Everyday we are bombarded with different ideas about what we should and should not be eating and how much of it. As I mentioned in my previous blog post about Fad diets, in the 90’s we were obsessed with low fat, fat was the number one enemy! In the 2000’s it was carbs and today it seems to be sugar!
There is so much dietary advice out there it’s hard to know what to listen to. From my point of view we shouldn’t be “dieting” anyway, we should be eating a balanced and varied diet which can include food from all 3 of those food groups. However, there is a science to eating these in a healthy way which I will try and outline below.
Firstly, we need fat in our diet, but there are a lot of different types of fat and some are more beneficial than others:
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and can be found in processed meat, hard cheese, whole milk and cream, butter and coconut oil etc. Many reports suggest that saturated fat is linked to cholesterol, however new research is now uncertain about this link. We tend to worry about cholesterol because high cholesterol in your blood can lead to heart disease but some saturated fats don’t actually contain any cholesterol such as coconut oil; that’s not to say that saturated fats are harmless. These fats are generally found in man-made products with a very high energy content so should be eaten in moderation. Just be sensible.
Unsaturated fats are found in plants, fish, seeds, nuts and some oils. These are also known as polyunsaturated fats or omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which help protect our body against anti-inflammatory effects and disease.
Monounsaturated fats such as avocados, olives, almonds, cashews, nut-spreads etc all contain Vitamin E which acts as mainly an antioxidant and plays a part in many biological and neurological functions within our body.
Trans fats I can quite clearly say are the real baddies, these are artificially created fats which can be found in processed foods like margarine or fried foods. However, recently manufacturers have begun to remove trans fats from their products and on a whole people are eating much less.
Use your common sense when it comes to fats, eat in moderation and choose avocados, nuts and fish over baked goods and chips. Also it’s good to remember that many “low fat” products often replace the fat with sugar so that you can enjoy the flavour more. This isn’t a good thing and leads me straight onto our next culprit – sugar!
Refined Sugar is a completely processed food with no beneficial nutrients. Sugar can be considered as “empty” calories because it does nothing more than boost the sugar levels in your blood, giving you a sugar rush. It is also highly addictive which is why we have sugar cravings. The sugar cravings are created by an emotional attachment to sugar because it releases feel-good hormones into your body whenever you consume it making your brain desire the mood-enhancing rewards more often. Refined sugar exists in fizzy drinks, chocolates, deserts, biscuits and refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta and white rice.
However, there are also natural sugars, called fructose, which can be found in fruit which have plenty of beneficial features such as fiber, Vitamin C, antioxidants and potassium! Your body needs these vital ingredients and although the latest fad is to eliminate sugar I would advise against this. When consumed within moderation fruit is perfectly good for you. It is virtually impossible to overeat on fruit and we as humans have been eating fruit since time began. So satisfy your sugar cravings with beautiful, colourful fruit, just avoid the refined sugars most of the time.
Earlier I mentioned that we can also find sugar in refined carbs which are mainly plant-based processed foods that have had the whole grain extracted during the refining process. This process also removes the fiber and most of the foods nutrients. Complex Carbs on the other hand are full of fiber and help us to feel more full sooner and for longer. Complex carbs are whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, lentils and beans. When eaten, complex carbs turn to glucose within the body and give us energy and are essential to our everyday diet.
In the last decade the fad was low carb diets but the problem with eliminating or cutting your carbs right down means that your energy levels will become so low you end up binge eating on anything you can get your hands on. There is a trick however to eating complex carbs so that you burn off their energy throughout the day and that is timing. Load up on your carbs at breakfast, for example porridge and a banana, and slowly lose the carbohydrates as your day continues. As it gets close to the end of the day when you will be sleeping and not burning up so much energy it makes sense to eat just a few carbs with your evening meal, much less than your first meal of the day. By depleting your carbohydrate intake throughout the day it ensures that you use up most of the energy when you are most active. If we don’t burn up this energy the body turns it into fat and this is how we gain weight.
What I’ve outlined above is a very basic overview of these 3 so-called enemies. As it turns out, none are really a true enemy but hidden within these groups are processed foods and these are the ones we should try to avoid. People talk about “clean eating” and I don’t entirely agree with that term because I think it could lead people to become a bit obsessive over eating the “right” foods. In all honesty, it’s common sense. Natural foods or foods that have been the least processed are better for you. Of course we can’t always eat perfectly and we don’t always want to but to better your health and well-being you can make more sensible choices. Believe me, once you start replacing the processed food with more natural ingredients you will see a difference in how you feel and look. This may involve getting in the kitchen more often and creating home-made meals but this can be very fulfilling and at least you know exactly what you are putting into your body.