There is an old saying – ‘You are what you eat.’ If you eat badly, you will feel bad. If you eat well, on the other hand, you will feel well – your mood, energy levels, ability to concentrate, immune function, and the likelihood of lifelong physical health and mental health improves dramatically.
Not surprisingly, diet contributes significantly to wellbeing. Highly processed foods that are high in saturated fat and sugar impact memory, mood, and depression risk. A diet high in plant-based foods (fruits and vegetables), complex carbohydrates (low GI) and unsaturated fats (oily fish, nuts, avocados etc) on the other hand, is protective and can assist with sleep regulation, and a reduction in stress hormones.
It can be particularly challenging to eat well when you are so busy juggling work, family and looking after your loved one, particularly when they are unwell. However, there are lots of convenient healthy meal options available, which means that eating well no longer requires hours in the kitchen. Look for these in your local supermarket and stock up when they are on special.
Top tips for eating well include:
• Eat 5 serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit each day. Make sure you eat a variety of fruit and veggies, and that they are a range of different colours.
• Beware the juicing craze: Fruit and vegetables are supposed to be eaten in their whole form. Juicing removes the fibre and crunch factor, which means that most of the goodness is removed and you are left with lots of energy and sugar.
• Watch what you drink. Juices, energy drinks, sports drinks, milky drinks (Iced Coffee’s/ Choc Milks etc), and sodas should all be consumed with care, if at all. They contain little that is good for you, and lots of sugar. Most of us wouldn’t dream of eating 7 teaspoons of sugar, yet we consume a glass of fruit juice and think we are doing something healthy – a 250ml glass of apple juice contains 7 teaspoons of sugar, which is the same as a glass of coke!
• Watch sauces and dressings – most are loaded with preservatives and sugar!!
• Choose foods that are low in human interference (processing). If you can’t pronounce or recognise any of the first three ingredients listed on the packet, chances are it is highly processed and you might want to reconsider.
• Be wise when it comes to ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ foods. Just because something is organic or natural, it doesn’t mean it is good for you. Arsenic, for example, is natural, but it certainly isn’t good for you!
• Keep an eye on portion size. Generally, we don’t stop eating because we are full, we stop eating because we have eaten everything on our plates. The average plate size has increased significantly over the last 20 years, which means that our portion sizes have increased (even though we are moving less than ever). Use small side plates, or portion control plates when you dish up your meals.
• Limit your alcohol intake – The latest Australian guidelines recommends no more than 10 standard drinks/ week and no more than 4 standard drinks on a single occasion.
• Avoid hype, miracle cures, or special ‘elimination diets’ that are not recommended to you by your GP or dietician. Evaluate diets carefully and work with your GP to identify the right one for you. Some diet plans can be dangerous for some people with particular medical conditions, while other diets can be particularly beneficial.
• Avoid eating out too often and don’t rely on your will-power to make the healthy choice ‘in the moment’ – Prepare prepare, prepare!
• Plan your meals and snacks at least a few days in advance and have them ready to go ahead of time. Avoid making food-related decisions when you are tired, stressed or hungry – have your decisions already made.
• Turn healthy choices into the new convenience foods, and make sure that they are quicker and easier to eat than calling through the Drive-Thru on your way home.
• Portion up your meat and leftovers into single serves, and only cook what you need. The more you have cooked and is easily accessible, the more you will eat.
• Drink a large glass of water before you have a snack or meal. This can help fill you up, which means that you are less likely to consume extra calories.
• Review your favourite recipes and see where you can cut the fat and sugar. Very often you can cut 30-50% of the added fat (oil, butter, cream) and add water, or skim milk (in the case of cream) instead, with almost no detectable impact on flavour.
Questionnaire – EAT WELL
The questionnaire is designed to be a quick self-assessments in relation to eating well. It is not designed to be diagnostic but will give you a simple indication of your strengths and opportunities for change.
(1 always or almost always, 10 never or almost never)
|I eat five serves of vegetables every day?|
|I eat two serves of fruit every day?|
|I eat red meat only twice (or less) each week?|
|I eat primarily lean cuts of meat or cut excess fat off?|
|I choose lower-fat milk or cheese, or keep my consumption of these foods to a minimum (less 30g cheese/ day or less than 250mls milk)?|
|I don’t add salt to my meals?|
|My diet is high in low human interference foods (i.e. I eat lots of whole foods and rarely eat highly processed foods)?|
|I limit my alcohol intake to less than 10 standard drinks/ week?|
|I eat fish, a small serve of nuts, avocado, olives, or olive oil at least twice/ week?|
|My diet low in added sugars – deserts/ cakes/ dried fruits/ lollies/ icecream/ soft drinks/ juices etc?|
If you scored:
10-34 Awesome!! You are doing really well in terms of eating healthy foods. Look for any high scores to specific items for an opportunity to improve, otherwise, keep up your healthy eating and look to the other 5 A Day pillars for opportunities to improve your wellbeing.
35-55 Well done!! You are doing lots of things well in terms of healthy eating AND there are some opportunities here to improve. Remember that eating well has a significant impact on our physical and emotional health. Review the Eat Well Tips and identify simple steps you can take to strengthen this pillar.
56 + Small changes here could make a big difference! Review your responses and consider how long you have been eating this way. Are they the result of some recent changes in your life circumstances, and if so, what steps can you take to incorporate healthier eating into your daily routine? If your scores are consistently at the higher end of the range for each item, and you have been eating this way for some time, it may be time to talk with your GP and have a general health check. Also identify some changes you could make (review the Eat Well tips), as a first step (don’t try to change everything at once). Talk with your family and friends and get their support to help you make these changes.