Food is a wonderful thing. It has the ability to heal us, nourish us and to taste gawd damn amazing!
I haven’t always had such a healthy lifestyle, the changes I made to my diet were (and still are) gradual. Before the age of 19 nutrition really did not interest me, you know what did? – Chocolate, cake and biscuits. I was a chocolate fiend who detested any vegetables! So how did my interest in nutrition begin? I always believed that healthy food was a compromise on taste. That changed when I stumbled across some health food blogs when I started cooking for myself. The top 3 being My New Roots, A Tasty Love Story and Green Kitchen Stories – check them out they are great! I found out that I could cook delicious AND healthy food, who knew?! My relationship with food changed gradually and for the better. I no longer felt guilty about eating and I was better able to listen to what my body wanted instead of giving into cravings automatically.
Here are some ideas on how your diet can change for the better. Don’t do them all at once and don’t just take my word as truth, all our bodies are different. Do your own research and trust your own intuition and how your body feels. Make gradual changes in your diet so that you don’t feel like you’re being restricted and instead you can celebrate the idea of nourishing your body. Food is there to be enjoyed and savoured!
1) Stop buying anything ‘white’
By white I mean processed. Swap your white bread for brown wholegrain, swap your pasta for wholegrain or spelt pasta, white rice for brown etc.
Food such as whole wheat and brown rice have been staple foods across the globe for thousands of years and are revered for their high nutrient content. However today during processing the majority of the nutrients are lost so that products have a longer shelf life and are quicker to cook. For example during processing of wheat nutrients such as selenium and magnesium are lost.
A 1996 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that selenium can cut cancer death rates by 50%! Selenium also binds with toxic elements in the body rendering them harmless. As for magnesium, approximately 70% of the US population is believed to be deficient which leads to symptoms such as depression, sleep disorders, PMS and migraines.
2) Cook with coconut oil
So like the majority of the population my guess is you use olive oil for cooking. The problem with olive oil (as well as sunflower and palm) is that it has a low smoke point. The smoke point is the temperature when the molecules in the oil start to break down. During this break down free radicals are produced which are very damaging to the body and are linked to aging as well as cancer and other diseases. To mop up these free radicals you need lots of antioxidants in your diet – found in berries etc. Coconut oil has a very high smoke point so you can use it for pretty much anything and you get a lot less free radicals in you food and of course ending up in your body.
3) To breakfast or not to breakfast!?
There is so much conflicting information out there on whether you should eat breakfast or not so I’ll give you both sides of the story. ‘Breakfast’ is breaking the fast, you haven’t eaten anything for about 12 hours and in that time your body cleans up and gets your digestive system back in working order. This time is important to make sure your digestion is ready to go for the next day. If you had a big meal for dinner, ate fairly late or are getting up very early your body might thank you for skipping breakfast or eating it later.
However if you are doing some exercise in the morning it is important for muscle recovery to eat within an hour afterwards so that you don’t suffer any injuries or fatigue. It has been shown that people who skip breakfast are more likely to put on weight but this could also be because those who eat breakfast in general have a healthier lifestyle. One thing which is certain is that if you are eating breakfast you need to make it a healthy one. A huge part of the population starts the day with sugary cereals stripped of any nutrition. This leads to a huge rise in blood sugar and the start of a roller coaster of appetite and emotions throughout the day. If you are eating breakfast pack it with protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates.
4) Grow your own sprouts
By sprouts I do not mean Brussel sprouts! I mean basically any unprocessed seed, nut or wholegrain which grows into a little seedling aka sprout. We are so disconnected from our food that we forget what we are eating. A seed is in actual fact a tiny capsule containing all the nutrients required to grow into a tree/plant and it is activated by water! Our almonds don’t start sprouting in our cupboards because they haven’t been watered. You can buy a little sprouting kit with shelves or you can use jam jars (a teeny bit more time consuming) to grow your own sprouts. It only takes a few days before they are ready to eat (depending on what you are growing). Cool but what’s the nutritional benefit?
When the seeds are soaked phytic acid is removed which usually interferes with the release of minerals. As the sprout grows enzymes increase which predigest the fats, proteins and starches making digestion much easier. They have cleansing properties and are therefore good for the liver. Not to mention the wide range of available vitamins and minerals. Try alfafa, lentils, chickpeas, sunflower seeds or just experiment with what you have. Sprinkle them on soups, casseroles, into smoothies, wraps or blend them up into a pesto.
5) Cut down on sugar
Sugar is addictive and toxic to the body. A study mentioned in documentary ‘Fed Up’ that 93% lab rats chose sugar water over cocaine! Please see my full blog post on sugar here for the ins and outs of its evil ways! I was / kind of am a chocoholic so my biggest tip is don’t buy it on your weekly shop! If it isn’t in your kitchen you can’t eat a whole bar of chocolate in one sitting. If you really decide you would like something sweet go to the shop and bake something nice or treat yourself in a café. Another tip is to observe your craving with curiosity instead of letting the craving take you over.
6) Cut down on caffeine
Coffee is a confusing one, one minute it’s healthy the next it’s diabolical. As with most things it has some good properties and some bad. Culprit number one is caffeine, that tasty little wakeup call you reach for in the morning. Life is all about balance and the same can be said about the body. If we have a big (or little) high we can expect a low to follow. As we slip down into our caffeine crash that is when we often reach for sugar another coffee or … nap time. Caffeine also disrupts our sleep, for some people even 6 hours before bed so check your watch before you reach for a cup.
Ok, so now let us have a look at tea … I love tea!! Of course there are some varieties of tea with surprisingly high amounts of caffeine so for arguments sake let’s look at herbal teas. Chamomile, ginger, nettle, peppermint, peppermint & liquorice, chai, raspberry leaf … the list goes on. Herbal teas are a great way to stay hydrated while adding therapeutic herbs into your diet.
7) Keep hydrated without damaging your digestion
When I was in India a new concept was introduced to me that we shouldn’t drink water at particular times. It sounds crazy because it has been drummed into us to drink water all the time so we keep hydrated! These were the water guidelines given to me:
- Don’t drink water colder than room temperature
- Drink a litre of water as soon as you wake up
- Don’t drink water an hour before or after eating
Ok you may be freaking out but it kind of makes sense. When we drink water we are diluting the stomach acid which we need for digestion. Making the stomach cold also decreases its ability to digest well since heat helps molecules break down. If you are thirsty before or after a meal drink tea since although you are diluting the stomach acid you are heating up the contents of the stomach aiding in digestion. Or, dare I say it, have a tipple, wine is acidic and helps the breakdown of food. No need to go setting timers or refuse yourself water when you’re thirsty, just bear it in mind. As for drinking a litre of water upon waking, we are dehydrated after 8ish hours of no liquid and dehydration often leads to that groggy feeling in the morning.
8) Eat mindfully
We are so disconnected from our food these days. In the past, peoples food came from the ground dug up by their own hands or their neighbours hands from local and natural soil. Now our food is bought in supermarkets which arrived often from across the world and is highly processed. How many times have you looked at the ingredients on a packet of food to see over 20 ingredients! It is mind boggling to then try and consider where each of those ingredients was grown, what type of soil they were grown in (pesticides etc.) and who harvested them.
It is even more important when we are buying animal products to then take into account the treatment of the animal, how it was fed and the hormones or antibiotics pumped into them. Only once we have really thought about these things can we truly be grateful when we eat. Thanking all the hands involved in getting that food onto your plate and perhaps even acknowledging the life that was spared. Not only can we be thankful but we can then make more informed decisions about what we buy and think twice when picking up potatoes grown in Spain when we have plenty of potatoes grown in the UK. There is a huge amount of satisfaction in cooking a dish from scratch and knowing every ingredient that was involved and perhaps even knowing where each ingredient came from.
Mindfulness goes beyond knowing what we’re eating. Mindfulness is also about the eating experience. Really look at it, feel the textures in your mouth, really taste your food. If we try and eat in this way we eat slower, enjoy our food more and are conscious enough to realise when we are full.
Probiotics are a huge topic of current research and it is soooo interesting!
Our body is made up of more cells of bacteria than our own human cells!!!! We are more bacteria than human. The collective bacteria in our body is called our microbiome. There are many different types of bacteria in the microbiome which inhabit different places, the most densely populated area is our gut. In our gut many bacteria help us to digest our food by breaking food down into more digestible components. Some bacteria even release important vitamins during this breakdown. If we have more of these helpful bacteria in our gut there is less space for nasty bacteria or yeasts to live. This is why I am recommending taking probiotics – a daily supplement of a variety of about 5 billion living bacteria. More help with digestion and protection of the gut.
The really crazy bit is that studies have shown that our microbiome effects our mind. Illnesses such as obesity, depression, schizophrenia and reckless behaviour have been linked to the bacteria residing in us. A lot more research needs to be done and at this stage there is little research recommending particular strains of bacteria. The better supplements provide a range of bacteria. I can highly recommend the book ‘Gut’ by Guila Enders.
10) Cut down on animal products
All animal products contain cholesterol which increases the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. Not all animal products are considered equal, we have all heard that red meat and processed meat are bad for us. In fact, (shockingly) red and processed meat have been classified as carcinogenic due to the risk of colorectal cancer by the World Health Organisation. Animal products are higher in calories and less nutritionally dense as vegetables, fruits and pulses. As you reduce animal products from the diet you are hopefully going to replace them with healthier alternatives. As a result vegans have been shown to have a 33% reduced risk of premature death!
This is an article on health but of course I’ll take this moment to remind you of the environmental and ethical reasons for cutting down on animal products – read why I am vegan here.
So there you have it! I hope you enjoyed reading my 10 steps to health. These aren’t necessarily the 10 most important tips (I’m sure I’ve forgotten something vital!) but they are certainly a good start.
All the best,