Sunday 18 March 2018

10 food changes that will transform your health

As part of the Irish Independent New You campaign, consultant nutritionist Gaye Godkin has devised a four-part tutorial on turning your health around through better food choices. In week one, 10 simple food rules for a longer, healthier life

Healthy Food
Healthy Food

Food is a gift from nature. Making healthy food choices is your best health plan for the new year. We all have a relationship with food, for some it is comfort and others it is purely functional, just refueling to keep going. You might give some thought to what is your own relationship with food, do I live to eat or eat to live? Food is not simply fuel to keep going. Every day we need to nourish the body to keep it well and free from disease. So aim to feed it with good quality foods to enjoy better health in 2016.

Don't 'Diet'

If your goal is to lose weight after the Christmas excess, refrain from using the word 'diet' this may trick your mind into thinking you're lacking something. Focus on eating healthy foods and eliminating processed foods. Eat regularly and don't allow yourself to get hungry. Aim to eat three meals per day plus two snacks. Snack on fruit. Choose fruit that are lower in fruit sugar such as apples, pears, plums, berries fresh or frozen.

Try to eat at least one apple per day . Apples are full of digestive enzymes and fibre to support a healthy digestive system. Nuts and natural yoghurt are also healthy snacking foods. A portion of nuts is 10-12. The better nuts to eat are walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts. Cashew and brazil nuts are higher in calories so six to eight is sufficient.

Many people are time poor and find cooking a chore

So shop and plan your meals and prepare food in advance. Batch cook stews, curries, roast vegetables, casseroles and soups. These freeze very well and are great winter-warming foods. We are now in cold and flu season so the body needs food to keep it warm and fight off bugs and colds. The immune system needs the support of good quality fuel. Incorporate strong flavours from spices and herbs such as chillies, ginger, garlic, turmeric, dried oregano, fresh and dried parsley, cinnamon, cloves and star anise. All of these contain plant chemicals which support the immune system and add delicious flavours to foods.

Increase your consumption of fruit and vegetables

We are advised to eat five pieces of fruit and vegetables per day. However Harvard School of Public Health recommend seven-plus portions with five portions being vegetables. Fruit and vegetables contain plant chemicals that support the body's immune system, reduce the incidence of certain cancers and are packed full of nutrients. Focus on vegetables in particular, they are the most promising when it comes to positive health outcomes. Aim to consume vegetables at lunch and dinner. Vegetables or salads should make up 50pc of your plate.

Certain vegetables are better for us cooked than raw. Carrots, beetroot, squash, peppers and sweet potatoes roasted are higher in certain nutrients when cooked. We are very fortunate to have such a mild climate in Ireland that lends itself to growing root vegetables and cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, kale, sprouts, broccoli and turnip throughout the winter. Cruciferous vegetables support the liver function which may be struggling after the Christmas excess. Aim to have some raw food every day such as grated white cabbage, fennel, carrots and celery with a salad at lunchtime.

Reduce caffeine

Replace with tea and herbal teas. Caffeine disrupts blood glucose levels and interferes with blood sugar balancing. While caffeine gives the initial buzz, it creates a feeling of hunger when blood sugars go low. In the body, caffeine triggers the release of a stress hormone called adrenaline. The body goes into fight flight mode and is not in a relaxed state. Better food choices are made when we are calm and relaxed, we are more mindful of hunger and satiety cues and more likely to choose the healthier option. Caffeine is best consumed early in the morning after breakfast and not on an empty stomach.

Increase your consumption of water

The body is made up of between 70-80pc water. Dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches and skin issues. Working indoors in an air-conditioned heated office can lead to dehydration. Always have a bottle of water on the desk and sip on. To facilitate a healthy digestive system, we need many litres of water circulating to digest foods. It is a good idea to drink a glass of water before eating. Try not to drink water with food as this dilutes the digestive juices. During the wintertime, warming drinks are better for the body than very cold drinks.

Become aware of your salt intake

Naturally occurring salts in food are no harm. If you eat a wholefood diet devoid of processed foods, salt will not be an issue for you. Sodium is essential for the body. However most Irish people are consuming far too much salt. Salt is in all processed foods. Bread is high in salt. Foods such as processed meats, sausages, bacon, pudding, pizza, crisps, cheese, corn snacks, soya sauce and pickles are very high in salt.

Chinese take-away foods are particularly high in sodium, so avoid them. Having less sodium in your diet may help you lower or avoid high blood pressure. People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke. Black pepper is a great alternative to salt and full of immuno-protective antioxidants. It contains piperine which is a potent antioxidant. So use liberally when cooking and when serving food.

Aim to increase fish in the diet

Eating fish three times per week confers major health benefits. Fish is full of omega 3 which is an essential fat that the body cannot make. If you suffer with seasonally affected depression, increase your oily fish intake. Oily fish contain DHA which is a component of omega 3. The brain is made up of 33pc DHA. Omega 3 is also cardio protective and a potent anti-inflammatory.

The best sources are; anchovies, sardines, mackerel, trout, salmon and tuna.

Tinned fish contains less omega 3 than fresh but it a good choice. Smoked fish is also high in omega 3. This time of year, fish pie or fish casserole is a very healthy nutritious meal, fresh or frozen fish works equally well for casseroles. Fish is also an excellent source of protein. The protein in fish support skin health in particular.

Focus on the plant kingdom

Aim to include something green on your plate every day. Experiment with pulses. We don't have a tradition of eating pulses and beans in Ireland. Pulses are an excellent source of protein. They are low in calories, packed full of fibre called prebiotics. Prebiotics feed the healthy bugs in the gut. If you suffer with a digestive health issue such as irritable bowel syndrome, be aware that pulses may exacerbate the symptoms. Introduce them slowly and chew well.

When cooking pulses, soak overnight and cook well. Always discard the cooking water. Alternatively, you can buy them canned and pre-cooked in tins. Rinse well when cooked and add to stews, casseroles, soups, curries and tagines.

Reduce alcohol

Alcohol is liquid sugar. In one bottle of wine, there is between 600 and 900 kcals. The higher the alcohol content the more sugar and calories are available to the body. Alcohol has a strange effect on the body even though it is converted to sugar, it lowers blood glucose levels. This in turn triggers a hunger sensation and the desire to snack on crisps, breads, chips, pies, pizza and take-away foods.

Choose a wine that is 12-12.5pc to reduce the calorie content. Alcohol dehydrates the body very quickly. Alcohol contains seven calories per gram and when you drink the body recognises its by-products as toxins and chooses to break these down first over the nutrients in food. Alcohol is broken down rapidly into glucose which the body stores as fat.

* Next Monday, week two: food tips for healthy children

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