8 Keys To A Healthy Diet
Starting a healthy diet can seem overwhelming, especially with the bad eating habits we’ve picked up over lockdown (looking at you fridge raiders). With so many dos, don’ts, and even maybes, just the thought of it can put you off. But after learning about the importance of our health over the past year, even those who turned running to the fridge into an Olympic sport are considering retiring early.
Eating a healthy diet doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Snacks or cheat days aren’t even completely off the table (phew). We speak to Mascha Davis MPH, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, founder of MiniFish.co and author of Eat Your Vitamins, about the 8 keys to a healthy diet. Spoiler alert: they’re so simple anyone can do it.
1. Supplements aren’t substitutes
Many people opt for supplements as an alternative to eating their vitamins. They seem like an easy quick fix if you have a busy lifestyle and are always on the go. While there’s no denying popping a pill is quicker than cooking a meal, it won’t give you the fix you need for a healthy diet.
Our bodies are made to absorb nutrients naturally through foods. Supplements contain synthetic nutrients which are, you guessed it, lab-made. “Eat your vitamins (it’s so important that I wrote an entire book about this!) instead of taking pills or supplements to meet your needs. Nutrients are absorbed and utilized much better from whole food sources,” says Davis.
Taking vitamins is more complex than you think. When we eat, we’re never eating a single nutrient. We consume a range of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and other goodness that complement each other to be best absorbed by the body. They’re a natural-born team you want on your side.
Whereas supplements aren’t a fan of teamwork and typically only contain one type of nutrient. This causes our vitamins to complete for absorption which can lead to a dangerous imbalance. To get the most out of your supplements you’d have to cook anyway, but knowing what foods will work and taste good together is a whole other ball game. So just eat your vitamins already.
2. Eat more fish and shellfish
When we think of protein we typically think of meat. If we’re lacking protein we grab a juicy steak or grilled chicken burger (mmm). We bet your mouth’s watering already. Now think of fish. Suddenly you’re not as hungry anymore – sorry pescatarians. But fish is low in fat and high in protein, making it the perfect addition to a balanced diet.
“Most people aren’t getting enough and it’s a great source of lean protein, healthy omega-3 fats, and other key minerals,” says Davis.
The good news is you don’t have to eat a huge amount of fish to get its benefits. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times per week for a healthy diet. This can lower blood pressure and reduce the chances of a heart attack or stroke. So whether you wake up in the middle of the night craving fish or not, eating it twice a week doesn’t seem so bad (unless you’re allergic of course).
But there’s a catch. Some types of fish can contain high levels of mercury and other environmental contaminants, right down to the microbeads in our beloved facial scrub. “Try to search where it’s coming from and keep an eye on sustainability,” she says.
“Mini Fish sources only premium steelhead river trout from one of the cleanest, most sustainable, and pristine aquaculture sources in the world. The trout is fully traceable and raised in pure spring water, there’s no micro-plastics, PCBs, growth hormones or antibiotics, and they’re low in mercury.” The result? Tastes better and does better for you and the planet.
Other types of fish low in mercury include shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, catfish, shrimp, oysters, clams, and scallops. Typically, larger predatory fish and seafood have higher amounts. But you’re unlikely to eat shark twice a week so you should be in the clear.
3. Nuts and seeds can be part of your 5-a-day
Never underestimate the power of nuts and seeds. They may be small, but they’re mighty in healthy fats and fiber. “Speaking of fiber – this is a superfood that most men lack and it can help to prevent a lot of diseases. Men should get 38 grams per day,” says Davis. Are you getting 38 grams per day? If the answer’s no, you need to stock up on these superfoods asap. They’re rich in antioxidants that can combat free radicals – aka potential diseases.
Let’s go back to high school chemistry real quick. Free radicals are unstable molecules that contain oxygen with an uneven number of electrons which allows them to cling onto and react with other molecules. As a result, they can cause large chain reactions in the body, a process called oxidizing, which can be harmful or beneficial.
Free radicals are often misunderstood and thought of as the bad guys because of the hype around antioxidants. But antioxidants lend a helping hand by giving electrons to a free radical making them less sensitive whilst remaining stable themselves.
To keep your body at optimum health, you need a balance of antioxidants and free radicals. Including nuts and seeds in your 5-a-day is a great way to achieve this as they’re both classed as fruits and we know you can do this.
But if we’re getting technical, peanuts are the exception to the rule as they’re legumes (an unnecessarily fancy word for beans if you ask us), and are technically vegetables. Mixing nuts or seeds with peanuts is an easy way to tick off two out of five fruits and vegetables.
4. Beans and lentils can up your protein levels
We know fish can be an acquired taste, so beans and lentils are another way to get your protein. “Eat more beans and lentils – these are one of the healthiest foods which also contain excellent plant-based protein”, she says. They don’t force you to get creative with your food as they don’t have an overpowering flavor or smell so they can be added to almost any dish as part of the main, side, or even as a garnish.
One of the most popular ways to eat them is to blitz them into a soup with other vegetables – if you find yourself on the move a lot, cook the soup in bulk and freeze. Then defrost, throw it in a flask, and bring it with you. Simple.
Basically, you have no excuse not to eat beans and lentils. If you’re buying beans from a tin, always make sure to check the label for no added salt or sugar.
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5. Keep hydrated
We hope this goes without saying, but we couldn’t talk about a healthy diet without mentioning staying hydrated. “Don’t forget to hydrate – carry water and sip it throughout the day” says Davis.
While we sure feel hunger, we don’t always feel thirst. Some of us can sense lunchtime coming up without even looking at a clock by our hunger levels. While others count down till lunch (like we are right now). Sipping water doesn’t have the same appeal. But it’s important to remember that just because you aren’t thirsty, doesn’t mean your body isn’t in need of water.
All bodily functions rely on liquids to perform at their best as they deliver nutrients to the cells in your body. Eating a healthy diet but forgetting to drink water would be pretty much unless without it if they can’t get to where they need to be.
It’s recommended that men should drink 3.7 liters a day, but not all at once. You can’t chug this amount of water like you would beer and call it quits for the day. The body needs gradual hydration to maintain full function.
Other liquids, except alcohol as it’s extremely dehydrating (sigh), can count towards your daily intake. But they can come with excess sugars and calories, so it’s best to limit these and prioritize water as your main source of hydration.
6. Believe it or not, frozen berries can be better for you than fresh berries and you should eat more of them
Berries are delicious. They’re beautifully sweet and taste like summer, even in the middle of winter. But reminiscing over our favorite holiday isn’t all they’re good for. They’re some of the healthiest foods you can eat and can help you get in shape for swimming trunk season.
Each type of berry has different levels of nutrients but they can contain calcium, magnesium, and potassium as well as vitamins A, B, C, and E – or all of the above found in blackberries. Eating a variety of berries will ensure you get everything they have to offer.
But not all berries are found all year round. Davis says frozen berries are the way to go. Most people tend to shy away from frozen fruit because they “lack nutritional value,” but this isn’t necessarily true. Most fresh fruit is picked before it’s fully ripe so they don’t overripe on their journey to the supermarket.
On the other hand, frozen fruit is typically picked in its prime and frozen the same day, preserving all the nutrients. “Eat more berries – these are not only full of vitamins but also contain many antioxidants that help protect your brain and heart as you age,” Davis says. They also get bonus points just for being ice cold, ready to throw straight into a refreshing smoothie.
7. Snacking can be good for you
Before you go grabbing a packet of crisps, hear us out. Healthy snacks in between meals can be a good thing if you’re still within your calorie limit (2,500 a day for men). Getting our essential nutrients in only three meals can be tricky, and snacking can take the pressure off.
“Snacking is awesome – it helps to stabilize your blood sugar and keep your energy up throughout the day. It also helps with maintaining a healthy weight because you aren’t ravenously hungry and less likely to overeat at mealtime,” says Davis.
When we’re hungry, we’re more likely to make bad food choices – similar to how you shouldn’t go to the supermarket on an empty stomach. Have you ever noticed how much more food you buy when you’re hungry? Everything looks like a good idea when you’re starving. It’ll also keep you from feeling hangry, and that’s all-around better for everyone in your life.
8. Allow yourself cheat days
Sticking to strict meals can be hard if you’re new to a healthy diet. As humans, especially men, we always want what we can’t have. But we don’t blame you. If we’re told we can’t have something, our desire to have it grows stronger.
The urge to feel what it’d be like to have it takes over, even if we never had any interest in it in the first place. The same goes for food.
If you tell yourself you’re no longer allowed to eat chocolate, all you’ll want to eat will be chocolate. You’ll see the world through chocolate bars and be forced to give in as your boss becomes a walking talking piece of chocolate.
While you do need to cut down on sugar and salt (we’re sorry to be the ones to break it to you if you have a super sweet tooth), allowing yourself a cheat day every now and then will keep you from overindulging, as well as help you stick to your new way of eating as you know you’ll eventually be rewarded for it.
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