We all want to live well, look well, feel well, eat well and enjoy our food. Knowing what foods or diet we should be eating, how to start and stick to it can be really confusing, frustrating, especially when it feels like the advice is controversial and changes regularly.
But there are some doable healthy eating habits that we recommend to our PAAR clients. They stand the test of time, they help develop comfortable lasting routine, improve overall wellbeing and can be easily implemented into everyone’s life.
Don’t give anything up
Building a healthy diet is not something that is done or undone in a single day. Instead, it’s a journey best measured over months and years. We do not need all or nothing attitude to eat or be healthier. It’s best to make small lifestyle changes that you can keep doing over time and see a big difference in your health and wellbeing.
INclusion not EXclusion
Do not give anything up - but the key is to balance your favourite foods, even if they are high in calories, fat or added sugars with healthier food options and be active. Your relationship with food does not need to be extreme, such as only eating sweets or only eating foods you label as “healthy”. Healthy eating is all about balance. Focus on adding healthy and nutritious foods to your diet, rather than just taking unhealthy foods away. Keep more fruits, vegetables, berries, nuts at home and at work and snack on them. Substitute some meat (half of your regular portion) for lentils, chickpeas or red kidney beans in your beef bolognese, meatballs, curry and casseroles. Order/add additional vegetables, mushrooms, zucchini and artichokes to your favourite pizza.
Tip: View healthy eating as a long - term commitment. Do not try to be perfect, try to be consistent. Focus on what you are adding in, not cutting out.
Studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest ways you can eat. Actually, it is not so much a “diet” but is more of an eating style that emphasises whole, minimally-processed foods. The Mediterranean eating pattern is largely based on plant foods (a lot of fruits and vegetables, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds, whole grains and olive oil), moderate amount of lean protein (fish, eggs, feta or Greek yoghurt) and very little red meat. This dietary approach provides flexibility, food variety which differs in colours, flavours, and textures, and rich in different nutrients (fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants). Eating a diet that is low in red meat, sugar, and saturated fat significantly reduces your risk of chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity.
Tip: How to follow a Mediterranean eating pattern:
Make vegetables take centre stage on your plate. Let meat be the supporting act or a side dish.
Try to have at least one meat - free day a week (eating less meat and more plant-based foods, such as beans, lentils, tofu).
Enjoy fish and seafood twice a week. Oily fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring are a great source of Omega-3 and good for your heart and brain.
Eat red meat occasionally (think of red meat as you do lobsters, something you would usually eat only for a special occasion).
Opt for healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.
Flavour your food with herbs and spices instead of salt.
Look after your gut microbes
Our gut is home to trillions of different microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites. Together, they form your gut microbiome which has shown to be important for your digestion, immune system, mental health, and much more. Research suggests that the gut microbiome plays a greater role than genetics when it comes to weight and improving the health of your gut can help you with your weight loss goals. Eating the right foods for your unique gut microbes is beneficial for your overall health.
Tip: When choosing healthy foods for the gut, it is important to focus on:
Probiotics are the bacteria themselves and are most often consumed via fermented foods. Kimchi, kefir, Greek yoghurt, sourdough, kombucha, fermented soybean- based products (miso, tofu, tempeh).
Prebiotics are specialised plant fibres that act like fertilisers that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Sources of prebiotics include garlic, onion, leeks, asparagus, lentils, underripe bananas, artichokes, citrus fruit, apples (especially the peels), sweet potato.
Polyphenols have been found to be strong antioxidants that can fight free radicals and act as fuel for healthy bacteria in the gut. Nuts, seeds, brightly coloured berries, spices, globe artichokes, red onion, olive oil, green tea, turmeric, dark chocolate, coffee are great sources of polyphenols.
Plants diversity (aim for 30+ a week). Include the “super six”: wholegrain, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, herbs and spices.
Avoiding artificial sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame, saccharin). They have been shown to disrupt the balance and diversity of gut microbes.
Pick foods with protein and fibre
Eating some protein and fibre with each meal and snack cab help manage an appetite, stay fuller for longer and aid in weight loss. Two important components help stabilise blood sugar, fill you up better than any other nutrients, keep you satisfied. Vegetables and whole grains are rich is fibre and other essential nutrients.
Tip: Pair lentils and rice. Lentils are high in fibre and protein, which helps in keeping the blood sugar levels in check. Also, add some vegetables like carrots, onions, broccoli or cauliflower to make it all more nutritious.
Eggs + wholegrain toast + seeds
Beans + Quinoa + vegetables
Yoghurt + berries + nuts
Apple + peanut butter + a wholegrain toast
Portion size is key
Having a healthy, balanced diet is about getting the right types of foods and drinks in the right amounts. It’s not about how much you eat, it is also eating differently. Research has shown that people consistently eat more food when offered larger portions. So portion control is important when you are trying to lose weight and keep it off. To get a better control of what you are eating, you can use visual cues as reminders of appropriate serving sizes. For example, a one protein serving such a chicken breast is no bigger than a deck of cards, one fat serving is about the size of a pair of dice (2 teaspoons of mayonnaise) or one apple is about the size of a tennis ball.
Tip: Enjoying your food is part of healthy and balanced eating. When you enjoy your food: you digest food better, you absorb more nutrients, you are satisfied with less. Use colourful foods (rainbow fruit and vegetables). The sight of food is just as important as taste. Tasting is a full sensory experience that begins in the brain when we see colourful food. Bright colours are often seen as “happy colours“. Chose variety – the best meals have a balance of items from different food groups (protein, carbs, and fats)
Do not skip or delay meals
If you ignore your feelings of hunger, you may end up eating too much or choosing an unhealthy snack. If you often feel too hungry, it can make you focus a lot on food.
Tip: Chose healthy snacks high in fibre and protein when you skip your main meal.
A handful of unsalted nuts (not more than 30g a day as they are high in calories)
Veggie sticks (carrots, bell peppers, celery, cucumber) with humous or goat cheese
Dark berries with coconut/soy yoghurt/ chia seeds and/or a handful of nuts
Falafel with hummus and veggie sticks
Wholegrain/seeded or sourdough toast with sardines and cherrie with rocket and tomatoes
Do not drink your calories
Liquid calories do not help you feel full as the body and brain do not register you are full. Have fibre–rich fruit instead as they do not spike blood sugar levels and can help you feel full while eating fewer calories.
Create Your Own Healthy Eating Habits Checklist
1. I focus on food, eat slowly and mindfully paying attention to my food smell, flavour and texture – taste, pause and enjoy.
2. I choose healthier carbs, not NO carbs. I opt for whole, not refined plants that have been minimally processed. Wholemeal bread (including rye and sourdough varieties) have up to four times fibre of white bread, takes longer to digest, has been shown a better impact on your blood sugar levels and fills you up for longer.
3. I eat the rainbow. I aim to eat 5 portions of fruits/vegetables/berries every day (in soups, salads, stews, and as a snack). Go for colour and variety - dark green, yellow, orange, red, purple.
4. I choose water as a drink. Water is best to quench your thirst. Add some lemon, lime, mint, berries for flavour instead of sugary soft drinks.
5. I choose healthy snacks such as fruits, vegetables with hummus, nuts, whole grain crackers with peanut butter.
6. I enjoy my sweets in moderation, mindfully and without guilt. Do not call your favourite cake a “guilty pleasure”. Instead, engage your senses while eating your favourite sweets. Notice how your food looks, smells, feels, and tastes when you eat it.
Our team of experts at PAAR are here to help you with any dietary concerns and nutrition–related questions. Book a session with one of our nutritionists to learn more.