Probably we all heard the famous quote by L. Feuerbach ‘You are what you eat’. Food can truly affect the way we feel both physically and emotionally, thus it is important to look after our food.
Food and body
A healthy diet provides us with the right amount of energy for normal functions of the body, including growth, renewal of body cells and much more. However, malnutrition can also be the cause of chronic disease such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease (Sami et al., 2017; Casas et al., 2018). Even our emotions are controlled by our diet. A randomised controlled trial by Jacka et al. (2017) investigated whether food can help in the treatment of depression. After 3 months symptoms such as sadness, reduced sleep and appetite, pessimistic thoughts and others significantly improved – for 32% of individuals in the intervention group who adhered to ‘ModiMedDiet’ (modified Mediterranean diet) symptoms of depression disappeared compared to 8% of people in the control group who received counselling. The study was also conducted ad libitum which means that the improvement in depression symptoms was independent of weight change. This study suggested that a better diet can help in various ways, including mental health.
Of course, food not only affects the treatment of diseases; a balanced diet is also a preventative measure from the onset of the disease. How does a balanced diet look like? According to World Health Organisation (2020) a healthy diet for adults includes:
- fruits, vegetables, legumes (such as beans, chickpeas), nuts, whole grains (such as brown rice, whole rolled oats);
- at least 400 grams of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables (excluding potatoes, sweet potatoes and other starchy vegetables);
- less than 10% or ideally 5% of daily energy intake should be from free sugars;
- less than 5 grams of salt per day;
- less than 30% of total energy intake should come from fats.
How do these recommendations look in daily life?
To get more fibre, vitamins and minerals at breakfast choose wholemeal bread for sandwiches or swap instant rolled oats for whole rolled oats that cook longer. You can also try whole groats porridge for breakfast, such as millet, pearl barley, amaranth.
Consuming at least 400 grams or 5 portions of fruits and vegetables a day decreases the risk for the development of chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and others (WHO/FAO, 2003) as well as provides the right amount of fibre. If possible, choose fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits, however frozen, stirred into soup or stew vegetables count as well. You can easily snack with veggies like carrot or celery sticks dipped in hummus or have a piece of fresh fruit before lunch. Try incorporating vegetables into every meal, whether it would a fresh side salad or incorporated as part of the main meal.
It is hard to limit the intake of salt and sugar, the best strategy would be to eat less processed food, limit intake of sweets and sugary drinks. Instead of soft drink or juice choose infused water with a piece of fruit, mint or any other combination that you like. After lunch, when you have that sweet tooth, swap the piece of cake for a handful of nuts. Instead of salt try adding more flavour to your food by seasoning with fresh herbs or any high-quality spices – you will add more depth to your meal consuming less salt at the same time. After all if you want that sweet anyway, eat it slowly, enjoying every piece of it. It is better to eat with pleasure and joy rather than restricting oneself and binge eating afterwards.
You will limit your fat intake if the food is steamed or boiled. If you prefer frying opt for vegetable oil such as olive oil or rapeseed oil, which have less saturated fatty acids than animal fats like butter, lard. It is important to pay attention to the smoke point temperature of oils – after reaching the smoke point, oil is breaking down, which means that the quality of oils drops, and free radicals are released. For lunch or dinner, choose lean meat; 2-3 times a week consider having legumes or fish, both are a great source of protein.
There are many easy tips and methods to include healthier products in your diet. Keep in mind that all people are different, so one way of eating might suit your friend but not stick with you in the same way. The best advice there can be, is to eat the variety without focusing too much on one particular food group.