Getting the basics right when it comes to eating

Getting the basics right by Sarah Mayo

Do you “eat to live” or “live to eat”? I’m sure that when faced with this question, you’re likely to say the first is true – you eat to live. But when life gets busy and we feel the pressures of time, and the other micro-stressors that life throws our way, we might not think so clearly about what we are eating and how important food is for our mind, body and soul.

Like many aspects of human behaviour, there are many factors that affect our food choices, including genetics. But in the simplest of terms we choose our food based on three factors –  the sensory properties of foods (what we like the taste of), cognitive factors (what we have learned), and environmental influences (for example, lifestyle).

Back to basics

It may be obvious, but quite simply we need to eat for nourishment. Food is essential for all mind and body functions and we need the right mix of nutrients for growth and development, maintaining cells and tissues, fuelling our physical and metabolic work and regulating body processes.

But how often are our food choices made with this in mind? There are six classes of nutrients that we need in our diet, along with fibre (which is not a nutrient) to help with the digestion process. Our primary sources of energy come from the three macronutrients of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and all the other essential nutrients come from vitamins, minerals and water.

We know there is much conflicting advice out there. And of course, genetics mean that we’re all different, and have different needs, preferences and tolerances. So I’ve tried to boil down the essentials into the following three tips. Special requirements should be discussed with a nutritionist/dietitian.

#1 Think of your daily energy needs as a budget, and spend your budget wisely…

To maintain good, consistent energy levels throughout the day, aim for three main balanced whole meals. Every meal should include good complex carbs, good quality fats and a good amount of protein. Choose natural foods and cook from scratch as much as possible. Eat seasonally, and choose as colourful and as varied foods as possible. The vitamins and minerals that most Britons are deficient in are – B vitamins (in particular B12), D vitamins, magnesium and iron. These can be found in meat, fish, seafood, eggs, nuts, fruit and vegetables. And don’t forget to stay hydrated! With our bodies made up of around 60% water, it is essential to keep ourselves hydrated throughout the day (at least 2 litres a day).

#2 Plan ahead! Fail to plan, plan to fail

Try to avoid convenience foods which tend to be processed, refined, fried. This requires planning and preparation, as when busy our default is to opt for convenience. A good way to do this is to batch cook and freeze. Buy some tupperware and prepare natural foods to maintain consistent energy levels throughout the day. This way you shouldn’t need to snack. If you do find you need a mid morning or afternoon boost, be prepared with nuts, an apple or banana to hand. Avoid sugars (there are many different names for sugar including dextrose, maltose etc), trans fats (cakes, biscuits, margarine), and artificial foods and colourings. These will have the opposite effect you’re looking for when you have low energy, by spiking sugar levels, only for them to drop drastically soon after.

#3 Remember even moderation should come in moderation!

We all have our weaknesses when it comes to food, whether you have a sweet or a savoury preference. But don’t treat that weakness as the enemy, but more of a treat. We believe in the 80/20 rule… if you eat a balanced, nutritious diet 80% of the time, you can treat yourself every now and again.

So, when making food choices, try thinking about how what you eat impacts your mind and body, and in turn how this impacts the way you think, feel and act. The saying “you are what you eat” does have some truth! But remember, we also need to feed our soul, so thank goodness for the 80/20 rule! Bon appetit.