Never, after your first formative thousand days on the planet, has this been more important to your health as it is now.
Remember how, as a teenager and child you consumed endless volumes of white bread, sugary foods, sugared drinks, cereals, burgers, chocolate; on top of your nutritious three meals per day? Well, that energy, you used up. You were buzzing with energy, vitality and things to do (in most cases) and so you simply fuelled your body the easiest way you knew how and it seemed to work out for you.
Now, if you happened to be a superior athlete, chances were you were just beginning to be educated at a when nutrition became inextricably linked to performance. That only dawned on us really in the 1980. Until then, you ate whatever you fancied before a race, a match or any competition.
Today we know a lot more. Even, in the 1990’s, when I first began my career in nutrition, I spent much of my time teaching clients about certain nutrients; their value and how to balance each meal.
That day is gone.
When I give corporate talks, these days, I find the level of knowledge in the group to be very high; top notch, in fact. We are very informed. We know what we should be doing. We understand why. We value the importance of good nutrition to our health. We are no longer eating sugar-free jelly (no loss to humanity there!). WE ARE NOW ROLLING OUR OWN PROTEIN BALLS. It’s amazing, how dedicated some people are to their nutritional health.
I prefer to inhabit the middle ground though, I have to say. I rarely roll a protein ball, if ever!
If they were to take the place of trashy quick-fix snacks, then I applaud the effort. But if they are a flash-in-the-pan perfectionist’s indulgence then they represent a bridge too far for me.
We can attain very good health, ‘high-health’ as I like to refer to it , by eating really simple, whole, nutritious food. Balance that with healthy activity and exercise levels and we can build a body to live a high-quality next number of decades.
1. Focus on real foods.
The term whole-foods, I find, puts people off. I remember in the 1980’s the F-Plan diet (aptly named) had whole-food stores dedicated to its followers. The large bins of all-bran and such-like dried, brown, whole foods with associated smells and lack of hygiene, is a memory burned into my brain. So I get it.
No, by ‘real’, I mean eat an apple, not apple juice. Eat porridge oats, not an oat-containing cereal. Eat olive-oil aplenty, not some low-cal spray.
The best chefs on television talk of good, local produce. The poshest food around is often the simplest. I remember watching Ina Garten, a.k.a. the Barefoot Contessa, help Elih Zabar (of New York’s Zabar’s deli) make a tomato salad in his restaurant, from Heirloom tomatoes grown on his restaurant roof-top garden. Talk about simple! It was, literally, an assortment of different coloured, sized and textured tomatoes, grown on-site; sliced, chopped and dressed with only salt, pepper and vinegar. Astoundingly tasty, by all accounts. Nutritionally phenomenal.
Lycopene is a very powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes. They are integral to the Mediterranean way of eating. They were a stalwart of my diet as a poor research-assistant living in France one summer in my twenties. Cheap, local, tasty. Now that is what I mean by whole foods.
2. Avoid high-sugar and artificially-sweetened foods.
D’oh! Who doesn’t know this? But we still fall prey. All the time. Why? Because highly-sugared foods cause a glucose high (energising) followed by a sugar crash (insulin takes glucose out of the blood and into cells). This leaves you craving. This you know. Yet we fall prey. How? Today, in the name of smoothies, energy drinks and protein-bars we can get oodles and oodles of free sugar that produces this effect. It’s not just Coke and chocolate that does it. Be aware. Tune in. Avoid.
Too much sugar is quite ageing in the body. It causes the breakdown of collagen. We could really do without that at this stage in our evolution!
3. Eat oily fish and olive oil for preference. Eat nuts.
Unadulterated, whole, nuts. We need certain essential fats every day. We cannot make them. They are involved in every cell structure of our body. They are the building blocks for hormones (HELLO!!) and they effect the quality of our skin, hair & nails. Need I say more?
So where do we get these magic elixirs of youth? In oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring), in nuts & in oils. The thing is, we tend to get lots of omega-6 fats (found in vegetable oils) and not necessarily enough omega-3’s (found in oily fish and nuts). Use olive oil in cooking. Here I am a zealot. The 60plus years of epidemiological evidence behind the benefits of olive oil in the Mediterranean diet, regarding health, good ageing & longevity is undisputed. TAKE NOTE.
4. Include vitamin D & Calcium-rich foods in every day.
If not, supplement. In the 1990’s I worked for a time in the supplement industry. The irony was that I never took supplements. I was young, fit, able. I am a strong believer in the theory (Hippocrates) “let food be thy medicine”. However, I live in Ireland. I get out every day; no exceptions, to walk a dog who might otherwise eat the cat! I get an hour of light, minimum, every day. Yet, my Vitamin D levels can drop below the recommended. So I take supplementary Vitamin D, particularly in the winter. This is Public Health advice & it is worth noting.
Vitamin D is involved in the absorption of Calcium into our bones. Bones matter. Take enough calcium. If you consume dairy products consistently this really helps. If in doubt, consider supplementing. You also know that weight-bearing exercise is how you build that calcium into bone. We must exercise to maintain bone mass.
5. And protein.
Such a complex story we have made of protein! This is the subject-matter for a blog post of its own. All I will say here, is that we need to eat protein to maintain and particularly to build muscle. We need adequate, not extreme amounts. Include some protein in each of your main meals and you will have enough. You do not need to supplement here. You do not need protein bars which tend to be highly expensive and are still bars, not ‘real’ foods. A steak is real.
Like the building of bone, if you do not load your muscles with weight-bearing exercise you will lose it. So use it!
We build a new body; a WHOLE NEW BODY, a number of times over our lifespan. We are constantly re-generating cells and therefore the fuel you consume may as well be the best you can manage in order to build the best cells you can manage! Eat well for vibrancy and youthfulness! You are what you eat…..