We all know we should excercise. Studies have shown that as little as 45 minutes of excercise, three times a week has real, measurable health benefits. Not only does it help to burn off unwanted excess calories, but it can lead to improved mental health as well. http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CBsQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fmentalhealth.about.com%2Fod%2Fdepression%2Fa2Fhowexercise.htm&ei=23V6TdG8O4iZhQfwqsyABw&usg=AFQjCNECOdxd47JVQ4GjOFWVEY_Vn0UCEA&sig2=of4MNRE-CqhAtba1f6o2xA And it makes sense that if you put in more calories than you use, the body has to do something with all that extra energy, so it stores it as fat in case it should need it in the future. But I am not a sports scientist, so I’ll concentrate on nutrition.
Let’s start with meat.
Most of us really enjoy a nice piece of tasty, juicy meat or fish. And it’s usually our main source of protein. But some meat is better for us than others. Scientists have researched all kinds of meat, and have discovered that too much of the wrong kinds of meat is quite bad for us. This is a list of meats, and thier nutritional properties: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/is-meat-good-or-bad-for-us-425192.html Although we need protein and amino acids that come from meat, we need to remember that there are health risks – especially from red meats such as lamb and beef. Not only are these implicated in colonic cancers, but they contain a lot of saturated fats as well. Scientists now believe that we should reduce our intake of red meat to below 100g a day. Other meats like chicken, turkey and fish – especially oily fishes like mackerel and herring are much better for us. Oily fish also contain essential Ω3 and Ω6 oils that help to maintain a healthy heart and arteries. http://www.pponline.co.uk/encyc/omega-3-omega-6.html Meats also provide us with essential B vitamins as well as minerals such as zinc which is important for our immune system. So the message here is eat a variety of meat, with a heavy emphasis on white meats and fish. Also, if you can grill rather than fry, then you’ll be loosing some of that unwanted fat as well. If you can, avoid processed meat as this contains a lot of salt, which hardens the arteries and can lead to increased blood-pressure. Also, the quality of processed meat is usually far inferior to cuts of meat or fish. If you really want to put yourself off, have a look at mechanically recovered meat:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mechanically_separated_meat Another problem is that it also contains a lot of Trans-Fats: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans_fat These are used as they add flavour and last a lot longer than unhydrogenated unsaturated fats, but they are really, really unhealthy.
Everybody knows vegetables are good for you. But which vegetables, and why? Well, to start with, they are a great source of fibre. There are a couple of kinds of fibre, soluable and insoluable. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dietary_fiber This used to be called “roughage” and described literally fibrous plants such as cabbage. However, soluable fibre is not actually fibous at all, and is what we call a “pre-biotic”. Basically, this is a group of substances that act with the bacteria in the gut to produce important substances for your body to use. Some really good sources of dietry fibre are brown wholemeal bread, oats and bran, and beans. One slight drawback is that a healthy diet containing plenty of fibre might just give you a little wind. But the benefits are multiple. In the short term, it improves digestive health making it work more efficiently, and in the longer term it can help protect against bowel cancers. Here is a resource showing the availability of dietry fibre in many common foods: http://www.weightlossresources.co.uk/diet/high_fibre/dietary_sources.htm
But vegetables give us so much more than mere fibre. They contain the majority of the essential vitamins and minerals we need to survive. The more fruit and vegetables we consume in place of other foods, the better. They contain anti-oxidants http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antioxidant that help our bodies combat harmful free-radicals http://www.healthchecksystems.com/antioxid.htm. Many of the anti-oxidants in vegetables and fruit actually come from the pigments that give them thier amazing colours. So a plate loaded with colourful vegetables like beets and carrots are really really good for you. One of the best sources of anti-oxidants I know of are blueberries. Loading up on anti-oxidants can be really great. This is a list of the top 20 sources. Have a look, I’m sure a lot of your favourite foods will turn up here: http://altmedicine.about.com/cs/supplements/a/antioxidants.htm This class of chemicals neutralises harmful waste products produced by our cells, or that we have absorbed from smoke, pollution and unhealthy food. Even alcohol produces free radicals, so a jug of orange-juice will help you to get over some of its unwanted side-effects.
You might be surprised to learn that not all fats are bad for you. Some fats like saturated fat are, and are most often found in meat and in pastries and snack-foods. This has been a subject of growing concern as obesity is costing billions each year to treat, and is set to get much worse. The U.S. government is particularly worried about this and has produced resources such as this: http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov/cic_text/food/reveal-fats/reveal-fats.htm to help get the message across.
The good fats are found in nuts, plants and fish-oils. Olive oil containes oleic acid compounds which are healthy. These help reduce the build-up of bad cholesterol and protects the heart. You are far better off using olive oil to fry in than lard or butter. The process of hydrogenating oils http://www.naturalnews.com/024694_oil_food_oils.html is an industrial process designed to make oils last longer before they go rancid, and the health risks from eating them is serious.
Some oils such as fish oils have important micro-nutrients dissolved in them such as co-enzyme q10. http://www.healingdaily.com/detoxification-diet/coenzyme-q10.htm This essential nutrient (also found in broccoli) is vital to the healthy functioning of your cells, and is a really good side-effect of choosing to use healthy oils rather than saturated ones.
Dairy foods tend to be high in saturated fat, which is unfortunate because I really love cheese and yoghurts. They often contain high levels of calcium, especially milk and cheese, and high levels of protein (cheese and eggs). The trick with dairy products is not to have too much, and to space them out over a week. Some dairy products now contain plant sterols which help you to filter bad cholesterol found in egg yolks amongst other places, from your system. They are more expensive than traditional products but are an ideal comprimise if you’re finding dairy hard to avoid.
These are the main ingredient of flour and potatoes, and makes up the vast majority of our calorific intake. These are basically starches and sugars, and we use them to give us our energy. It is much more healthy to get our calories from carbs than from oils, fats or proteins. Bread, potatoes, rice and flour are our staple foods in the west. Carbs can be found in nearly all foods and drinks, and keeping track of how many calories they are providing us can be quite tricky. Here is a table which gives the amount of carbs in a surprising array of foods: http://www.atkins.com/program/fourphases/carbcounter.aspx Carbs are broken down into sugars, some of which are used and some are stored in the liver as glycogen. Excess carbs get stored as fat around the body, and are a leadibg cause of obesity. Regulating the amount of carbs you eat are key to maintaining a healthy diet. Sugars enter the bloodstream much faster than carbs and can cause you to feel quite full for a short while. But the body quickly disposes of unwanted sugar, using insulin from the pancreas. Diabetes is a debilitating illness often associated with obesity, and is on the increase. This can lead to blindness, poor circulation and the loss of limbs. There is no cure, and although it can be treated with insulin injections it is a fatal disease. Information about diabetes can be found here: http://www.diabetes.org.uk/
Superfoods: My Top 3
- Lentils: These are from a group called Pulses. They are packed with protein, carbohydrate, healthy fats and minerals, and make a superb alternative to meat. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lentil
- Blueberries: These have the highest level of anti-oxidants of all, and are full of minerals and vitamins. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1851/2
- Broccoli: This contains fibre, vitamins, minerals, valuable essential oils and chemicals that help combat cancer. My favourite green vegetable this.
More superfoods can be found here: http://www.ihealthdirectory.com/superfoods-list/ Today, with dieting being a multi-billion dollar industry, superfoods necessarily come into this catagory. However, they are essentially nutritious, healthy, natural products that help us to cope with the demands of modern life.
The Secret is to not try and change everything at once. This would undoubtedly fail, and this is when people give up. Try and keep it simple and change gradually. Not only will you be more successful in your efforts to be healthy, but your gut will probably appreciate a gradual change more than a sudden one. So relax, have a cup of stress-busting green tea and plan your next shopping trip with more good foods than bad. Not only should you live a longer, healthier life, but with all the great new flavours you’ll probably enjoy it more too.
Some Twitter links too..