Easy changes – step 4

The next step in my Easy Changes series is all getting the most out of the food you eat –  the most nutrients and benefits that is. The beneficial nutrients in fresh produce starts to diminish as soon as it’s harvested, even more so when processed.  A huge percentage of food eaten in the Western world is highly refined and processed and many people are missing out vital nutrients. So this step is about asking yourself if you are eating ‘whole food’ or ‘hole food’.

The world of health and nutrition can seem rather overwhelming and contradictory at times. There’s a lot of confusion, much of which is made worse by the food and diet industry as well as the media reporting sensational headlines. The reductionist approach to food – looking at the component parts rather than the whole thing – is useful for discovering what is actually in it, but focusing only on the component parts has created a seemingly never-ending debate about whether we need to eat more protein or fats or carbs. I talk about this in my book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie if you want to delve into this discussion more.

Outside of this reductionist view point, eating whole foods gives so much more than just its large component parts. And in a balance that’s natural and works for our bodies. When you look at what whole foods contain, it can be surprising just what is in there! For example, rice is defined as a carbohydrate, and as we saw in my last post, is pretty nutrient deficient. But when eaten as a whole-grain, it contains a good amount of protein and even some essential fatty acids, along with a range of minerals, vitamins and even phytonutrients.

Processing and refining means that food loses a lot of the nutritional benefits. The big losers are:

  1. Fibre. Essential for gut health, removal of waste products and feeding the microbiome, much of it is lost once refined.
  2. Vitamins. Particularly water-soluble ones like vitamins B and C.
  3. Minerals. Many essential minerals like magnesium and zinc are bound up in the fibre. Potassium, essential for blood pressure control, is a big loser too.
  4. Omega fatty acids. Locked up in the oily germ of whole-grains but also in a whole host of fresh produce, this delicate but essential oil gets easily lost.
  5. Phytonutrients. The magical chemicals found within all plant foods that work together as a team and support metabolic processes are delicate and lost once the produce is refined.

Even eating whole foods does include some element of processing, as even cutting and cooking fresh produce can lead to some form of nutrient loss. But it’s much less. And it’s real – ultra-processed foods are increasingly massively but have a real negative nutrient effect on our bodies. This is particularly important if you have food intolerances and are therefore a sensitive eater, or are using food to manage a health problem.

So how do you maximise your intake of whole foods and avoid the hole food? Here’s a few simple things to help:

  1. Eat real food as near to its original form as possible. This is one of the key principles of eating a whole-food plant-based diet. Look at the product in your hand and ask yourself “Is this whole or hole?”. The author Micheal Pollan as some good advice on real versus processed food – “If it’s made from a plant, eat it. If it’s made in a plant, don’t.”
  2. Eat food lowest in the food chain (ie plants!). That way you get all the nutrients first hand rather than second, third or more and less of the toxins (think big fish like tuna accumulating mercury).
  3. Eat food that is as fresh as possible. That means seasonal with lower food miles. It’s also cheaper too.
  4. Go for brown (as per last post) and for whole. So eat an orange rather than drink orange juice. Or eat seeds whole instead of having it as an oil.
  5. Buy products with minimal ingredients. Once you start reading labels you soon realise just how much has been added in as well as taken out, particularly with ‘free from’ items, which seems somewhat ironic!

Once you start thinking ‘whole’ it does get easier to make positive changes to the way you eat which your body will love. But give yourself time to do it in the way that works for you – remember going at your own pace is just as important as making the change in the first place.

There’s one more easy step to come. And also some exciting news that will give you support for making your own positive changes for the New Year. So keep an eye out for the last instalment, and don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

 

Simple New Year changes that have a big impact

Wow, it’s the last day of 2018! What a busy year it’s been. How’s it been for you? For me, there’s been some amazing experiences, incredible changes and smattering of challenges and obstacles. A pretty standard year all in all!

So now it’s time to start thinking about the new year ahead. Have you thought about your New Year’s resolutions, or what you would like to achieve over the next 12 months? For many, January is a time for ‘going on a diet’ and ‘getting fit’. Both great goals to have, but more often than not the enthusiasm starts to wane after just a couple of weeks. Or it might be that you are planning on going plant-based, either by joining a campaign like Veganuary or following your own ideas. This works really well for anyone who is an ‘all-or-nothing’ kind of person. But it’s not for everyone.

I actually think that early January is not a good time of year to make major changes. For a start, the weather is cold and the whole month can seem rather dull and miserable after the colourful build up to Christmas. Going on a diet has connotations of missing out or deprivation. The cold weather outside naturally drives us towards warming comfort foods rather than salad. Plus the ‘hang-over’ from all the Christmas and New Year excitement and celebrations takes a while to pass.

It’s because of this that I never run my Eat Well Live Well course until the end of January or beginning of February – that’s the time when you’re fully recovered from the festive fun and truly ready to make some positive, lasting changes.

Now that’s not to say that being a bingeing coach potato is a good idea! If you want to ease yourself into a positive health change or just want to make some easy changes, here are 5 simple changes to make that will have a big impact.

  1. Eat more. Ha, bet you didn’t expect that one first! If you’ve pigged out over the last week, this might not sound like a good thing. But I don’t mean eat more of everything. Just eat more fresh fruit and vegetables every day, some raw, some cooked. An incredible 75% of the UK population still don’t hit the 5-a-day target (click here for statistics) so if you are one of them, now’s your chance to go for it. But don’t stop at 5. As fresh fruit and vegetables are packed full of amazing nutrients and phytonutrients that support our bodies right at cellular level, 10 portions a day is much nearer to what we should be aiming for. Your body will love you for it and you’ll soon start feeling the benefits. Plus if you fill up on the fresh stuff, there’s less room for the junk!

2) Go brown. White flour, pasta and rice have all their wonderful nutrients stripped away and all you’re left with is the starchy endosperm that rapidly gets broken down into simple sugars. It’s calories and not much else. Wholegrains on the other hand retain their fabulous fibre, essential oils and protein as well as other nutrients. They’re more filling and your helpful friendly bacteria love them. If you want to give it a try but don’t think your family will be on board with it, don’t tell them! Just change one at a time and see if they notice (sneaky but effective 😉 )

3) Eat real. Have you explored the label on processed foods recently, even ‘healthy’, and specifically ‘free-from’ items? Do you recognise half the ingredients? Many of the common items bought contain a cacophony of refined ingredients or lab-made chemicals. Even ‘natural’ ones are not quite as natural as you might think. Hundreds of new chemicals are passed as safe for human consumption every year, but most have not been tested over long periods of time (for accumulation) or in combination with other chemicals. A report last year highlighted that 51% of the food consumed in the UK is now ‘ultra-processed‘. That’s far away from the original ingredient, if it even had one. Our bodies take time to recognise and respond to these chemicals. They much prefer things simple and natural. So next time you go to buy something, ask yourself “Is this real?”. If not, put it back on the shelf and find something else to put in your basket.

4) Eat a rainbow. I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about this before, but it’s so important, I’m saying it again! Plant foods all contain magical tiny chemicals that help support the body in a multitude of ways. We evolved foraging off the land and consumed whatever the land provided, much of which was colourful and attractive to the eye. Try to make a conscience decision to eat red, orange, yellow, green, blue/purple, brown and white produce every day.

5) Eat variety. As well as eating different colours, we evolved eating a wide variety of food items – basically whatever was found. Variety is key to our gut health, to look after our magical microbiome. The modern western diet tends to offer four main food sources – meat, dairy, soya and wheat – as 90% of the food eaten. Our ancestors are known to have eaten about 130 sources. Whilst that may be hard to achieve, try to avoid eating the same things day in, day out. Make a conscience effort to try new things too. Your gut will love you for it!

That’s it – more, brown, real, rainbow variety and you’re set for a healthy 2019! If you need any recipe ideas, then have a browse through the recipe index on the menu above. There’s loads to try, all of which will help you achieve these 5 easy steps. If you haven’t already subscribed to the blog, why not do that now and get new recipes directly to your inbox?

Wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year.