The good healthy food guide:
It dieting to stay slim is not the way to good health. Then what is? What and how much should we be eating? Nutrition is a young science and still fraught with controversy. However, leading figures in the field are agreed on two fundamental points: the damage that our present diet is doing to us and the need for clearer guidelines for healthy eating.
Some call it the ‘new nutrition’. There is nothing very new or complicated about it. In essence, it is a diet based on whole grains, vegetables, and fruit, with small amounts of meat and dairy products forming the complement to a meal rather than being its basis.
The idea is to eat fresh whole food and avoid or restrict the intake of fats, refined sugar, white flour, red meat, and processed foods containing chemical additives.
The message is essentially a simple one, but, in actuality, changing our eating habits is not quite so easy: it requires a conscious and constant effort. Eating habits are ingrained from childhood and carry all sorts of emotional connotations (few people eat in response to hunger alone) so it usually takes more than just a simple decision to ‘eat better’ for new habits to become part of one’s life.
Furthermore, do not underestimate the importance of making changes in the kind of food you eat. The general level of chronic poor health is so widespread that it has become accepted and a lot of people have forgotten what it is like to feel well and active.
Changing to a whole food way of eating, with lots of fresh food, can lead to radical and speedy improvements in your health and vitality, and this, in turn, can benefit every other area of your life. Although you may not realize it until later, the changes you make towards eating well and becoming active could well be among the most decisive, positive steps that you have ever taken for yourself.
To understand why we need to change our eating habits and give up those cream cakes, rich sauces, and quick and easy convenience foods, let’s take a brief look at the harmful effects of many twentieth-century foods.
Calorie-dense and nutritionally poor food:
When we talk of a food being calorie-dense we mean it is high in calories. A calorie (or more correctly kilocalorie) is a measure of the amount of energy or heat given off when metabolized (or burnt) by the body. The body needs six nutrients: water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.
Increasingly, the manufacturing industries are refining, preserving, and packaging more and more foods. In the process, they have created food that is energy-dense but nutritionally poor – foods high in calories and low in goodness.
Sugar, fats, and white flour have all been refined and treated to remove the perishable substances. It is these living parts, such as the wheatgerm in wheat, that contain the goodness. And after their removal what is left is a product that is pliable, durable, bland, versatile, and consistent – all ideal qualities for a process of manufacture which involves machines and keeping foods packaged for a great length of time on supermarket shelves. But refined sugar, refined flour, and commercial fats are dead substances, containing nothing but calories.
As Western nations have become richer their eating habits have become more ‘sophisticated’. As a result, the food industry has grown to produce more and more ‘new lines’ which include chemical additives, preservatives, and coloring agents to ensure products of standard flavor and long life, and which are bright enough to attract the eye.
In the early days of nutrition study, attention focused on getting enough of the most well-known nutrients – proteins, fats and carbohydrates, and water. This was a relatively easy idea to grasp because they could be identified with specific foods.
Thus we were encouraged to eat plenty of meat, milk, butter, and other dairy foods for our protein and fat requirements, and bread, potatoes, and sugar for carbohydrates. And so the average diet in the West has focused more and more on these foods, including plenty of packaged, canned, and frozen items.
Fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, beans, and pulses have, to a certain extent, been ignored along with vitamins and minerals.
So what is wrong? We are all aware of the triumphs of modern medicine in combating previously deadly infectious diseases, and because we do not see the grave manifestations of starvation and deficiency diseases.
we assume that everyone has enough food to eat and that the general standard of health must be much higher than it was, say, 50 years ago. But, although the general standard of health is higher, the incidence of chronic diseases, such as arthritis, rheumatism, digestive disorders, and mental illness – is now also arthritis, rheumatism, digestive disorders, and mental illnesses – is now also much higher.
Bacterial infections have given way to the so-called ‘degenerative diseases’, originally assumed to be a natural consequence of aging. We now know, conversely, that these diseases are caused not by old age but by Western lifestyles, and particularly by the food we eat.
The single major cause of heart disease, arthritis, respiratory complaints, digestive diseases, and 35 percent of cancers is thus now recognized to be the Western diet – high in refined flour and sugar, fat, red meat, and alcohol, but low in vegetables, fruit, whole grains and cereals, beans and pulses.
Malnutrition – a thing of the past?
We tend to associate the condition of malnutrition with pictures of starving children in Third World countries. The assumption is that here in the West we are better fed than we have ever been. Malnutrition, along with famine, starvation, and disease, is a thing of the past, or at least only happens in deprived areas of the world.
It comes as a shock then to learn that malnutrition is widespread in the Western world, and that, deficiencies are common. The form of malnutrition that we commonly suffer is not due to lack of food but to overeating the wrong kind of foods – those which are ‘energy-dense’ and ‘nutrient-poor’ – commonly called ‘junk foods’ and heavily processed or refined.
However, it is worth remembering that a lot of the ‘fresh’ food we eat may be partially depleted of nutrients because of long periods of storage in warehouses. Picked before they are ripe, sprayed with chemicals, and left to gather lead pollution in the inner cities, fruit, and vegetables cannot be relied on to give us their full complement of nutrients. Additionally, much of the meat we buy is full of growth hormones and antibiotics.
So, unless we are aware of the processes that much of our food Is subjected to, and counter this by making sure that our fruit and vegetables are as fresh as possible and that our diet contains a reasonable proportion of whole grains, beans, and pulses, then we are unlikely to get enough nutrients from what we eat.
Furthermore, the ‘dead’ calories we consume – sugar, refined flour, and saturated fats, plus toxic additives such as chemical preservatives, colorings, antibiotics, and other drugs – actually deplete our body of the nutrients it has stored.
This is because the body perceives these dead substances as poisonous to it and marshalls its resources to deal with them. Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs also require the same effort from the body.
Any food that is highly refined has had the vitamins and other elements necessary for its metabolism by the body removed in the processing. So if we eat a diet high in refined foods, drink a lot of alcohol or coffee, smoke, eat processed and sugared foods, white bread and very fatty foods, or live in polluted areas. Then we are likely to be experiencing at least mild vitamin deficiencies.
Getting our food priorities right:
Healthy eating is simple: no complicated diets or esoteric foods, no tortuous rules of expensive shopping lists. Wholesome, nourishing food is various, interesting, and tasty, and lends itself to the lazy cook, to ethnic food, the eater in a hurry, the gourmet, or the lover of fine cuisine.
It need not involve learning a whole set of new techniques nor put a further strain on the budget, but it does involve a serious, basic rethink about eating habits and tastes, and discarding some of our favorite prejudices – among them ‘Meat and two vegs is the only square meal,’ or ‘A cooked meal is better for you than a cold salad.
Getting rid of these prejudices is the first step and for some, the hardest. The rest, following the information and guidelines are given here, should be an exploration and an enjoyable adventure as you discover for yourself new ways of preparing and eating food. The benefits of adopting simpler, fresher ways of eating are felt by most people immediately.
The body responds quickly to the lightning of the load placed on the digestive system, experiencing an increase in energy from slow-burning carbohydrates and the cleansing effects of lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, even if ingrained psychological and emotional attitudes to food are harder to break.
For a woman, it will also have a direct bearing on the well-being of her reproductive and elimination cycles. Most months, a woman’s body undergoes hormonal changes even as the demands on her body affect her vitality and emotional well-being.
Add to this the stresses and strains of everyday life, which are greater on women today than ever before, and it is evident that we need all the help we can get, and cannot afford to neglect the role of food in determining how we face the world.
The simple process of moving away from quick snacks of sugar- and fat-laden foods towards the foods laid out in these guidelines will have a beneficial effect on your ability to cope with the demands of a busy life.
Blood sugar levels will even out, ridding you of those undermining ups and downs of energy and mood. Your sense of emotional and psychological well-being will improve as your body and your brain become better nourished.
Many women will also find they lose weight easily and naturally. If a woman needs to lose fat, then her body – given the right assistance – will lose as fast or as slowly as it is ready. Usually, for the body to maintain homeostasis, fat will be shed slowly.
The essence of an approach to food and eating, however, is balance. Some women may well find that their previously undernourished bodies fill out a little, and will need to readjust their self-image along less starved lines and stop abusing themselves with panic crash diets. This is not easy but the increased well-being resulting from these new approaches to eating healthy food will help.
It is much harder to overeat whole, nourishing foods. And body signals which indicate ‘enough’ function healthily on unrefined foods. Following this eating plan is one of the very best cures for women who gorge, bulimics, and those with insatiable cravings, It returns the body to balance.
The rewards of eating fresh whole foods and a high proportion of raw food, fruit, and vegetables, are not just an absence of illness or the curing of heart disease and digestive disorders.
Eating well is a key part of positive health. This involves giving up the attitude that we have adopted for so long, a mixture of self-deprecation and wanting to please: ‘Oh, don’t mind me, I eat anything,’ towards the attitude that as women we do matter, our health matters, it does matter what we put into our bodies and we do have a choice in what we eat. Caring for ourselves – which includes paying attention to the food we eat – is the prerequisite to caring for others.
A good food guide will not offer diets or recipes but give information and guidelines instead. Eating is a part of every individual’s lifestyle and so must be determined by every woman for herself, each taking into account her own cultural and ethnic practices.
Also, no two people have the same nutritional requirements; what is indigestible for one person may help another to thrive. Just as no two people have the same fingerprints, so we each have our food and eating requirements. It is important to be aware of this because it knocks on the head the ‘rightness’ of social conventions, such as eating at fixed times three times a day.
The Value of Raw Foods:
Since the end of the last century, when the Swiss doctor Max Bircher-Benner ‘invented’ muesli, and Sir Robert McCarrison conducted his pioneering research in India, the virtues of raw foods over their cooked versions have been explored, researched, studied, and, more recently, their health-promoting and curative values widely extolled by some of the most persuasive voices in the current debate about nutrition.
These are their main conclusions:
- Cooking destroys many vitamins and minerals, reducing the nutritional and digestive value of food.
- Raw food diets have been found to help in a variety of illnesses, from digestive disorders to some cancers. They also have a role in preventing heart disease and in convalescence.
- Studies show that people can live very healthily on diets supplying less than the minimum recommended requirements of calories, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, so long as the food they do eat is raw.
- Some raw foods, such as muesli, are easier to digest once the muscles of the digestive system have been retrained from a state of laziness due to a soft, undemanding diet of processed foods.
- Raw foods offer a wide variety of tastes and culinary possibilities and can be inexpensive.
The Food Balancing Act:
Of course, we all have to adapt and compromise. Few of us have the time to sit around all day contemplating what we want for our next meal, and no one can prepare individual meals for each member of the family. But if your meals are planned with foods from the groups below in mind, then you should be on the right road to getting your food priorities right.
The Basic Food:
cereals. Wholewheat, rye, oats, barley, buckwheat, cracked wheat, millet, brown rice, wholemeal bread, muesli (no sugar), porridge, and shredded wheat.
Beans and pulses:
Beans and pulses. Chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, split peas, butter beans, mung, adzuki, and black-eye beans.
Fruit and vegetables:
Fruit and vegetables. Choose a wide variety – roots, tubers, and leafy green. The dark, leafy, green vegetables provide a rich source of minerals such as iron. Eat at least one raw salad a day. Buy fresh, lively-looking produce – garden and organically grown vegetables and fruit are particularly valuable because they have not been sprayed.
Seeds, nuts, and eggs:
Seeds, nuts, and eggs. Nature concentrates goodness in the reproductive parts of all creatures, so two or three eggs per week plus nuts and seeds added to cereals and salads are excellent sources of protein and other nutrients.
Sprouted grains and seeds greatly increase their vitamins and amino-acid content, so becoming an even better source of protein. They should be eaten fresh and raw, for cooking destroys much of their value.
Milk and live yogurt:
Milk and live yogurt are good sources of protein and other nutrients. Yogurt is an excellent staple in healthy eating. Delicious in sweet or savory dishes or eaten on its own, it makes a good substitute for cream, being low in fat and calories and high in protein. Easily assimilated by the body, it encourages the growth of intestinal bacteria called flora which aid digestion.
Flora is destroyed by highly acidic foods (like coffee, tea, alcohol, sugar, and, meat), antibiotics, and other drugs. To be of nutritional value yogurt must be ‘live’ – that is, must contain the beneficial culture or bacteria (indicated on the side of the carton) that aids digestion.
The synthetic whipped mixture widely available may taste vaguely similar to yogurt but there is no comparison nutritionally and it is of no value to health or digestion.
Fish is a good source of animal protein and essential minerals and oils. Fish roe, like other ‘eggs’, are concentrated sources of nourishment. Research indicates that fish protein may have a protective effect against heart disease.
Meat, Poultry, Cheese, and other dairy Products:
None of these is essential to health, and they are all expensive. Rich in saturated fat, they are a burden to digestion, metabolism, circulation, and kidneys. Since they come at the end of the food chain (from seed, to plant, to animal, to manufacturer, to consumer) they are also likely to retain the chemicals used in their manufacture and processing. Eat them as treats, sparingly.
Cakes, biscuits, and pastries are all high in fat and many also in sweetness. The sugar content of these occasional treats should be derived from dried fruit or small amounts of honey or molasses (both of which are just as sweet as sugar and contain trace elements, other minerals, and vitamins).
This is a good source of natural, but very concentrated, sweetness. Add to muesli or soak in water for use as a dessert, but do not eat very much in its dried form because the level of sweetness is so high that it will keep alive a sugar craving.
Another good reason for not eating much-dried fruit is that most commercial produce is sulfured to keep it looking plump and glossy. Some wholefood stores now sell un-sulfured dried fruit which, despite its dull, shriveled appearance, is worth seeking out and tastes better.
Seeds And Sprouts:
The seed or egg of any living organism – plant or animal – contains a lot of nourishment. Furthermore, plant seeds are plentiful and cheap compared with other protein sources. Remember that grains in their unprocessed form are also seeds.
Less well known is how to grow them, what to do with them, how to eat them, or whether to cook them, sprinkle, grind, or munch them. Here are some brief ideas to start you on your way:
- The seeds that are good to eat in their natural state are poppy, sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin. Others are usually cooked or sprouted.
- Combine sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds as a delicious, crunchy breakfast topping. Together these three seeds make a complete protein. They are alkaline and provide essential fatty acids, linoleic, and linolenic, which are vital to the health and elasticity of skin and glands, and help to balance cholesterol levels.
- Add sunflower seeds to cooked grain – buckwheat, for example – which already has a warm nutty flavor, for added nourishment and texture.
- Use seeds in crumble toppings and salads.
- Makeup seed, nut, and dried food mix for snacks and children’s lunch boxes.
- Use poppy and sesame seeds in bread and other baking.
- All seeds and beans can be sprouted. This increases their nutritional value immensely. Add to salads and sandwiches.