Healthy eating is so much more complicated that it has ever been before. Gone are the days of following a simple food guide or ‘eating the rainbow’. One of the hottest and most debated topics in recent years has been around what healthy eating really means and what is a healthy diet?
The challenge that so many face, is living in an era where there is too much information relating to nutrition and ‘healthy eating’. Advertisements, tricky marketing, food companies trying to push their own agenda, and conflicting information can be downright confusing for the general public. Though you may be under the impression that you’re eating ‘clean’ because of the information that you read on packing or in magazines, the opposite could in fact be true, as was the case for my mum. To help alleviate these challenges, we’ve summarized 4 key points relating to holistic nutritional guidelines and standards, with the sole purpose of wanting to inspire and enable our community to adopt a healthier, and happier lifestyle!
1) Eliminations and not encouraged ingredients: What should I remove from my diet?
Our first key principle is all about what we should stop eating. First on our list is any artificial sweetener, like the ones found in diet soda or sugar free chocolate. Not only do they wreak havoc on your digestion, but they can affect mood and promote glucose tolerance – which affects the rate at which it is cleared from the blood.
Next up are chemicals, oils, and foods that have been so highly processed that they no longer resemble their original state (not in appearance or chemical structure). Hydrogenated oils, artificial colours (ex: red food colouring) and flavourings, processed foods (white flour), and additives that enhance flavor (MSG) or increase the shelf life of a food all wreak havoc on your body and should be eliminated from your diet. It’s important to note that processed doesn’t always mean bad. There are a number of foods, such as guar gum, tapioca starch, citric acid, and xylitol, which don’t necessary make it onto our favourites list, but in small amounts are tolerable.
There are foods that we don’t necessarily recommend, but allow. Tofu, for example, though high in protein (and has a complete amino acid profile), contains phyto-oestogenic compounds, which if consumed in large quantities can affect hormone levels. Whey protein is another great example – it is the quickest and more effective way to absorb protein, yet can elicit an inflammatory response and wreak havoc on digestion.
2) Positive Ingredients: So, what should I be eating?
Next, we move onto our second key principle – which is all about the good stuff! Many of these may not come as a surprise; we all know that wholegrains, nuts and seeds, herbal teas, high protein products and herbs and spices (who doesn’t love a calorie free seasoning?) are great to include in your diet. Some new kids on the block are gaining a lot of attention in recent years and for good reason. Fermented products like kefir or kimchee are rich in good bacteria, which is good news for your gut. Beans and legumes are a great source of hunger-fighting protein and fibre and are great meat substitutes. Coconut anything – milk, water, flour, flesh, chips are high in good fats and delicious additions to both sweet and savoury meals. The newest, and perhaps the most controversial, healthy food to include in your diet is insect flours. Don’t knock it til you try it. Insect flour is an excellent source of protein and contains the full amino acid profile, but is also a sustainable choice for our environment – think smaller carbon footprint, less greenhouse gas emissions and reduced depletion of our planet’s natural resources.
Now that we know what’s new and good, what about great? Next, we look at superfoods, aptly named due to their exceptionally high nutrient content – which have the ability to provide the body with all-round nutritional support. Kale- salmon salad anyone? Got it. The following are all great examples of superfoods that you might not have heard of that can be added to your meal to boost its nutritional content. We like to add ours to smoothies, energy bars, oats and salads. Below is a quick cheat sheet of our favourite new superfoods.
These little guys have a complete amino acid profile and are a great source of essential nutrients such as zinc, copper and magnesium – a commonly deficient nutrient in our diet, which aids in regulating our nervous system.
Naturally sweet, they are great substitutes for sugary alternatives like chocolate chips or raisins. Goji berries are also a source of vitamin A, C and iron.
Algae’s (spirulina, chlorella, blue green algae)
Before you skip to the next one, hear us out. Though it might sound bizarre, algaes have been deemed as one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. They are complete sources of protein and a great source on omega-3 essential fats, zinc, folic acid and B vitamins.
This Peruvian root vegetable is typically ground into a powder and is a great energy and libido booster.
Consumed whole, they are a fantastic source of fibre. Chia seeds can absorb 7-9x their weight, and make for a great snack or breakfast option when added to coconut milk or nut milks. When milled or ground, other micronutrients become available for absorption including zinc, manganese and copper.
Native to Brazil, this superfood (which you might have seen in smoothie bowls) is an excellent source of vitamin C, B vitamins, healthy fats, protein and an array of minerals.
A terrific natural sweetener, with a low GI, lucuma is a great addition to smoothies or baking. It is also rich in iron, calcium, iron, magnesium and phosphorus in addition to 14 essential trace nutrients.
Typically available in plant, ‘shot’, or powder form, this superfood is high in vitamins C, A and K as well as iodine and antioxidants. Together, this means that it’s a powerful detoxifier, energy and immunity booster and great for skin health.
Not to be confused with its highly processed sister cocoa, cacao has been revered as a superfood for centuries. It is high in magnesium, iron and B vitamins in addition to being a fantastic antioxidant.
A source of omega 3, 6 and 9, flax (in any form), is a powerful anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting superfood, which also happens to be nourishing for hair, skin and nails.
Shiitake, cordycpes, oyster, reishi, maitake mushrooms all have immune boosting benefits. More research is currently being done to understand the full benefit of mushrooms as it’s been said that they may contain anti-cancer properties.
Think antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. Our bee friend’s products; manuka honey, bee pollen and propalis are immune system warriors.
3) Dietary related principles: How much of what, when and how?
There are many factors to consider when looking at the nutritional profile of a particular food. Macronutrients – fats, carbohydrates and protein as well as the salt and sugar content.
Salt consumption should not exceed more than 6g a day, that’s 2.4 g of sodium. Refined sugar should be avoided at all costs, and instead replaced with more natural sources such as fruit purees, honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar. If you are eating added sugar, we recommend exceeding no more than 20g a day, for an average adult. If consuming food with a high sugar content (meaning sugar makes up more than 40%), consider this as a treat and consume no more than 1-2 per week. It’s a good idea to pair the dessert with some protein, as it will help to regulate blood sugar.
What about the macros? Typically, we aim to consume the three vital food groups in the following percentages:
45-55% carbohydrates (4 calories/g)
25-30% proteins (4 calories/g)
25-30% fats (9 calories/g)
It’s important to note that these ratios can vary depending on weight loss goals and activity levels, but are an excellent baseline guide for the average individual.
In regards to the make-up of an individual snack or meal, look to have between 15-45g of carbohydrates, 20-40g of unsaturated fat (with no more than 5g coming from saturated) and 10-30g of protein per 100g of food. As with any rule, there will be exceptions, nuts, seeds and coconut as an example, but these are good guidelines to follow. Ideally, all three macronutrients should be consumed together to work optimally to promote sustained energy release and avoid crashes in blood sugar or energy levels.
Now that you know how much to eat, the next question is when to eat it?
Our bodies are better equipped to metabolise carbohydrates in the morning and throughout the day as opposed to the evening. For this reason, we encourage that the majority of your daily carbohydrate allotment be eaten prior to dinnertime, giving the body the opportunity to use it for fuel. Typically, fat should make up 10% of every meal and protein 30%, whereas the percentage of carbohydrates consumed should vary depending on the time of day. Below is a simplified breakdown of how many carbohydrates should be eaten and when.
Complex carbohydrates – 40%
Fruit and vegetables – 20%
Vegetables – 40%
Complex carbohydrates – 25%
Complex carbohydrates – 20%
Vegetables – 40%
Working out? We recommend a high GI snack (like a fruit smoothie) coupled with 20-40% protein, less than 2 hours before a workout. Refueling after a sweaty gym session? Try 50% protein, 30% carbohydrates (with a medium glycemic index) and 20% fats. This will help repair and develop muscle as well as accelerate recovery.
Hydration is also incredibly important, both after a workout and as a part of every day life. It is recommended that the average adult consume 2L of water a day, and even more if physically active. Electrolytes are important to note as well, as they are lost via sweat throughout the day. Coconut water and birch water are great options.
4) Cooking and processing methods: Now I know what to eat and when, but how do I eat it?
The next topic involves the preparation of food. Fruits and vegetables in their natural or raw state will have the highest nutritional content. If you’re looking to experiment in the kitchen with some different cooking styles, we’ve consolidated a list of acceptable cooking methods: frying (only if using coconut oil or butter), baking/roasting (as long as olive oil is not heated above 120°C), popping, sous vide, pickling (as long as sugar isn’t used), dehydrating (this will intensify the sugar content), activating, and pasteurising (though this method kills off good bacteria).
What about dietary considerations? Vegan? Paleo? Raw? Our core belief is that long-term health can be achieved through balanced eating and ensuring that all vital nutrients are consumed in the correct quantities at the correct time of day. We’ve curated the top 10 most popular diets and shed some light around the potential downsides and inherent risks of these diets.
No animal products
Requires extreme diligence, can lead to overconsumption of carbohydrates and soy products. Vegans are often deficient in B12, iron, protein, B6, zinc, omega 3/saturated fats, iodine, and calcium
No animal meats
Overconsumption of dairy and carbohydrates. Vegetarians are commonly deficient in B6, zinc, omega 3 and iron
No animal products, except fish & seafood
Iron deficiency, overconsumption of mercury
No dairy from animals
Risk of iodine and calcium deficiency – which will increase risk of osteoporosis
No wheat products
Gluten free products are often marketed as ‘healthy’, but often have a higher sugar and fat content
Food cannot be heated above 40°C
Extremely difficult to eat within these parameters, which may cause deficiencies in B vitamins, B12, iron, iodine and zinc.
Excludes grains, pulses starches, dairy and refined sugar
Very low in carbohydrates and high in animal protein, which can elicit an inflammatory response
Limits red meat. High in vegetables, whole grains, vegetable oils and fruit
Since there are no ‘set’ parameters, can be difficult to distinguish what should and shouldn’t be eaten
Vegan, with a focus on the pH (or acidity) of foods
Similar to those of veganism
Organic ingredients preferable
Expensive and doesn’t equate to being healthy (organic white flour) or more nutritious
What’s the deal with organic food, anyway? If you’re going to but organic, we recommend prioritizing meat and dairy (fewer antibiotics) and the fruits and vegetables that are more exposed to pesticides, known as the ‘dirty dozen’: bell peppers, blueberries, apples, nectarines spinach, cucumber, celery, grapes, strawberries, peaches, snap peas, and cherry tomatoes.
Where do we go from here?
We understand that one size does not fit all – and that when it comes to following a healthy diet, there are a plethora of factors to consider including age, sex, activity level, weight loss goals, allergies, the list goes on! Our goal here at FoodYoung is to inform and support our community with their health journey. We sincerely hope that this quick guide has informed and inspired you to take that
The Author: Daina Kenins
Daina is a lover of all things health & wellness related; a health food connoisseur, an avid marathon runner, a certified Vinyasa Yoga Teacher and a spin studio manager. She is ambassador for healthy eating and loves to create and share recipes on her instagram page @thepaleobean.