How strictly do you control your eating habits?
While some people eat what they want, when they want, an increasing number of people I see in the clinic are basing their meal times on “rules”.
And hearing some of these “rules” makes me want to bury my head in my hands.
Take the idea that fruit should only be eaten on an empty stomach, as it otherwise “slows down” digestion – there is no scientific basis for this.
This is just one example among many others.
Here I focus on some of the food mantras that you can ignore. By doing so, I hope to help ensure that your meals are healthier and happier occasions.
WAITING FOR A DRINK
The idea of taking a 30-minute break between eating your meal and having a drink has been around for years, based on the belief that drinking even water with meals will dilute our digestive enzymes.
But your body is smarter than that.
Although drinking water may momentarily dilute the concentration of stomach enzymes, there are sensors in the stomach to ensure that as many enzymes as needed to digest a meal are being produced.
In fact, drinking water with meals is a good idea if you eat too quickly and too much, as it can reduce the risk of overeating.
CUT THE CARBS…
Carbs have gotten a bad rap – blamed for raising blood sugar and causing weight gain – and as a result many people cut them out altogether.
But for most people, good quality carbohydrates, such as oats, are a valuable addition to the diet.
They provide useful amounts of fiber (we need 30g a day), and removing them can have a negative effect on our gut microbes, which use fiber as a food source.
Moreover, a study from Tufts University in the United States, published in 2019, showed that a higher consumption of whole grains can actually reduce the risk of weight gain.
The results were based on studies involving over 130,000 participants, which makes for pretty compelling evidence.
So say no to highly processed white breads, cakes, and cookies, but don’t worry about including whole grains like quinoa and rye, legumes like chickpeas and lentils, and other plant-based carbs. plants.
…AND SWEET FRUITS
Many people seem to have bought into the idea that fruit is just another source of sugar and therefore plays no role in a healthy diet.
But research shows the opposite to be true. Fruit is packed with fiber, vitamins, and other plant-based compounds (called phytochemicals) that are good for our gut microbes, including a group called bifidobacteria.
Low levels of this particular bacteria have been linked to poor mood – this may help explain the findings of a review published last year by researchers at the University of Sydney, which showed that fruit consumption was linked to a lower risk of developing depression.
The other thing to know about fruit is that the sugar is locked into the fiber, so it won’t quite cause the blood sugar spike that can be caused by fruit juice (which doesn’t contain this fiber).
I would suggest eating two fruits a day, with the goal of having at least five different types during the week.
The more diverse your fruit intake, the more your gut microbes can benefit from different phytochemicals.
Keeping them happy makes us happy.
PROCESSED FOOD BAN
It’s certainly true that it’s best to avoid any food that has a very long ingredient list and includes a lot of words you don’t recognize.
We know that ultra-processed foods, i.e. those made primarily with extracts from other foods and containing high levels of fat, salt, sugar and additives, can affect our gut microbes. , encourage overeating (due to their low fiber content) and can even affect our mental health.
But there’s no need to demonize all processed foods, not least because our busy lives don’t always allow us to make everything from scratch, but also because, frankly, even virtuous Greek yogurt could be considered processed by some (the definition being that a food has been altered from its natural state, often by the addition of other ingredients).
Instead, focus on buying foods with ingredients you recognize, rather than additives, in the first four places on the label (ingredients are listed by weight, largest amount first).
Canned or frozen foods can sometimes contain more nutrients than fresh produce left on the shelves or in the back of the refrigerator.
A study from Pennsylvania State University in the United States, published in the Journal of Food science, found that fresh spinach lost nearly half of its folate (a B vitamin) after eight days in the refrigerator.
Frozen vegetables lose a fraction of their nutrients when blanched before freezing, but otherwise they’re packed with goodness.
Likewise, there is a reduction in nutrients when vegetables are heated during the canning process, but the vast majority are retained.
Canned tomatoes, black beans, and chickpeas are all staples in my cupboard.
Additionally, using canned or frozen foods can help you fit more plant variety into your meals more cost-effectively and with less risk of waste.
…OR HOME COOKING
Granted, a homemade casserole will be better for you than a ready-made meal, but that doesn’t mean all homemade food is good for you — or healthier than store-bought.
A homemade cookie with 50% butter and 30% sugar is arguably worse for you than a mass-produced oatmeal cookie like a Hobnob, which is almost 40% oats.
I’m not saying either is good for you, but don’t assume that what comes out of your kitchen is automatically healthier than what’s available in stores. This is not the case.
And last but not least, this rule is probably the one most people are religious about – but it’s a rule that’s time to ignore.
That’s because first, the calorie counts on labels often aren’t as accurate — they’re based on what happens in a lab, not what happens in your body.
Second, not all calories are created equal when it comes to digesting them.
For example, a study published in the journal Food & Nutrition Research in 2010 found that digesting a processed meal used almost 50% fewer calories than the amount used to digest a full meal (i.e. say a meal based on vegetables, nuts and whole grains). .
So my advice is to try to center your meals around whole plant foods that have been minimally processed (so no to those ultra-processed vegan burgers and yes to homemade chickpea burgers) as that will naturally limit your intake foods that promote weight gain.
This will ensure a healthier and more effective approach to diet and weight management.
DID YOU KNOW?
The liquid part of yogurt that often separates and comes to the top – aka whey – contains key nutrients such as protein, calcium and potassium. So don’t throw it away: blend it or add it to a smoothie for an extra nutritious kick.
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