Food For Thought

19 ways to eat yourself healthy

Healthy eating is not just about shedding pounds. The food you eat will govern the condition of your skin, eyes, hair and bones and is pivotal in protecting your body against heart disease, cancer and other illnesses. But it doesn’t have to be a drag, Lizzie Meagher lists 19 ways to eat well healthily!

1. Breakfast like a King

Breakfast is the meal of champions, so try not to forget about it. With a day of activity ahead of you (even if it is only sitting in your office) you need to fuel up properly in the morning. A healthy, hearty breakfast will kickstart your metabolism, feed your body and brain and improve your mood so make the most of it and eat up.

How to eat it: A boiled egg is one of the best breakfasts if you have a busy day ahead; take porridge and honey in winter to warm you up and keep you going; brown wholewheat toast for a light breakfast or natural yogurt, muesli and fruit for major brownie points! Try to keep fries to a minimum (weekends only is an easy rule to stick to) and grill the sausages and bacon instead of frying. And, no, coffee doesn’t count as breakfast.

2. Stay Local

Making a small effort to find out where your food comes from can make a big difference. Wherever possible try to choose locally produced food over far-flung ingredients such as the Kenyan green beans and apples from New Zealand. Remember the shorter the distance from pitch-fork to table fork – the better the flavour and the better the boost.

3. Fantastic Fish

We’re all familiar with the stomach-churning image of the child being spoon-fed stinky fish oil as a health tonic. Yeuch.  But there are so many more mouth-watering ways to get those life-enhancing Omega 3 fatty acids into you. Recent research has highlighted the significant role that Omega 3 fatty acids play in the fight against heart disease and cancer. With the fish-loving Inuit and Japanese cultures proving the point, with a remarkably low percentage of heart-disease sufferers.

How to eat it: Here in Ireland we are blessed with great fish and some wonderfully skilled smokers. Stock up on Frank Hederman’s smoked mackerel (highest source of Omega 3), salmon, mussels, eel and other piscatorial treats: all hand-smoked in Cork to the highest standards. Simply serve any of the above with some nutty brown bread and butter.

4. Stay Fresh

Try to avoid pre-packaged and processed foods as much as possible. Have a few pots of fresh herbs on your balcony/windowsill/patio to use in your cooking. Fresh herbs not only enhance the flavour of your cooking, they also pack a medicinal and health-boosting punch. Sage is a natural detoxifier (which is why we pair it with pork), Mint aids digestion while rosemary soothes the nerves and wards off colds and flu. The dried variety on the other hand, packs about as much nutritional goodness as pot pouri, and tastes pretty similar too.

5. Nuts about Seeds

Although nuts and seeds can be high in fat – it is good fat. They primarily contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, which shouldn’t pile on the pounds (unless, of course, you eat pounds of them!) but will rather provide you with a host of nutrients while giving you a slow-release boost of energy. Studies have consistently shown all varieties of nuts, including walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans and cashews and most seeds – particularly sunflower and pumpkin are a great source of protein, fibre, B vitamins, vitamin E and magnesium. As opposed to quick fix high salt snacks such as crisps and highly processed foods which give you an instant hit, and lots of empty calories, but leave you hungry again 10 minutes later.

How to eat it: Crushed peanuts are great sprinkled over any stir-fry or noodle dish; sprinkle toasted nuts over your green salad or into natural yogurt.

6. Pulse it

Lentil burger anyone… anyone… anyone? Hmm… no didn’t think so. But puy lentils sautéed with red onion, flaked salmon, fresh dill and a dash of white wine. Delicious! Pulses (dried beans and peas: lentils, chickpeas, borlotti beans, red kidney beans, cannelloni beans etc) are a low GI food, meaning they have plenty of ‘good’ carbs and natural sugars which release energy slowly and keep you going for longer without harbouring hidden ‘bad’ fats.   Most pulses are chock-full of dietary fibre, protein, iron, potassium and vitamins and so should be a staple part of a healthy diet.

How to eat it: Seek inspiration from India and make up a simple dahl with red lentils.

Steep 500g red lentils for at least four hours then simmer gently in water until soft. Make your tarka by frying 1 onion, 3 cloves garlic, 1 inch ginger, 2 tsp cumin powder, 1 coriander powder, 1/2 tsp chilli powder. Add 4-6 peeled fresh tomatoes (or 1 tin). Mash the cooked lentils and stir in the tarka until mixed through. Delicious served with any Indian dishes or with grilled lamb chops.

7. Green Day

It is stating the obvious, but you really can’t eat enough green leafy vegetables. Full of iron, folic acid, anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, green veg is where it’s at.

How to eat it: Take a leaf out of Denis Cotter’s book – literally his Paradiso Seasons Cookbook – and you will find inspiration galore. Sprouts with chilli and ginger, purple sprouting broccoli with garlic and hazelnut oil… Yummm.

8. Rainbow Warriors

It is good to eat what they call a ‘rainbow diet’ – eating as much different coloured fruit and vegetables as you can. Green veg boosts as mentioned above, while orange veg, such as pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot and butternut squash are full of cancer-fighting betacarotene, and red tomatoes are full of lycopene (a cancer-fighting antioxidant) and so on. So the more variety the better! 9 Eat Italian

The Mediterranean diet has long been recognised for its life-extending qualities. With its high proportion of olive oil, fish, bread and other cereals, beans, fresh fruit and vegetables and relatively small amounts of dairy products, red meat and chicken the Mediterranean diet has proved to have a favourable effect on blood cholesterol levels.

How to eat it: It is also a very important part of the Mediterranean tradition to take time out and sit and eat every meal, together with family or friends. So the rule is – don’t rush. Sit, enjoy, linger and make eating a social occasion. For easy-to-prepare Italian recipe inspiration, check out Jamie Oliver’s latest cookbook Jamie’s Italy.

10. Soya Sensation

Thousands of Japanese can’t be wrong. The soya bean boasts a unique health benefit in that it is high in phytoestrogens (similar in structure to oestrogen). These phytoestrogens have a favourable effect on the body’s lipid pattern, improve the vascular tone of our blood vessels and generally look after the heart. Soya beans are particularly good for post-menopausal women.

How to eat it: You could swap your cow’s milk for soya milk, it’s just a bit of an acquired taste. Otherwise brush slices of tofu with a little sesame oil and grill until it crisps – tasty added to your stir-fry.

11. Reduce Salt

Try not to add extra salt in your cooking as so many foods we eat these days are already high in salt. Tinned soups, bottled sauces and even some breakfast cereals contain hidden salt. So try to avoid using pre-prepared pasta sauces or soups wherever you can. Also try not to use mass-produced stock cubes as they are pure salt. Where possible make your own stock and then freeze it in small 1/2 pint milk containers to use as needed, or as a healthy cheat go for the Marigold ‘Swiss Bouillon’ powder, available in most supermarkets. It’s as near to making your own as you’ll get.

12. An Apple a Day

Trite but true. Apples are beneficial on many levels – as they help lower blood cholesterol, improve bowel function, reduce risk of stroke, prostate cancer, type II diabetes and also asthma. They not only provide a great source of dietary fibre, which aids digestion and promotes weight loss, but they also come in a huge variety of flavours, taste great and act as a natural teeth cleaner.

How to eat it: The thing is not to be put off by those tasteless, irradiated, day-glo green globes in the supermarket. Instead seek out the knobbly little organic guys and enjoy the extraordinary flavour and health boost. Your skin will thank you for it.

13. The Good Grape

Do as the French do and enjoy good wine with your meal. But enjoying does not mean skulling bottles of the stuff. It’s the binge-drinking in our culture that causes such devastating health problems. A moderate amount of wine is perfectly good for you. Red wine in particular is full of Polyphenols and anti-oxidants which help prevent against heart disease, cancer and other serious illness. It is generally thought that 1-2 glasses of wine with your meal should aid digestion and do you more good than bad. But, sadly, the benefits are completely undone if you polish off bottles of the stuff!

14. No yo-yo diets and NO Atkins

These days we are bombarded with one absurd ‘miracle diet’ after another and January brings more of them to light than any other month! Whether it promises rapid weight loss in 10 days or just 2 hours, the advice is to avoid it. If you really want to lose weight and keep it off, you should aim to lose no more than 2lbs a week – any more and you are just losing water and not fat – which will all come straight back on once you revert to your normal eating habits. The best way to shift a few pounds is to follow a balanced, common-sense eating plan, cut out junk and get active. Seek advice from your GP or a qualified nutritionist if you are looking to shed more than 7lbs.

While Dr Atkin’s plan of starving your body of natural-sugar rich fruit and veg while feasting on artery-clogging dairy products, red meat and bacon, is nothing more than heart-attack-on-a-stick stuff – do remember the poor man died, obese, having suffered a heart attack, congestive heart failure and hypertension.

15. Berry Nice

All berries are important sources of vitamin C, an antioxidant that has an important role in the body’s healing process and cold-fighting defense. Berries contain many other health-friendly phytonutrients and are a good source of soluble fibre, making them a great overall health booster. Blueberries in particular are rammed with anti-oxidants and 100% pure blueberry juice makes a tremendous tonic for the body.

How to eat it: Warm a selection of winter berries under the grill and then serve with a dollop of melted white chocolate – or natural yoghurt and honey if you’re feeling very virtuous!

16. Wholegrain Heroes

A wholegrain is any cereal  (including wheat, oats and barley) that contains the whole grain — that is the outer bran layer, the starchy centre and the germ or seed in the centre. It’s the combination of all three that makes wholegrain so important in the diet. Wholegrains are rich in insoluble fibre (which helps maintain a healthy bowel) and the soluble form (which helps to lower cholesterol levels). The germ or “heart” of the kernel adds essential B vitamins iron and zinc to your diet.

How to eat it: Keep a jar of cracked or kibbled wheat in your cupboard and sprinkle liberally over yogurt or onto breakfast cereal. It has a very pleasant nutty taste. Wexford’s Stable Diet also make a really delicious Toasted Cereal Muesli – made with oat flakes, oat bean, almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds etc and all sorts of tasty bits.

17. Ave Avocado

Avocados are often overlooked due to their high fat content but the fat they contain is highly monounsaturated – the good stuff! Avocados are also rich in vitamin E, another heart helper. Although the banana is thought of as an unrivalled potassium source, the avocado actually supplies 60% more potassium, gram for gram. Potassium may be beneficial in helping to reduce blood pressure. Plus, avocados are high in fibre and provide vitamin B6 which is important for a healthy nervous system.

How to eat it: Peel and smash the flesh of two ripe avocados with a fork. Add the juice of a half a lime, 1/2 a clove of crushed garlic, a little sliced green chilli (to your taste), a small amount of diced red onion and a pinch of salt and pepper. Serve a generous dollop of this refreshing guacamole on top of home-made beef burgers or a char-grilled chicken breast. Divine!

19. Down Size Me

Many experts would agree that the key to healthy eating is “Eat little and Often”. But if you’re anything like me, you have to make an effort to actually obey the entire mantra. It’s so tempting to just run away with the ‘often’ part and abandon the ‘eat little’ element altogether! Apparently Cindy Crawford eats five meals a day, and look at her! Although I’ll wager she considers a handful of raisins ‘a meal’. But 100 extra calories a day can add an extra 10 pounds of weight per year. So it really makes a huge difference to reduce your portion size.

How to eat it: Snack on healthy stuff such as fruit, nuts, natural yogurt with cracked wheat etc to keep hunger at bay at energy lagging times such as 11am and 4pm and then try not to over-eat at meal times. You should never feel completely wiped out after eating – if you do, you’ve overdone it. It’s amazing the difference it can make to your appetite if you just take your time and eat slowly. You can eat a smaller amount and still feel perfectly satisfied.

20. The Water of Life

Interestingly, the water of life really is, actually, water. Although a lot of people feel the stuff is just for washing your hands. They’re really missing the point. As 2/3rds of our bodies are made up of water (with blood 83%, brain 74% water etc) the liquid plays a vital role in the healthy function of the bod – in so many more ways than you can even imagine. Water is necessary for your body to digest and absorb vitamins and nutrients. It also detoxifies the liver and kidneys and carries away waste from the body. And when it comes to digestion . . . it’s just not happening without water. Fibre alone cannot aid proper digestive function. In fact, without water as its partner, good fibre goes bad, causing constipation and extreme discomfort. If you’re dehydrated (which nutritionists insist that 80% of us are, because we drink so much coffee, tea, and fizzy drinks) your blood is literally thicker, so your body has to work much harder to cause it to circulate. As a result, the brain becomes less active, it’s hard to concentrate, your body fatigues and you turn into a narky bo!%*x. Water is a also a natural appetite suppressant, miracle anti-aging tonic, skin clearer, stress detoxifier and heart protector… so what are you waiting for? Drink up!