What to eat and what not to eat has been the topic of many lengthy (and sometimes heated!) debates over the past few decades. Ranging from gluten free, low-carb, low-fat, vegetarian, vegan.. the list goes on! It's so tempting to believe that somewhere out there the perfect diet exists and all we need to do to achieve perfect health is to find it and stick to it.
The truth is, of course, a bit more complex. To start with, we don't all have the same state of health, so how could one diet possibly suit all of us and fulfil our individual health needs. A one-size-fits-all approach just won't do. The optimal diet for you is also likely to evolve and change as you grow older.
My 2 top food tips are applicable whether you are a pescatarian, vegetarian, vegan, expectant mother or bodybuilder. They are basic principles that will rapidly help you to feel better. They are designed to be sustainable and achievable.
1. De-normalise sugar Our modern diet includes too much sugar, that's a fact. And I don't just mean the spoonful in your coffee, it's hidden in the strangest of places (rotisserie chicken for example!).
Sugar, also sometimes known as glucose, dextrose, glucose syrup, cane sugar, glucose-fructose syrup molasses, cane juice and rice syrup, is bad for us. Evolution prepared us for the occasional honeycomb find, or a stash of beautiful strawberries in the summer. We are not biologically designed to be able to cope with treats on a daily basis. We encounter so much sugar in our day to day diets that our taste buds have become used to it, and our bodies crave more and more. Why the big fuss about sugar? Because there is so much sugar in our diets, we continually find our blood sugar levels soaring. When we consume sugar or foods that are quickly converted to sugar e.g.,bread and bagels, the body pumps out a small amount of a hormone (Insulin) to bring our sugar levels back to normal. The problem comes in when we have abused this finely controlled mechanism, and we become resistant to the tiny amount of Insulin usually required. Our bodies then have to produce more and more to have the same effect. Basically our bodies then enter a self poisoning process. High sugar levels in the body causes widespread inflammation, which sets the scene for a multitude of health conditions to then take hold including:
High blood pressure
Fatty liver disease
Warning symptoms that show that you are consuming too much sugar include:
That afternoon energy slump
Loss of concentration
Feeling dizzy, shaky or light headed
Feeling the need to eat every 2 hours
Experiencing a huge boost in energy or fatigue after your meal
So how do we get our sugar intake back under control?
Simple. Remove all sugars from your kitchen cupboards. If it isn't there, you can't be tempted to eat it. Get into the habit of always reading the label on your food to check sugar content: the lower the better.
high sugar content: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
low sugar content: 5g or less of total sugars per 100g
A great suggestion is doing an annual 'sugar free month'. The idea being that for one month a year, you cut out all sugar from your diet. This really helps to reset your taste buds, but also highlights where sugars are hiding in your diet as you read the package labels. An additional benefit is that after about 7 days, you won't be craving sweet stuff anymore. It's true, sugar has addictive properties so the less you have, the less you will crave.
2. Introduce daily micro-fasts Get into the habit of eating all your food within a 8-12 hour time window. Humans evolved during periods of regular feast and famine. Our bodies are designed for going without food for certain periods of time. Modern day living however, has surrounded us with temptations to eat, all the time. This means we tend to inundate our systems with calories we don't actually need. Microfasts will help to lower levels of inflammation, improve blood sugar control, improve immune function and enhance the body's ability to detoxify itself. Interested in how to get started?
Choose a 12 hour fasting period that suits your lifestyle. The body likes rhythm, so try to keep to the same times daily, even at weekends. When outside your eating window, stick to water, herbal tea or black coffee. When you feel comfortable with 12 hours, try shortening your eating window further. Here's to healthier food habits :)