Improve your Nutrition in 3 steps – A New You
I often get asked as a Dietitian, what the ‘best’ diet is, but to be honest it is an easy question with a complex answer.
Nutrition is a vast field of medicine and the food you choose to eat can have a huge impact on your future health. There’s enough research to show us making small, but the right choices with your food early in our lives can have an immediate and long term consequences on our health, fitness, body composition (your body fat to lean tissue proportion) or sports performance success. People often know there’s room for improvement with their current nutrition strategy.
However, what tends to happen more often is that people jump on the ‘latest fad diet’ and subsequently ‘beat themselves up’ when they can’t follow it, seems crazy right?
So, whilst tailored advice is the best, but as a starting point, I’m going to give you 3 simple rules to make it easier for you to make the right choice.
If you can follow the next few steps 80% of the time, you’re striking the best balance between eating what’s best for your health and fitness goals and indulging in the occasional treat from time to time.
Quality of the food you eat
Not all food is created equally.
You don’t have to buy every latest new super-grain/super-fruit or vegetable that hits the supermarket shelves but if you aim buy mostly whole, fresh foods, you’re starting from a great place. That does not mean everything processed or in a box/packet/carton/tin is bad but start from basics the majority of your shopping should be from whole foods.
The vast majority of people thrive on a balanced diet from each of the main food groups (with some adjustment for your health/fitness needs). Cutting out food groups and macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats or protein) will only lead to nutrient deficiencies over time or other health problems.
Protein is essential for providing the basic building blocks (known as amino acids) of cells, which forms muscle tissue. Protein is needed for many other physiological functions and is not stored by the body on a daily basis (unlike fat and carbohydrate). Therefore without enough protein, you’ll start to lose muscle tissue. Muscle tissue is highly metabolically active, therefore if you lose muscle tissue your basal metabolic rate (the amount of calories you require on a daily basis for normal functioning) will fall. Choosing meats, fish (particularly oily fish such as salmon or mackerel), eggs, legumes (beans, lentils, peas), tofu/tempeh, nuts and seeds and dairy products such as milk, cheeses and protein powder can help you meet your needs for the day.
Carbohydrates are found in larger, concentrated amounts in the starchy foods group (breads, pastas, cereals, potatoes, rice) and tend to be in smaller amounts in fruits, vegetables and dairy products (depending on their processing). Carbohydrates are the preferred source of fuel for muscle tissue and the brain and are stored in the muscle and liver as glycogen for that exact purpose. Therefore during most forms of activity a diet rich in carbohydrate will have you performing physically at your best. If you’re an athlete, a carbohydrate-rich diet is recommended unless under the specialist nutrition supervision. Choosing wholegrain sources of carbohydrate are recommended both for appetite regulation, energy levels through managing blood glucose levels and long term gut health by providing dietary fibre.
Fats provide a great source of energy, containing the most calories per gram out of all the macronutrients (9 for fat, versus 4 for protein and carbohydrate) and some are essential to the functioning of the body, providing a precursor for hormones, cell membranes and signalling molecules. However, it is easy to overdo it on fats if you don’t watch your portion sizes! Since fats are used extensively in food manufacture to help improve the texture of food, certain fats (particularly hydrogenated oils – found in some baked goods, fried foods and pastries) can be detrimental to health. Current scientific evidence suggests emphasising monounsaturated fats (those found in olive oil) and polyunsaturated fats (particularly those from oily fish, whole nuts, seeds and whole grains) and moderating certain saturated fats (those found in most deep fried foods, cakes, biscuits and pastries) is best for health.
You can have the perfect diet and eating lots of great foods but if you get the portion size wrong, you’ll end up gaining excess body fat.
Unfortunately, at a basic level calories do count (and don’t let anyone tell you differently).
Here’s an example portion sizes to get you started.
For all your main meals (lunch, dinner for most people) a plate that looks like this is a good start. You may need more or less, depending on your goals and health needs. Also check the label on any pre-packed foods you buy, often the serving size is smaller than the package it’s contained in.
For healthy snacks, such as nuts and seeds, a small palm-sized amount helps you to not overdo it (about 30g). Consider packing into smaller sandwich bags for the week and keep in your desk drawer or in your bag for healthy foods on the go. For other snacks, such as: yoghurts, chopped fruit pots or protein bars (e.g. r-bar) they come pre-packed and ready to go, making life much easier.
Time it Right
So what do you do? Fast or Feast?
Timing the food you choose correctly can be imperative for improving your health or meeting your health goals. Whilst there are many different meal patterns that can work, for most people, the golden rule is a regular and consistent meal pattern. Eating more frequently is not better. Eating more frequently does not boost the metabolism at all, you will balance any change in metabolic rate over the course of the day. Similarly, eating too infrequently will often lead to poor energy levels throughout the day and during exercise and nutrient deficiencies over time, particularly key nutrients such as protein which benefit from being spread over the course of the day, rather than clumped together in a big meal.
Your main starting point should be to start with three balanced meals. This will help regulate your appetite, ensuring you have fuel for any exercise you might (or perhaps should!) be doing and will help in the recovery process.
So what about the snacks?
Snacking is not for everyone, but two snacks (either mid-morning and mid-afternoon or mid-afternoon and before-bed) during the day, can help prevent reaching for the office biscuit tin or overeating at your main meals by getting too hungry. They can also provide extra nutrients and help kick start the recovery process after exercise.
So what makes a good snack?
Snacks that are rich in nutrients and calorie controlled are best, with those that provide a source of protein and fibre having the greatest effect on appetite. Great examples are small portions of raw nuts and seeds, fruit with yoghurt, a protein bar or oatcakes with unsweetened nut butter (e.g. peanut or almond).
How does R-Bar stack up?
R-Bar has a great balance of nutrients packed into a portable and decadent snack! It contains 20g of protein per bar, 9g of fibre, 10g of carbohydrate (of which only 2g is sugars) and 9g of balanced fats. At approximately 200kcal per bar, the combination of fibre and high quality whey protein will aid in hunger control and meet your protein needs for the day, whilst the balance of low glycaemic load carbohydrate (from almonds) and ‘good’ fats provide slow-digesting energy and essential nutrients.
Summing it up
Nutrition is a complex field but it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. My mantra when working with clients is ‘keep it straightforward’ and the 3 Simple Rules are a great place to begin.