What Should We Actually Be Eating?

Diet. We’re constantly being told what we should eat or avoid to maintain good health. There are fads, of which some stay and some go. Whether it be a certain food or special diet, we’re always seeking something new to hype over.

Of course there’s ethical, religious or genuine health reasons behind some special diets, but then there’s those who chose something as a “quick fix” to achieve a weightloss goal or to fit in with “the trend”. But are these choices sustainable?

Take coconut oil for example. Being marketed for its health properties in cooking and health and beauty, it was flying off the shelves and even our mainstream supermarkets started to supply the demand. However, coconut oil is a saturated fat and having too much of this is likely to clog up your arteries, which can lead to cardiovascular disease in future. Such health risks include heart attacks and strokes.

The Eatwell Guide by the NHS recommends we should eat 1/3 of our plate with vegetables, such as dark leafy greens. This could be covered every meal or across the duration of the day or week. Another 1/3 of our plate should be starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes, pasta, rice or whole grains. So what is the last 1/3? It’s broken in three segments, all of different proportions. One is our source of protein (animal or plant), the next is our dairy and alternatives (cheeses, milks, soy yogurts etc) and finally the smallest wedge is for oils and spreads (recommended is unsaturated fats, such as olive oil).

Looking at that guide, who can say yes I follow the NHS guidelines? Now, I’m not a nutritionist or dietician, but using my knowledge of academia and my job in healthcare, is that guide suitable for everyone?

Each of us has a minimum amount of calories we need per day just for our bodies to function at rest. This is our basal metabolic rate. Now, of course we have exercise planned into our schedules or just minimal walking as part of our commute. Because we are active, we need to eat more calories to support our activity levels. Our estimated activity requirement varies per person and our goals.

Starchy foods are a great source of energy, otherwise calories, and vitamins and minerals to help fight infections, repair cells and maintain internal systems. Excess calories we know get stored as fat. The reason why health professionals champion wholegrain options is due to glycemic index (GI). GI looks at the time food raises our blood glucose.  The higher the GI, the quicker it can give us energy. Hence why lower GI foods such as whole grains are recommended as they are high in fibre, which in turn to help keep us fuller for longer.

Carbs are fantastic, however consistently over eating on carbs is bad. We get an increase in our blood glucose, increase in triglyceride levels (type of fat in the blood which increases as we eat more calories than we need) and this in turn increases our bad cholesterol (LDL) levels. For example, this tends to be why there are rate of high cholesterol and diabetes is higher in some ethnic minorities than Caucasian, due to a diet mainly based on rice and breads. So in light of this, is having 1/3 plate of carbs the right choice for everyone?

Back to The Eatwell Guide, protein should only makes up a small proportion of our meals. There seems to be a stigma in the fitness industry that protein is all we need, especially lean animal sources, as this helps to repair damaged cells and muscle. From flicking through Instagram or talking to clients, I definitely have heard or seen people eating more than what’s recommended by the NHS. But guess what? Their diet works for them and their blood results are within range.

The NHS have published guidelines based on research. The Eatwell Guide champions dark leafy greens and wholegrains to be the base of our diet. Recommended is also a low intake of red and processed meat due to their likely link to bowel cancer. In terms of proportions of food types, I’d honestly say there’s no definitive diet we should all collectively follow. Whatever works for you, works for you. A high protein low carb diet might work for one person, however a high carb low protein might be more suitable to someone else. One pointt worth mentioning is that sweet treats, high saturated fat foods and alcohol should be consumed in moderation. As long as your overall health is great, such as medical conditions and blood results, carry on what you’re doing. It’s always worth getting a blood test for a cholesterol and vitamin and mineral check. Although you think you’re eating healthy, are you really?

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