We need food to survive. But not all food is created equal. So how do we make sure that we are eating the right foods to feel fantastic, every day?
We spoke to Tabitha Hume, a registered dietician who practices in Fourways, for her top ten tips on what to eat (or not eat) to feel great, healthy and smart.
1. Eat low-GI carbs at every meal. Yes, every meal!
Although carbs get a bad rap these days, they are in fact essential for good health and maintaining energy – as long as they are low-GI, which means that they don’t spike your blood sugar. Including them in your meal will keep you satisfied for longer and you’ll feel more energetic.
Your metabolism only drops by 20% to 30% while you sleep.
Tabitha says you can ignore the “no carbs at night” rule. You will still burn them off while you sleep because your body keeps on functioning – your metabolism only drops by 20% to 30% when you’re in dreamland. Carbs are particularly important at night because they stimulate the production of melatonin, which helps you to fall into a deep sleep, which is when your body repairs itself from the rigours of the day.
Another tip is to eat a carb before working out so that your body doesn’t burn muscle for energy.
2. Start every meal with a plant. Finish with a plant too!
When you are hungry, your body asks for high-calorie or high-flavour foods. Starting with a vegetable or salad dampens the cravings with something healthy, so you are less likely to binge on other foods later in the meal. Finishing off with a sweet piece of fruit helps to stimulate dopamine production and regulate serotonin production so that you feel satisfied.
Fresh fruit and vegetables give you a boost of vitamins and minerals, with a lot of fibre to keep you energetic and regular, so you feel happier, lighter and less bloated.
3. Drink plenty of water
It is easy to get underhydrated, which makes you feel tired, bleak and gives you a headache. Then you overeat to try to lift your energy levels, craving quick-release carbs and fat. Drink plain water all through the day to help you avoid the unnecessary snacks.
4. Reduce fats now to stay healthy later
While there are such things as good fats – avocado, olive, seeds and nut oils – don’t go overboard with them. Any meal that’s high in fat or oil can give you heartburn. Saturated fats are prone to causing insulin resistance, which will lead to a higher risk of becoming diabetic when you are older.
5. Eat three meals a day
Eat three varied meals a day. You aren’t doing yourself any favours by eating nothing all day except coffee – it will lead to nearly every lifestyle disease you can imagine as well as wreaking havoc with your energy levels in the short term. Ever seen anyone who’s slim but has a large ‘boep’? Chances are, they eat very little through the day then eat a very big dinner. It’s a recipe for poor health.
6. Eat the right snacks to boost your energy
If you are hitting a slump late morning and late afternoon, eat a snack with plenty of variety. A cup of tea with soy milk, some biltong, a Provita and a piece of fruit is a good balanced snack. Futurelife bars are a convenient low-GI, low-fat nibble. Failing all else, just the Provita biscuit will do for a low-GI stabiliser.
7. Don’t drink too much alcohol – especially wine
You may have heard that red wine is high in resveratrol, which reduces your risk of heart disease and cancer. Unfortunately, the amount of wine you’d have to drink to get sufficient amounts of resveratrol to have any benefit will damage your liver and leave you with a permanent hangover.
Nurse a weak whiskey and soda or spritzer for moderate, healthy drinking.
8. Get your omega 3s
Omega 3s are great for brain function. You won’t feel a difference right away, but after about a month of boosting your intake of these essential fatty oils, you should find that you are feeling sharper. Salmon is your best source, but can get expensive so try other oily fish like pilchards, mackerel or herring.
9. And your Vitamin Bs
You need Vitamin B for nerve and cellular health, and for energy, but stress, drinking, smoking and other common lifestyle indulgences lower Vitamin B levels. Give yourself a Vitamin B boost with whole grains, yoghurt, shellfish or Marmite or buy an inexpensive B Complex supplement.
10. Careful with caffeine
Caffeine is a potent stimulator of dopamine and also of the fight or flight response. Once you’ve had your cuppa, it stimulates your body to create dopamine so you feel amazing, then leaves you with an energy slump. You then either binge eat or have another cup of coffee to get your energy back.
Of course, some people manage to have their morning cappuccino and then coast through the day just fine. Be honest with yourself - if you can’t stop at one cup, or if you binge eat, or struggle to regulate your energy throughout the day, then you need to address your caffeine habit.
Bonus tip: make all your meals delicious!
Tabitha has one last suggestion: “If you possibly can, make your food absolutely delicious and rewarding. If it isn’t, you’ll get depressed and avoid eating, then miss out on the benefits of all those nutrients and healthy carbohydrates. Then you’ll overeat on all the wrong things and start the cycle over again.”
While it can take a bit of effort to follow a healthy diet plan, the benefits are worth it, so take Tabitha’s advice and do what you can to make yourself look and feel great.
You can also consult with a registered dietician in your area for specific guidance on your diet.