What Really Makes a Meal Healthy? A Nutritionist’s Perspective.
Carbs are bad for you. Carbs are good for you. No eating past 6pm. Eat red meat in moderation. Are you no longer sure what to eat? We’re not surprised! There’s so much conflicting misinformation thrown at us from social media to marketing ads, it’s impossible to know what to trust.
We’re continuously learning when it comes to nutrition and there are some areas where even scientists are still a bit unclear – which is what makes the subject area so exciting!
However there are some standpoints where the nutrition world is in consensus – and guess what? It’s more simple than you might think.
Focus on healthy fats and carbohydrates
When it comes to fat and carbohydrate, neither macronutrient wins. In other words, you can eat a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet just as well as you can eat a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet. It all comes down to choosing the right fat and right carbohydrate sources.
We should prioritise complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates release glucose into the bloodstream more slowly, leading to more sustained and consistent energy levels throughout the day, whilst simple carbohydrates release glucose into the bloodstream more quickly, leading to both energy spikes and energy crashes. Complex carbohydrates and sustained energy levels have also been shown to have a more positive effect on our mood.
These include carbohydrates coming from sources such as pulses, legumes and whole grains. They provide us with essential vitamins and minerals and contribute to our fibre intake.
If you’re worried that carbohydrates will affect your fat loss goals, head here for our comments on the matter.
The same is true for fats, the type of fat you eat can be of bigger importance than the amount of fat you eat. We should prioritise unsaturated fats over saturated fats. Unsaturated fats are found mostly in plants (nuts seeds, avocado, olive oil), and saturated fats are found mostly in animal sources (dairy, eggs, meat), but most foods will contain both.
Unsaturated fats are often required to maintain a healthy, balanced diet as they are required for several important functions.
- Fats are energy-dense, providing 9 calories per gram.
- Fats enable the absorption of our fat-soluble vitamins, so that’s vitamin A, D, E and K.
- Fats are essential for the production of hormones.
- Fats are a source of essential fatty acids (EFAs (essential because they cannot be produced by the body, and must be obtained through the food we eat – such as Omega-3s which can be found in oily fish). EFAs are vital for cell growth and healthy cell functioning, particularly related to the optimal functioning of nerves and the brain.
There’s no one-size-fits-it-all
Everyone has unique needs and it’s important to identify an eating pattern that supports yours. It’s important to find something that works for you as an individual and something you can stick to in the long run. Eating is a highly personal experience and it involves more than just fueling your body or sitting down to nutrients on a plate. Eating means something different to everyone.
Make ‘happy’ food choices
It’s important that we don’t focus too much on the negative aspects of eating behaviour, like restricting ourselves from certain foods or food groups. Research shows that dieting and restricted eating are often more counterproductive and can create an unhealthy relationship with food.
What happens when we forbid ourselves from eating chocolate? We start to crave chocolate more.
We should allow ourselves to take pleasure in the foods we are eating. If you deprive yourself of consuming meals that you find pleasurable to eat, you are more likely to continue to eat even though you are full, because you still do not feel satisfied. Have a little bit of what you fancy and enjoy it.
Incorporate more plant-based meals
Research consistently shows that eating more plant-based foods is associated with many health benefits and a lower risk for chronic diseases including diabetes and heart disease. You don’t need to go fully vegan or vegetarian to experience the benefits.
On our Flexitarian plan, we provide one meat or fish meal per day, whilst prioritising plant-based meals for the remainder.
Are you not sure what eating pattern would be best for you? Fresh Fitness Food provides personalised meal plans delivered straight to your door, ensuring not only that you have the nutrients you need to manage your stress levels, but also that you have the time usually spent shopping, cooking and washing up, to engage in your favourite stress-reducing activity. To discuss which nutrition plan is right for you, book a call with our in-house nutrition team here.