How to achieve a healthy diet

Sara NUTRITION

vegetables-790022_640Without a healthy, balanced diet you cannot function at your best. It is quite simple really; what you put in you get out.  As far a possible, try to remove all refined sugars from your diet; they contain no vitamins, minerals or fibre and, while you may get a temporary blood sugar high from consuming them, a crashing low will soon follow this.  Instead, help to maintain a constant blood sugar level, by eating several smaller meals and snacks throughout the day.  Eating every three hours is the ideal, as too much time between meals will sap your energy.  Wait too long to eat and your powers of concentration will fall because your mind is distracted by hunger pangs.   You will also be more likely to overeat when you do eventually sit down to dinner. GLYCAEMIC INDEX   Some people find it helpful to follow a low glycaemic index diet. The Glycaemic index rates foods according to how they affect your blood glucose levels.  Low GI foods with a rating of less than 55 release their sugars gradually, giving sustained energy, whereas those with a rating of more than 70 cause a rise and dip in blood sugar and, consequently, in energy levels.   In a recent study, people eating a low-GI breakfast stayed mentally alert longer than those on a high-GI one. For sustained energy, replace highly refined breakfast cereals, such as cornflakes and rice crispies, with muesli or porridge, and add fruits to top. Switch to wholegrain bread, pasta and rice, and swap starchy snacks and sweets for low-GI foods, such as dried apricots, which have a GI of just 31.   CARBOHYRATES   These are essential for maintaining energy levels and keeping the central nervous system and brain working properly.  Always opt for unrefined whole grains, as the refining process (used to make white flour, pasta and rice) removes many nutrients and raises their GI. Choose healthy alternatives instead, such as brown rice, couscous and whole wheat pasta.  Despite the recent fashion for low-carb diets such as Atkins, many dieticians recommend that carbs make up 50 per cent of your meal.   PROTEINS   The main job is to repair and maintain body tissue, but it can be broken down into glucose and used for energy by the body if you’re not eating enough carbohydrates.  However, this will mean than tissue repair is delayed and any injuries you have take longer to heal.   You actually need far less protein than you might think – it should only constitute 20 –25% of your diet at the most, depending on how much exercise you take. Remember, even a lean cut of red meat will contain around 50% protein and the rest will be fat.   Some proteins match the body’s requirements better than others.  Eggs, milk, cheese, fish chicken and meat contain all the amino acids that make up protein.   Plant sources contain only some of the amino acids, so if you are vegetarian, always make sure you eat a varied diet, combining different plant sources of protein, such as grains and pulses, to create complete protein.  In addition, try to include Soya protein in your diet. This is as high in complete protein as eggs and cheese.   A healthy diet should contain at least 1,500 calories a day, or your body will begin raiding its muscles for energy and your metabolic rate will fall.  When you exercise, your body needs more; count on 2,200 calories a day for an active modern lifestyle.  However, TO LOSE WEIGHT YOU MUST take in less calories and expend more energy. If you take in 250 less calories a day and exercise for 30 minutes a day and expend 250 calories you have a deficit of 500 calories, which over a period of a week will help you lose weight which will stay off.   CRASH DIETS   Beware of eating to little if you want to maintain healthy energy levels, as a low calorie intake can leave you sluggish and irritable.  It also plays havoc with your hair and skin.  Your body reacts to a crash diet in the same way it would to a famine, lowering your metabolic rate. It is very important to remember that in any normal day, 75% of your calorie intake is burnt up just keeping your body’s systems going, so a crash diet can be dangerous.  A further 10% of your calorie intake is spent on digesting food and the rest is used on physical activity.   FAT   Fat usually gets a bad press, but UNSATURATED fats can reduce bad cholesterol in your arteries. Good sources of these types of fat are:- Olive Oil Avocado Nuts Seeds Oily Fish Sardines and Herring   You can recognise SATURATED fat because it is usually solid at room temperature. Most animal dairy products belong to this category so they are better eaten in moderation. HYDROGENATED fats (polyunsaturated fats that are converted to saturated by adding hydrogen during the heating and hardening process) found in processed foods are the worst kind of fat and should be avoided.  These are often hidden in foods like biscuits and bought cakes. Recent research suggests that, once in the body, they are hard to break down and can clog the arteries and synapses in the brain, so cut out the chips, pies, sausages, chocolate and full fat cheese.   VITAMINS AND MINERALS   These are essential for a healthy metabolism and high levels of energy.  A low intake of iron, eg can leave you prone to anaemia and fatigue, while vitamin B complex is necessary for the release of energy from food. Good sources of vitamin B6 and B12 are milk, cheese, seaweed, potatoes, pork, chicken, salmon and cod. Biotin and riboflavin also belong to the B complex family, and are found in kidney, liver, eggs, milk, mushrooms and rice.   It is best to get your vitamins and minerals from a varied diet but, if your eating is erratic or your lifestyle stressful, you may need a good one-a-day supplement, especially with vitamins such as C which is water soluble and can’t be stored in the body.  Stores of iron and calcium can easily become depleted, putting you at risk of anaemia and osteoporosis.  Green leafy vegetables, tofu, beans, dairy produce and oily fish are good sources of calcium, and bred, beans, egg yolk, red meat and liver all contain high amounts of iron.   FRUIT & VEGETABLES   It can seem like a chore getting through your five pieces of fruit and vegetables a day, but if you keep a fruit bowl within arm’s reach of your desk, sofa, or on your kitchen table, it will soon become a habit.  Always go for fresh vegetables if possible, but also remember that frozen veg can be a nutritious and convenient standby, especially as many are frozen within hours of being picked.  Raw vegetable is the most nutritious, but if you do cook vegetables, steaming is a great way to conserve the vitamin content.   To get the most out of fruit, avoid anything that has been pre-peeled or refined, kept at a low heat, overcooked or stored for a long time.  Both light and heat destroy nutrients, which means by the time the food reaches your plate, there will be precious little nutritional value left.  If you can, eat locally grown seasonal produce. Farmers markets are a great source.   Always aim to include plenty of Natures Super foods in your diet:   Avocados are a great source of energy, containing essential fatty acids and high levels of Vitamin E, which will get your hair, nails and skin looking their best.   Watermelons are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that neutralises harmful free radicals in your body.   Blueberries, which are rich in vitamins C and E, help reduce bad cholesterol.   Pomegranates contain powerful levels or antioxidants, three times as strong as green tea.   If you need to boost your folic acid, and Vitamin C intake add broccoli to your diet.   WATER   One of the main causes of fatigue is dehydration.  Water regulates our body temperature, flushes out toxins and carries nutrients around the body in the blood, so make sure you drink between 1½  to 2 litres of water a day ( 8 – 9 glasses).   By the time you are thirsty, you are already de-hydrated.  A recent study shows that nearly 80% of us do not drink enough fluids. Always drink plenty of water during and after exercise.   Try to limit your intake of drinks that contain caffeine – these have a diuretic effect that causes the body to lose water.  Also, diets that are high in protein produce more of the waste product urea, which exits the body in urine and can be another cause of de-hydration.   Overall, aim for a diet that is varied as possible, but do not eat too much of one thing, no matter how good it is supposed to be.  For example, you need fibre to keep your digestive system in trim, but too much will make you feel bloated.  Always make sure you eat because you are hungry and not out of habit or boredom.   If you are overweight your body will be working harder than it should have to, causing a drain on your energy levels. Booking  a session with a Nutritionist to analyses your eating habits and keeping a food diary is often the best step forward to“Making Positive Lifestyle Changes” .   ©sk-lifefitness2011

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