What is a “healthy diet” anyway?

Hey guys 😊

I hope everyone is doing well!

Yesterday I received the result for my final exam in Advanced Holistic Nutrition Higher Diploma and I got an A – I don’t know if this is considered bragging haha but I’m really happy so thought I’d share it with you all! *stops to do a happy dance*

Today, as celebration 🍾 I thought I’d share a post that has been requested a few times over on Instagram and via private messages and one that has been on my mind for a while. A healthy diet and healthy food is a topic, as you can imagine, that I am asked about frequently and also one that is very complicated and very much up for debate.

A healthy balanced diet is not actually easy to explain. There are so many factors, personal and otherwise, that affect a person’s health that pin pointing any one issue or food item can be problematic. Many mainstream diets and nutrition advice found online tend to oversimplify nutrition to make it available to the masses and to allow the diet they are promoting to gain popularity which, in and of itself can be a problem.

Let me just start by saying that there is NO ONE VERSION OF HEALTH! A healthy balanced diet can look different for each and every individual. Yes, there are suitable guidelines that can be implemented that make sense and which are founded in scientific fact, however, the truth of the matter is that many a time, mainstream diets and info do not really reflect this. There is so much conflicting data and so many people saying different things and a so called super food popping up every other day that I feel as though many of us are really tired of it. Am I right?

As I mentioned, this is a complicated topic, the deeper I delve into the science and study of nutrition, the clearer this becomes and to be totally honest, some days, I don’t feel comfortable answering this question. The truth is, our diet is a very personal thing and giving a very generalized answer like “have oats for breakfast” is not actually helpful. While oats are technically a good breakfast choice, if you personally hate eating breakfast or dislike oats, it doesn’t make sense for you.

Another one is “have breakfast first thing when you wake up” – again, this may make sense for many people, but if you don’t wake up hungry and don’t enjoy breakfast, force feeding yourself isn’t great.

Breakfast inspo

Let’t take another example, I LOVE avocado – it’s a popular ‘instagram worthy’ food that we’re seeing pop up everywhere. It’s loaded with good fats, fiber and a multitude of vitamins which is awesome. But what if you HATE avocado, does that mean you can’t get the health benefits that it supplies elsewhere? NO! Of course not! There is no ONE FOOD that is so amazing that you MUST have it in your diet.

A healthy balanced diet, more than anything else, is a varied diet. If you find, say 5 ‘healthy’ foods that you love and eat them exclusively, as healthy as these foods may be, you’re not going to have a healthy balanced diet. The idea is to eat as many different foods as you possibly can. Different foods contain different nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, accessory nutrients, phytochemicals, different amounts of protein, types of fat and carbs and so on.

Take veg as an example, differently coloured vegetables contain different nutrient profiles. While green leafy vegetables tend to contain more iron for example, orange vegetables contain more beta carotene *which is converted into Vitamin A in our bodies – an important antioxidant (among other things)*

Nowadays, you can find a supplement for EVERYTHING under the sun, but the truth is that even if you can get adequate iron intake from an iron supplement, getting it from food is so much better. This is not to say that supplementation of specific nutrients to treat deficiencies does not have a place, but, provided you’re not dealing / recovering from illness or have a specific deficiency and you consume a varied diet which doesn’t avoid any one food group, you likely don’t need any!

What I’m trying to point out here is that we need a bit of everything. There really isn’t the need to learn what each food item contains or to stress yourself out if you don’t like green veg or if you haven’t had it in a while. The important thing here is to experiment with different foods and try to get as much diversity as you can, meanwhile trying not to drive yourself crazy listening to all the mumbo jumbo coming from social media nutrition experts and mainstream diet advice.

Part of me feels like the wellness industry is very elitist – it tends to be made up of a very small group of young beautiful people with perfect abs who spend all their time and money on the perfect Buddha bowl – but that isn’t reality for most of us. I’ll admit that I have bought into the ideal in the past myself but you don’t have to spend hours cooking and purchase everything organic and buy the most expensive and silly named so called super foods to be healthy.

I’ll let you in on a little secret, all natural foods – and by natural foods I mean fruits, veg, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds etc. – are frikken SUPER!

I’ll let you in on another secret, just because you eat healthily and exercise, you’re no better than anyone else, nor does that give you the right to stick your nose up to anyone else. We all have different priorities in life and our own individual struggles and while I’m of course a proponent of taking care of yourself and trying to nourish your body as best you can and exercise when you can, some people may not be interested and that is their choice to make and certainly not for anyone else to judge.

Something I absolutely HATE with a passion, and if you know me, you know that there are very few things that I actually hate, it’s shaming people for their food choices. First off, to this day – 2019, the information age – there is still so much to learn about food and how it effects our health and again, THERE IS NO ONE VERSION OF HEALTHY. You don’t know what someone is going through and what they’re dealing with and maybe right now, they don’t care about what they eat because they’re dealing with something bigger. Or maybe they just don’t care, period! It’s not for anyone else to comment on or to judge.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about building a healthy balanced diet and what, in practice, will make sense for most people.

* If you have any health issues you’re dealing with or if you need specific diet advice, you won’t find anything suitable online. Seeing a nutritionist and discussing your needs in length is ALWAYS the best option. *

However, the basic framework for a healthy balanced diet can be explained.

First of all, there are very very very few food items I would consider actually “bad” because in sensible amounts, pretty much everything can be a part of a healthy balanced diet. Moreover, by diet I mean the foods we eat, not a specific diet program.

The food items that I try to avoid include processed meats, hydrogenated (trans) fats, excess processed / refined sugars and above all food from any fast food chain – just no! If you want a burger, get a good one with real meat not a highly processed version of!

When I say processed meats I mean hams, sausages and the likes that tend to contain to much salt, nitrates and carcinogens. Trans fats are hydrogenated fats – meaning taking a fat which is liquid in its natural state and adding hydrogen to make it solid and as a result cheaper, more stable and giving a much longer shelf life. This is the case with many highly processed packaged foods and margarines. Finally, excess sugars – this is maybe the more obvious one; we all know that eating too much sugar isn’t ideal. I’m not saying cut out sugar all together, if I feel like a piece of cake, I’m going to have it. What I mean by avoiding excess sugars in my case is avoiding things like sugary drinks, packaged sweets and eating excess sugars that you don’t actually enjoy and find satisfying. I’d rather have water than a soft drink with dinner and then have dessert when I crave it for example. But that’s just me.

Other than what I mentioned above, I don’t really avoid anything else. My daily diet consists of a lot of plant based food items which are really beneficial for so many reasons. These include added fiber, vitamins, minerals, satiety, antioxidants, protein, unrefined carbohydrates promoting stable blood sugar levels and many more.

This, I would honestly wholeheartedly recommend to practically everyone (unless you have a problem with fiber for example). Getting the bulk of your dietary requirements from plant based foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains and lentils is great. It’s helpful for blood sugar regulation, ideal for maintaining a healthy weight (and avoiding weight related illnesses) and is scientifically proven to be the best approach to a healthy diet and is protective against developing a multitude of different illnesses, deficiencies and disease.

I’m not recommending everyone go vegan all of a sudden, however I do recommend trying plant based alternatives to increase nutriets and achieve more diversity like trying a lentil bolognese for example. I have a recipe for it here Lentil Bolognese – ingredient prep uses; MEAL ONE 

 

Using lentils in traditionally meat based dishes will help increase nutrient diversity, increase fiber, reduce saturated fat intake and of course reduce meat / animal food intake, which, in the Western world, most of us eat too much of. 

This is the main reason  why I share mostly plant based, vegetarian or vegan recipes here and on social media. It’s not to say that this is ALL I eat, it’s not. I try to share healthier plant based recipes because it is actually what I cook a good 90% of the time at home and I try to showcase how easy and delicious healthier alternatives can be. Also, I try to show a variety of different foods that may not be common to everyone – myself included for a long time – so if you’d like more recipe ideas, make sure you follow me on instagram and facebook – Sarah’s Healthy Eats @holisticnutritionninja 

So, this is what I consider to be the base, to that, add on the foods that make you feel good, that you enjoy eating and that make sense at the time. If you base your meals around whole food ingredients, that’s awesome, but if on any given day / week or whatever span of time, you can’t do that, just try your best to get nourishment. Nibble on a few nuts and a banana as a snack – that’s not expensive, time consuming or inaccessible in any way – and yet it’s a great snack. Then, if you wan’t a burger and chips for dinner, HAVE AT IT! I’m not suggesting anyone should do this daily, however, constant deprivation is not a healthy balanced diet nor is it a psychologically healthy relationship with food.

Feelings of guilt, fear and anxiety around food are very very real for some (many) people, which when you think about it, is quite sad and problematic. Thinking about food as good and bad and associating food with emotions can be incredibly harmful. Nowadays, I feel like most of us have a somewhat distorted relationship with food – for most of my life, this group included myself. Mind you, I still have my moments these days, but I’ve gotten a lot better at looking at food differently and nurturing a better relationship with it.

Today, I am a firm believer in ‘everything in moderation’, just because a little is good, more isn’t necessarily better. Likewise, just because something is harmful in excess, doesn’t mean it’s always harmful when consumed in smaller quantities.

If I’m being totally honest, this has been an incredibly difficult thing for me to come to terms with personally. The disconnection of food and feelings of guilt and even shame was not an easy one. However, when you think about it, and I mean really think about it, it’s quite ridiculous. We need food to survive, to thrive, to recover, to repair, to celebrate, to commiserate to function and so much more – so why in the world do we punish ourselves if we enjoy it? Or worse still, fear it?

 Finally, seeing a wellness professional or nutritionist (or anyone else for that matter) eating a cheese burger or pizza does not give you the right to judge them! Just mind your own business – that last one was kinda personal but I love food – all food – AND I WILL NOT BE JUDGED FOR IT! haha

Summing up:

  • Don’t give yourself anxiety striving for perfection. Make healthier choices when you can and enjoy your food.
  • If you consume too much dairy but don’t want to give up cheese for example, try using plant based milks with your cereal or coffee. It will help increase nutrient diversity and lower saturated fat consumption
  • If you eat a lot of meat, try using some lentils in your recipes instead every once in a while.
  • If you love sugar, try sweeting your recipes with sugars found in dates or banana for example. The sugars are processed differently in our bodies and you get added nutrients and fiber.
  • Do you eat a lot of wheat based foods like bread and pasta? Try swapping your white pasta for whole grain to increase fiber. Or use different grains such as brown rice to again, increase diversity.
  • Don’t have time to shop for fresh veg? Use frozen! Many a time, frozen veg contains more nutrients because the freezing process stops the veg from losing nutrient density which happens over time with fresh veg.
  • Don’t have time to cook? Make some things ahead when you can. Here’s an article on Meal Prep that you might find helpful Meal Prep like a Pro
  • No time to soak and cook beans? Use canned ones – no problem whatsoever
  • Don’t know what most things in the “health” isle are? No problem, you don’t actually need most of them. If you’d like to experiment, awesome, if not, don’t. It won’t make you any less healthy.

 


I hope you’ve found this interesting and helpful 😊 and not too long 😂 man I could go on about this stuff forever – but for now I’ll stop here!

If you have any questions or requests for future blog posts, please leave them in the comment section below. Don’t forget to click on the ‘follow’ button below to stay updated on all the content I share here. Also, I do share a TON of recipes over on my facebook and instagram pages

Sarah’s Healthy Eats – @holisticnutritionninja

As always, if you do try them out, please let me know 🙂

Thank you for taking the time to be here and read this ❤

Until my next post, be well xXx

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