not be effective anymore as you get older or as your circumstances change. Your own bio-individuality also changes over time. Just think about how differently you eat on a work day versus the weekend, in the summer versus winter, as a child versus as an adult. We should adapt our individual diets based on our daily routine, activity levels, energy requirements, age, gender, culture, occupation and where we live.

2. Primary Foods

Primary foods include Relationships, Career, Physical Activities and Spirituality, as well as many other aspects such as Social Life, Joy, Creativity, Education, Finance, Health, Home Cooking, Home Environment. These are often the more important aspects than the foods that we eat. If your primary foods are out of balance, no amount of kale or broccoli or supplements could make you better.

For example, someone may have sugar cravings or suffer from emotional eating due to stress at work or relationship issues. Digging into the root cause of these issues and finding balance in primary foods is often a good place to start a process to a healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle.

Some common themes in healthy eating lifestyles

Having learned a handful of dietary theories, I have noted some common themes across healthy eating lifestyle:

1. Eat Real Foods

Choose real, single ingredient foods without packaging or nutrition labels. Good examples include seasonally fresh and ideally organic fruits and vegetables. These include grass-fed or pasture-raised beef, lamb, pork, poultry and eggs, grass-fed whole-milk, butter and cheese, wild fish rather than farmed fish raised with hormones and antibiotics.

Grass-fed and pasture-raised meat and eggs are better because the animals are raised in more humane conditions, free of hormone and antibiotics. These animals likely enjoy better health due to greater biodiversity than under conventional free-range environment. So will you if you eat grass-fed rather than grain- or corn-fed meat and produce!

Traditional fats such as lard, beef tallow, grass-fed butter, olive oil, palm oil and coconut oil can be full of nutrients and antioxidants. Saturated animal fats are full of vitamins A, D, E and K2. Many of these vitamins are fat soluble so dietary fats actually help absorption of these vitamins. Saturated coconut oil is plant-based, antibacterial and antifungal. Monounsaturated fats in avocado, nuts and seeds help maintain both HDL and LDL cholesterol levels. Omega-3 is polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) that are found in salmon, mackerel, tuna as well as flax and chia seeds. Omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation and promote heart health. Olive oil is a great source of antioxidants and anti-inflammation benefits.

The key is to focus on natural foods that come without any nutrition label, food that your great grandmother would recognize, and food that will eventually rot. Even for packaged foods, try to seek out those with only a few ingredients, and ingredients that you recognize with minimal amount of additives and preservatives.

2. Crowd Out Sugar and Refined Carbohydrates

Processed foods often contain a lot of refined carbohydrates, wheat and corn, hydrogenated oils, sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to help food taste better and more shelf-stable. Not to mention other additives such as colorings, flavorings and preservatives.

So why is fructose bad?

Unlike glucose which can be metabolised and used up by every cell in the body including the brain, fructose can only be metabolised by the liver. Any fructose that is not metabolised is stored directly as fat by the liver, with the rest as fatty acids in the muscles leading to insulin resistance. The pancreas then reacts by producing even more insulin, leading to high blood pressure, more fat storage (obesity), greater risk of diabetes and metabolic diseases. High levels of insulin prevent the brain from seeing the satiety hormone leptin so the brain thinks the body is starving, encouraging even more consumption. Fructose is metabolised in such a way the leptin signal is not picked up by the brain, this means we can drink a lot of cola or fruit juices without feeling full. The leptin signal also fails to switch off the reward mechanism which in turns makes fructose even more addictive.

What about whole-grain bran cereals?

I used to totally buy into the idea that "whole-grain" bran cereals were healthy because they were "full of fibre and fortified with vitamin D and calcium". In fact, many of the fibres in the original whole grains are removed during the manufacturing process to make the product more shelf-stable. Breakfast cereals also contain a lot of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, GM crops, hydrogenated oils, colourings and preservatives. Cellulose fibres are often added back to the product, these are just like "cardboards" without the benefit of micronutrients that comes with the original whole grains.

By the way, I am not saying no to whole grains because they are still an important part of most diets. I just hope that we can make a distinction from the highly processed, sugar laden cereals with colourful packaging and 'heart healthy' or similar health claims labels.

What about low fat yoghurt?

Low-fat yoghurt is another example of disguised health food. A 5.3-oz (150g) cup of low fat yoghurt could easily contain the same amount of sugar as a can of soda. For instance, there is 25g of sugar in 5.3oz (150g) of Danone Fruit on the Bottom Low-Fat Yoghurt, 19g of sugar in 6 oz. (170g) of Yoplait Original Strawberry Yogurt 33g in 1 can of Coca Cola). Many nutrients and taste contained in the fat natural yoghurt are removed in the process of making it low-fat, so food manufacturers add sugar to make the products more palatable and shelf stable. If bacteria don't want to eat that yoghurt, why should you? If we were to choose full-fat yoghurt, the protein and fat in the yoghurt would turn on the hormone leptin to signal to the brain that the body is full, which will stop us from having more.

How to do this?

A key recommendation to avoiding sugar is to choose real, single pieces of food, or food that is as close to its original, natural form as possible. For example, eat a whole apple rather than drinking apple juice. Whilst there is fructose in apples, the whole apple will come along with water and fibres which will fill you up more quickly and blunt the release of sugar into your bloodstream, causing less of an insulin spike. When you have yoghurt, choose full-fat unsweetened instead of low or non-fat with added sugar, because dietary fat is more satiating and causes much less sugar or insulin spike.

3. Dietary Fibres

Dietary fibres are carbohydrates that provide zero caloric value and pass through our gastrointestinal tract undigested and unabsorbed. Increased dietary fibre intake is associated with improved gut bacteria flora.

Fibres are usually found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. Fibres also come in many different forms, soluble and insoluble, some are fermentable (i.e. can be metabolised by bacteria) while others such as cellulose and psyllium fibres are not. Prebiotics dietary fibres, such as resistant starch and inulin found in bananas, artichokes, onions and leeks, are beneficial as these can be metabolized by our gut bacteria and promote microbial diversity.

Cellulose fibres are poorly fermented by gut microbes and are often added to bran cereals by food manufacturers. They help bulk up our stool and help constipation but contain no prebiotic benefits mentioned above. Psyllium fibres are not fermented by bacteria but they are highly soluble and become viscous in the intestine to slow absorption of sugar and provide better glycemic control.

What happens to the fibre in juicing as opposed to blending fruits and vegetables?

Juicing separates the juice from the bulk and leaves soluble fibre in the juice, this allows for quicker and easier absorption of water soluble vitamins such as B and C. Blending fruits and vegetables keeps both soluble and insoluble fibres in the juice. The insoluble fibre helps to slow digestion which will keep you full for longer and allow for a more sustained energy release. Dietary fibre intake is often a great way to blunt the increase in blood sugar level after a meal and help with weight control.

A few easy steps to better health

To close out this blog, I'd like to share a few simple steps to help all of us move towards healthier eating and lifestyle. Feel free to choose any one (or more) step(s) at a time and implement these changes at your own pace. You can do them in no particular order, take as much time as you need and decide what works best for you.

Good luck and enjoy!

1. Drink more water 💦🚰💧💦

2. Practice cooking 👨‍🍳🥘 🍳

3. Experiment with whole grains 🌾🍚🍘🌾

4. Increase sweet vegetables 🥕🍅🍆🌽🍠

5. Increase leafy vegetables 🥦🥗🥦🥗🥦

6. Experiment with protein 🍗🍖🥩🧀🥚🍳🍣🐟

7. Eat fewer processed foods 🥫🍔🌭🍟🥞🍩

8. Make a habit of nurturing your body 💅🏻💆‍♀️💆‍♂️🛀🏻🛁😌🧘‍♀️🧘‍♂️🏝🏖

9. Have healthy relationships 💖💑👨‍👩‍👦‍👦👨‍👦‍👦👨‍❤️‍💋‍👨

10. Enjoy regular physical activities 🏃‍♂️ 🏃🏻‍♀️ 💃🏻🕺🏼🏊🏻‍♂️🤽🏼‍♂️🏄🏻‍♀️🏌🏻‍♂️⛹🏻‍♂️🤼‍♂️🤺🏋🏻‍♀️🚴‍♀️🧗‍♀️🚣‍♀️

11. Find work you love 👩🏻‍🔬👩🏼‍🎨👩🏼‍🚒👩🏼‍✈️👨🏼‍🚀👨🏼‍⚖️🎅🏼🧛🏻‍♂️🧝🏼‍♂️🧜🏻‍♂️🧞‍♂️🧚🏻‍♂️👩🏼‍🏫👨🏻‍🎓👩🏼‍🔧

12. Develop a spiritual practice 💒⛪️🕌🕍🕋⛩🔮🎋🐉

References and additional reading:

1. Sugar: The bitter truth

Video lecture by Dr. Lustig, 30 Jul 2009

2. Dietary fibre rand prebiotics and the gastrointestinal microbiota

3. 12 Steps to Better Health

Institute of Integrative Nutrition

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