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Food for thought ... eat your way to good health

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Food is fuel. It provides us with the daily energy we need to get out of bed in the morning, to go to work, to go to the gym, and to socialise at the weekends.

But that's not all. The food we eat - or don't eat - also has a massive impact on our health. A poor diet, in conjunction with a sedentary lifestyle, will lead to chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer.

Nutritious food enhances our health, prevents diseases, and supports a strong body. If you get your nutrition dialled in then you will feel and look better then you could have ever imagined.

Empower Yourself

In order to choose the best foods, we must first have some understanding about what defines good nutrition. If we know what nutrients we need, why we need them, and where we can get them from for optimal health, then we can make better food choices.

We need to take respon sibility for our own actions, quit looking for external factors to blame, accept that we are the only ones who can successfully control our behaviours.

Imagine the following scenario:

* We have no taste buds and food didn't taste good or give us great pleasure.

* We didn't eat to fill an emotional gap or to avoid facing difficult feelings.

*  We didn't eat out of boredom.

*  There was no two for the price of one sale on Pringles.

*  We never socialised or dined out.

* What if we ate purely for the benefit of our physical health.

In this Fantasy Island scenario, what should we eat and why?

Eat to Nourish

When we eat, we take in nutrients from out food that are necessary for three things:

1.To provide us with energy

2.To support growth, development, and repair our bodies

3.To help our bodies run as smoothly as possible by maintaining optimal health

Some nutrients are essential. That means that they must be obtained from our diet as our bodies cannot make them itself. They are essential to support life and to keep you alive.

Other nutrients are non-essential. They are not essential to keep you alive, but they do have health promoting properties.

Carbohydrates, fats, and carbs (called macronutrients) are the nutrients that give us energy and are the building blocks of our body. They need to be eaten in large amounts. Vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) don't provide energy but they help the body to function at its best.

Carbohydrates are our main source of energy. They include sugars, such as table sugar, fruit, milk, and starches such as those in vegetables and grains.

How much carbohydrates you should eat depends on your body size and activity levels. If your activity level is higher then eat more carbs. If your activity level is lower then eat less carbs.

Some of the most nutrient dense sources of carbohydrates include; all vegetables and fruits, quinoa, white and sweet potatoes, legumes, beans, lentils, all types of rice, oats, whole grains or sprouted grains such as spelt or rye.

Fibre is also a carbohydrate and is important for digestive health and is found in vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains.

Fats also provide energy for the body. They also have a structural and regulatory role in the body. Healthy fats are necessary for your brain, your eyes and your hormones to work properly and for maintaining a healthy immune system.

Fats come is three forms; saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. It's important to get a good mix of all these fats in our diet.

There are two types of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids; omega-3 and omega-6. A deficiency in either will lead to scaly skin, dermatitis, and impaired growth. Low concentrations of omega-3 disrupt how the mood-changing neurotransmitters work in the brain and has been linked to depression.

Good sources of saturated fat include animal fats in eggs, dairy, meat, butter and cheese. Good sources of monounsaturated fat include most nuts, olive oil, peanuts and avocado. Good sources of polyunsaturated fats include oily fish, linseeds, walnuts, and Brazil nuts.

The final macronutrient is protein. Protein in our diet is essential for best health. Good sources of protein include; lean meats such as ground beef, chicken, and turkey, fish such as salmon, tuna, and cod, eggs, low-fat natural dairy such as cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, and cheese, and beans peas and legumes.

Vitamins and minerals play a huge role in optimising our health and making us feel good. They are cancer-fighting, free-radical-destroying, acid-neutralising, and provide micronutrient power each day.

Vitamins and minerals are found in most foods that we eat but the best sources are from fresh foods. Consume a variety of fruits and vegetables for a good basis, the more colour variety the better. Focus in on the cruciferous vegetables, dark leafy greens and fruits such as tomatoes and berries for extra nutrient power.

The most forgotten nutrient of them all is water. Our bodies are made up of 60pc water and it is vital for life. Men should aim for a minimum of three litres and day and women for 2.5 litres.

For optimal health - each time you eat, fill a quarter of your plate with a lean source of protein, another quarter of your plate with nutrient dense carbohydrates, add a tablespoon or two of good fats and the fill the rest with vegetables.

>Karen Coghlan

Karen Coghlan is a nutrition coach and personal trainer and runs affordable monthly online group programs. Visit her website www.thenutcoach.com or email karen@thenutcoach.com


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