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Due to the way nutrition has been portrayed in the media, it’s easy to assume that health is all about what you shouldn’t be eating.
Common messages we hear every day are: No sugar. No soft drink. No chocolate. No gluten. No dairy. No carbs. No junk food. No preservatives. No meat.
Just to clarify, none of these rules are actually necessary, although many people live their lives believing they are.
(Unless of course, you’re a celiac or have an allergy, then please continue to avoid the foods that you need to.)
It’s also not just the media responsible for messages of what not to eat. In the early days of my career, before healthy eating became trendy (yes, I am that old), we were taught to convince people to stop eating chips, sausage rolls, lollies and chocolate milk and get them eating more vegetables. In fact, if you check out my article on diets through time you’ll see that we’ve been making rules about what not to eat for hundreds of years.
Unfortunately, despite being really good at making food rules about what not to eat, we’re not very good at sticking to them. And what’s the point of a particular dietary pattern is you can’t actually stick to it?
After 15 years in the industry working with clients, I believe that rule-based nutrition and the ‘eliminate bad foods’ approach to eating is inferior for helping people manage their health long term.
Firstly, the definition of what is considered ‘bad’ varies considerably between ‘experts’. These contradictory opinions, often driven by commercial agendas, has led to mass confusion and people feel lost as to what actually is a ‘bad’ food.
And secondly, when you focus on what not to eat, all you’re filling your brain with is forbidden foods, which just makes you want to eat them more! It’s well-known psychology! We’re natural rule-breakers!
In my evidenced-based opinion, there is a much better way to help people with their nutrition, and that’s taking a positive approach and focusing them on the foods that they should be eating every day, not the one’s they shouldn’t be.
You see, good nutrition does need to offer your body the right amount of energy (not too little, not too much), however, the other side of this equation is that it needs to offer the body nutrients!
We need macro-nutrients like carbs, fats, proteins but more importantly, we need micro-nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre! And you only get sufficient nutrients with a wide and varied diet from all the food groups. We need to shift our focus to nutrient density.
Nutrient density is a term used to describe how much nutrition a food or diet contains relative to its energy.
250ml of Coke has the same amount of energy (from the macro-nutrient sugar) as a large apple, however, the apple is much more nutrient-dense containing 5g fibre, 75% of your daily vitamin C needs and heaps more. The coke contains no micro-nutrients, just sugar.
Focussing on nutrient density is a far superior way to improve your long-term health and weight management.
Here are six ways you can achieve it!
Add vegetables to two meals a day (minimum)
You can’t eat well without vegetables they are the key dietary factor for maximum nutrient density.
A high and varied vegetable intake will mean an uber-healthy gut (thanks to fibre), lots of vitamin C, plenty of beta-carotene and antioxidants to boot!
Try these simple ideas:
- Stuff your sandwiches with lettuce, cucumber, carrot and tomato.
- Add spiralised zucchini to your pasta dish (can also have pasta as well).
- Top your homemade pizza with shredded baby spinach, sliced mushrooms, cubed capsicum and sliced avocado.
- Cover broccolini, beans and snow peas with boiling water, allow to sit for 3-4 minutes, drain and serve with whatever else you’re eating.
- Make batches of pumpkin soup (include onions, garlic and carrot) and freeze in portions as easy lunches of dinners.
Include seafood where you can (if you like it)
Fish, prawns, squid, crab, muscles and oysters are rich in protein, B vitamins, zinc and other macronutrients.
Choose sustainably sourced options and aim to include two or more serves in your week.
- Toss tinned tuna in oil (drained) with cooked pasta, lots of diced vegetables (cucumber, capsicum, red onion, baby spinach), a dollop of aioli and lemon juice. So yum!
- Google ‘salmon recipes’—seriously you will not be disappointed.
- Head to your local fresh food market (Fyshwick or Belconnen) and grab some fresh squid, prawns or crab—these meats, in particular, are very protein-rich and delicious with fresh simple flavours like lemon, chilli, garlic, fresh herbs and spices!
Choose whole dairy foods (if you can)
If you don’t have a dairy protein allergy or an intolerance to lactose, dairy is the most nutritious option for milk.
A good source of calcium, protein, B vitamins and more, dairy can be a healthy part of your diet.
- Choose a great quality Greek yoghurt and use it in bircher and smoothies; add it to fruit or muesli or use it as a base for dips and dressings.
- Enjoy your milk in your daily coffee or bowl of high fibre cereal.
- Ricotta and cottage cheeses are great options to use for snacks and breakfast.
Include legumes daily
Legumes like beans, lentils and chickpeas are the forgotten foods of the western diet. It’s unfortunate too, because they are so good for us.
Rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals they are filling foods that are difficult to overeat, allowing our body to access it’s fullness cues more effectively. No one ever said, “I binged on 4 bean mix”.
Try these ideas:
- Roasted chickpeas are delicious—google it for oodles of delicious recipes that are super simple to make.
- Lentils are a great way to bulk out your favourite vegetable soups.
- Baked beans (even the ones in tomato sauce) are a great high fibre and protein option for breakfast.
Add nuts regularly
Give your body healthy fats, fibre and lots of micro-nutrients with a small handful of nuts every day!
Research also suggests that 30g nuts per day has been shown to protect against heart disease. Munch away.
- Pair with fruit and yoghurt for a filling nutrient-dense snack or breakfast
- Add to stir-fries for extra texture and crunch.
Snack on fruit first
Fruit is a great low energy snack option that’s full of nutrition. Sometimes, however, fruit on its own isn’t as satisfying as we’d like.
The best way to handle this is to pair your fruit with something delicious! Here are some ideas:
- Banana spread with peanut butter
- Apple slices topped with tasty cheese (or blue cheese—nom)
- Strawberries drizzled with chocolate
- Blueberries with vanilla yoghurt
- Raspberries with cashews