Are we digging our graves with our forks? Or/ Let food nourish, not injure you…
The foods we eat contribute more to chronic health conditions than anything else we do. There are certain things we can eat or not eat that could add years to our lives, while making us feel good in the meantime. But it’s easier said than done. I get that.
The great news is that you are in control of what goes into your mouth and the mouths of your family! That’s stating the obvious but we often need reminding. Although most of us desire great health, many of us fail to seize the opportunity to create that reality for ourselves. Yes, you have that power! And if you do harness that power, grab that opportunity and run with it, the impact you can have on your health, vitality and longevity is immense. Let food nourish you not injure you. Don’t dig your grave with your fork!
Why is it so hard?
Nutrition has become complicated. Different and often opposing messages bombard us from TV shows, blogs and magazines, even friends, touting raw food, paleo, gluten free, carb free, fermented, GAP’s etc, etc. Most people throw up their hands before they even begin. I like to focus on making health related changes do-able. Ultimately that’s what matters most. That people will be inspired enough to take small steps towards better health, not scared by the prospect of humungous changes. There is no use me talking about kombucha and homemade almond milk, if the person in front of me is eating McMuffins for breakfast and drinking 5 coffees a day. Equally some people are further along their journey of discovering healthy foods and habits, so we can go that next step onto sprouting and kale chips!
Wherever your position on the path to great health, there are a few things you can get started on today. It doesn’t have to be complicated. If you find yourself thinking it’s all too hard, just commit to one change over the next month, then celebrate that and move on to the next. Some people dive into the pool and others inch their way in. You’ll get there in the end. Do what works for you.
1) Consider your sugar intake
We all know too much is bad for us but it’s mighty addictive stuff. In my grandmothers’ day it was practically touted as a health food. ‘Only 18 calories per teaspoon and it’s all energy!’. In the 60’s, the sugar industry tried to put consumers off the newly invented artificial sweeteners with advertisements claiming all sorts of benefits, from weight loss to curing exhaustion.
The truth is that excess sugar instigates inflammation, wrecks havoc with our mood, causes insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, not to mention weight gain and immune system suppression. Another truth is it tastes good and we love it! In fact the average New Zealander/Australian consumes a whopping 138g of added sugar a day! That’s 32 teaspoons and 50.5 kg/year. While we need some sugars in our diet, there is no doubt we are eating too much. The World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines suggest no more than 10 teaspoons of added sugar daily. Those 32 teaspoons are sneaking their way into a lot of diets in the form of packaged food.
For those who are busy and have resorted to relying on conveniently packaged and pre prepared food reducing sugar can be a hard change. It seems so much quicker to pour cereal than cook an egg. To pop a ‘fruit’ wrap into the lunchbox than to cut up an apple. I’m often told by mums that by the time they’ve organised the kids for school and dropped them off it’s a mad rush to work, where they grab a coffee and a muffin for breakfast. I see a lot of teenagers, energy drink in hand, walking to and from school. It’s all I can do not to shout “please drink water!”. Although there will be a backlash from the kids (and even from yourself if you’re honest) making small weekly changes will lead to big health benefits very quickly.
Here are some healthy switch outs for common sugary culprits:
|Jam/Nutella/honey on toast||Toast with:
tomato and cheese
|Packaged cereal||Wholegrain porridge with raisins|
|Energy drinks/soft drinks/juice||Water or herbal tea|
|Sugar in your coffee/tea||Have without or try natural stevia|
|Ice cream||Frozen banana blended (YUM!)|
|Sugar laden snacks (muffins/slices)||Nuts and seeds with fresh fruit|
Keep sugar for that beautiful home baking and special occasions and get it out of your kids breakfast.
2) Decrease your processed meat intake
Ham, bacon, sausages, pastrami, salami, corned beef. Your mouth is probably watering at the mention of these salty, moreish favourites. But the salts used in the curing process (sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite) have been shown to convert to carcinogenic compounds in the stomach and so linked to an increased risk of early death. Red meat contains naturally occurring levels of these chemicals too, but in a much smaller amount. In fact some vegetables also contain nitrates and nitrites but the vitamin C and other antioxidants in them render the chemicals harmless. Cool eh?
The most worrying thing for me is the amount of processed meat some children are eating. Ham sandwiches seem to be a lunch box staple, and I’ve even heard of some kids eating those jerky type products. Roast chicken and beef or eggs would be a much better option.
3) Increase plant food
Author Michael Pollan sums up years of research into human health with the advice to “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. Pretty simple really. He hasn’t just made this stuff up either. Study after study points to the benefits of more plant based food and less EFLS (edible food like substances) such as luncheon meat and toffee pops (sorry toffee pops). I’m not suggesting you become vegan or obsessed about details, just lean more in the direction of the veggie aisle and less in the direction of the bread, meat and juice sections. Aim for 5 cups of veggies daily (potato chips don’t count), and you’ll be getting more fiber, water, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than you can shake a carrot at.
So there you have three things that could add years to your life, but remember that true health encompasses mental and emotional health as well. A healthy diet can’t fix an unhealthy relationship or a life draining job. For true health to manifest we have to acknowledge this fact. Maybe that’s a subject for another time.