The saying “You are what you eat” has been around for many years and remains one of the most accurate descriptions of how we should conduct our eating habits.
This is evident in every workplace, especially at this time of year when people are still suffering from post-Christmas feasting. Despite the increasing popularity of ‘Veganuary’ or ‘Dry January’, weight and lifestyle issues are still a significant one for many people.
It is very difficult to decide which of the multitude of information on weight reduction diets, healthy eating, exclusion diets or general nutrition advice to follow, given that advice can seem contradictory or just plain bizarre.
For companies with access to an occupational health provider, this should be your first port of call for assistance in promoting healthy eating among your employees. Those working offshore can ask their medic how not to give in to the temptation of unlimited portion size and the constant availability of chips.
For individuals, or employers without an occupational health provider, working your way through this can be difficult, however there are certain simple rules to follow. The most basic of which is if you want to lose weight, eat less and exercise more – also known as the “energy balance”.
If you burn off more calories than you take in, your weight will go down. It doesn’t matter which weight reduction diet you follow, this holds true – even the red wine diet works for some people (but it probably doesn’t count as healthy eating).
There is evidence that a healthy diet has significant health benefits and that the best way to achieve a healthy diet is to have a balanced combination of the following five food groups:
- Dairy or food rich in calcium
- Proteins such as meats, nuts and beans
It is important also, to avoid very sweet, salty or fatty foods. Ideally at least half of every meal should be fruit and vegetables.
Even if you are not overweight, an unhealthy diet can increase your risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, stroke, gall bladder disease, sleeping problems, some cancers and nutritional deficiencies. Whereas a healthy diet often makes you feel more energetic and confident and can reduce your risk of these conditions.
Fruits are important sources of many nutrients, including potassium, dietary fibre, vitamin C and folate (folic acid). Fresh seasonal fruits are better than canned fruits and varying the type of fruit you eat is important given that the nutrients contained within them are different. If you can only access canned fruits, avoid those cans containing added sugar. 100% natural fruit juice can be part of your fruit intake, but not all of it.
Vegetables are also important sources of nutrients and also contain potassium, dietary fibre, and vitamin C; they also contain vitamins A and E. They are usually grouped based on colour and starch content and it is important to eat a variety of different coloured vegetables – dark green, orange, red – as the different colours contain different nutrients. Again for the maximum benefit, vegetables should be eaten fresh, not preserved.
Grains should form part of every meal, either whole or refined. Wholegrain or wholemeal products (brown bread or brown rice) are healthier than white or processed products (white bread or white rice) because they contain more nutrients, fibre and give longer lasting energy. The energy provided by grains is important for daily activities along with several B vitamins and minerals.
Dairy or food rich in calcium should be taken with most meals and are important to build bones and teeth and maintain bone mass. Ideally they should be “fat free” or “low fat”, these forms of milk have the same nutrients as whole milk but less calories and saturated fats. If you cannot consume dairy, then other foods high in calcium should be eaten such as small fish with bones, spinach, broccoli, almond and other calcium fortified beverages, soybean products and oranges.
Ideally, proteins such as meats, nuts or beans should be eaten with most meals, but meat should have the fat trimmed off it. Furthermore, muscle meats are healthier than organ meats (such as liver or kidney) as they contain less fat. Vegetarians should eat a combination of beans, legumes and nuts to ensure an adequate amount of protein in the diet.
Some foodstuffs should be avoided when possible, such as sweet, salty and fatty foods as they often contain calories without any nutrient value, including:
- Deep fried snacks
- Western “fast food”
- Sweet desserts
- Fizzy soft drinks
- Preserved vegetables
So when eating take big helpings from healthy dishes, such as grains, fruit, vegetables, protein and dairy products and small helpings from unhealthy dishes, such as sweet foods, salty foods, fatty foods and fried foods.
To improve your diet there are four easy steps:
- Balance the energy you eat with the energy you burn
- Buy healthier foods
- Use healthier cooking methods (don’t fry or deep fry)
- Only serve out what you need (control portion size)
By adopting just a few of these methods, not only can you have a healthy lifestyle post-Christmas, you can have it for life.