When it comes to nutrition there are so many conflicting ideas, trends and fads out there. So what is healthy now? No meat? No gluten? Low fat? Low carb? Low calorie? How do you sift through all of this information to stay healthy? Here are some basic healthy food choices that you should be making everyday.
Healthy eating simply means: eating a variety of foods from all the food groups in the right quantities. This equips you with the nutrients you need to maintain your health, energy and to generally feel great. These vital nutrients include protein, carbohydrates, fat, water, vitamins and minerals. Below is a quick breakdown of each food group and how it does or doesn’t benefit your health and wellbeing.
Vegetables and fruit
This is one of the most important food groups that you need to make sure you have daily. Extensive research shows the association between vegetable and fruit intake and the reduced risk of disease. This is because vegetables and fruit are high in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants and fibre, all of which are fundamental for your body. As a general guideline it is recommended that you strive for five a day! On average, South Africans eat less than three portions of vegetables and fruit per day1; this is not enough! To ensure you maximize their benefits, vegetables should form the base of every meal.
Always keep in mind:
- Eat them mostly whole (skin and all)
- Include a variety of colours everyday
- Choose organic produce where possible
- Cook them with little or no oil, sugar or salt
If you are feeling a little low on veggies and fruit why not pop in to the closest Happy.Me store for a sublime fruit smoothie?
Legumes are often a forgotten food group, yet they provide your body with vital plant protein, carbohydrates and fibre. Studies have shown that legumes reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and coronary heart disease. They are perfect to add into salads, soups, casseroles, stews and mince. Not only do they bulk up meals, but they also reduce cost considerably! Try to use legumes every week. Why not start a meatless Monday tradition and make a legume dish instead?
Dairy products are a great source of calcium, which is important for healthy bones and teeth. Dairy products include milk, yoghurt, cheese and some soya dairy products. When choosing dairy, always choose the low fat or fat free varieties. The fat in dairy products is saturated fat, which is not the healthiest fat for your body. Always check the label and try to use dairy products that have little or no added sugar, as sugar adds no nutrition to the food.
Grains are probably the most controversial food group around, especially today! Many people believe that they struggle to digest wheat or gluten and thereby entirely eliminate this food group. When buying grains choose whole grains, as these are rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals. Always read the label to find out whether a food is made from whole grains – the first ingredient should say whole wheat or whole grain. Try to choose products with the least ingredients and those that don’t have sugar in the first three ingredients.
You need protein to build and repair the muscles and tissues in your body, especially after a tough workout at GO Health. Proteins also provide us with iron, magnesium, zinc and B vitamins. Good sources of protein include fish, chicken, meat, eggs, dairy, soya, tofu, legumes and nuts.
To ensure the healthiest protein intake:
- Try to eat fish (especially fatty fish) more often
- Take the skin off chicken, cut all the visible fat off meat, choose lean meats and low fat dairy
- Cut down on processed meats as these are high in fat and salt
- Don’t fry meat rather grill, roast, braai, steam or microwave it
Fat is a hot topic at the moment! Fat is an extremely healthy and necessary nutrient but it is key to always be aware of whether it is plant or animal fat. Plant (unsaturated) fats are known to be great for your health so choose avocado, nuts, seeds, nut butters, olives or oils (uncooked) to add to meals. Try to cut down on the use of animal (or saturated) fat (with the exception of fatty fish). Foods that contain fat such as chocolate, cakes, biscuits, samosas, pies, and take-aways provide no goodness for your body and should only be eaten every now and again.
Sugar can be used as part of a healthy eating plan, but it must be used sparingly. Sugar provides your body with no nutrients, as it contains no vitamins or minerals. Ideally you should avoid sugar-sweetened cool drinks, use little or no sugar with beverages or foods, and choose products that have little or no added sugar. Always check the ingredient list to see whether sugar has been added. Keep in mind that ingredients are listed according to weight, so if sugar appears in the first three ingredients, that food is better used as an occasional treat only!
Healthy eating is imperative; in fact it’s a way of life. By simply choosing a variety of real, whole, unrefined foods that are provided to us by nature you will be healthier and happier!
- Naude, CE (2013). Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit every day”: a food-based dietary guideline for South Africa. S Afr J Clin Nutr; 26(3)(Supplement):S46-S56