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Top 10 Tips for Healthy Eating

Recently I was asked by food blogger, home cook and photographer extraordinaire, Megan Young of Veggies and Me, for my top 10 tips on healthy eating. (Read the whole post here.) Over the next 3 issues of EMPOWERED! I'm going to elaborate on these tips, so you can fully grasp the profound impact that implementing them will have on your health and wellbeing.

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Tip # 1. Centre every single meal you eat on fresh fruit and/or vegetables. Make them the main dish – not the garnish!
The '5 a day' programs adopted by many governments around the world, to promote the consumption of 5 serves of fruit and vegetables per day, are so passé! The Australian government now recommends that adults eat at least 2 serves of fruit and 5 of vegetables each day, while the US departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services recommend 9 servings per day for an 'average' person on a 2000 calorie per day diet. In case you were wondering, a serving equals 1/2 cup. So if you're following the US guidelines, you'd be eating 4 1/2 cups of fruit and vegetables per day. Sound like a lot? Just for fun, I decided to measure how much fruit and vegetables I eat on an average day.Breakfast: a fruit salad of pear, apple, banana, mandarin and kiwifruit, topped with a 'yoghurt' made from frozen strawberries blended with hemp mik, linseed and dates, delivered 2 cups.Lunch: a salad of lettuce, coriander, tomato, cucumber, carrot, broccoli sprouts and capsicum totalled 2 1/2 cups. So my running tally is already up to the 4 1/2 cups recommended in the US guidelines, and it's only lunchtime!Dinner: eggplant, lentil and tofu paté served with a variety of vegetable sticks and slices came to another 2 1/2 cups of vegetables. Dessert: stewed apple and rhubarb added another 1/2 cup.

What do I achieve with such a high intake of fruits and vegetables?
Because fruits and vegetables have low energy density (calories/kilojoules per unit weight of food), I take in far fewer calories than if I was loading up on animal products or carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread and pasta. I can maintain my ideal weight easily and without 'dieting' because there's no need to restrict the volume of food I'm eating; I can eat large portions and feel completely satisfied after every meal.Because fruits and vegetables have high nutrient per kilojoule/calorie density (more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals for each kilojoule/calorie of food intake), I get much more 'bang for my buck' - more of the micronutrients that maintain and enhance health and longevity, without the excess kilojoules that shorten life- and health-span.My meals are appealing to my senses - vibrantly colourful, and with a satisfying variety of textures and flavours. This helps me feel satiated after every meal, so I'm not constantly 'grazing'. 

Tip # 2. Choose whole and minimally processed foods over refined, fractionated foods. Whole brown rice is nutritionally superior to pasta or crackers made from brown rice flour. Whole carrots and apples are more nourishing than their juice. Traditional soy foods such as tofu and tempeh are far more health-promoting than soy cheese or fake meat made from isolated soy protein.Whenever we process a food by separating out its components, grinding it up, treating it with chemicals, altering its structure or any of the myriad other forms of processing and refining, we change the nutritional composition of the food, and the way it behaves in our bodies. Whole wheat berries have a low glycaemic index, which means the carbohydrate in them breaks down into sugars very slowly in our digestive tract. But those same berries ground into flour and baked as bread - even wholemeal bread - have a high glycaemic index, putting strain on our blood sugar regulation mechanisms, and increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes in susceptible individuals.Almonds, walnuts and other nuts are wonderful foods which protect against heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and obesity. The oils extracted from them have none of these beneficial effects.Eat food, not components of food reassembled into food-like substances!

Tip # 3. Eat as many green, leafy vegetables as you can possible fit in! Green leafies are the cornerstone of a healthy diet. High in protein, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, low in carbohydrate and glycaemic load, greens are the secret of the great muscular strength and endurance of some of our nearest relatives, the gorillas.Delicious ways to boost your intake of these superfoods:Blend them into a green smoothie like my Cancer knockout smoothie.
Add finely shredded greens to soups and stews; don't overcook them.
Put several bunches of nutritious Asian green vegetables such as bok choy and choy sum into stir-fries.
Add spinach to desserts such as Guiltless chocolate pudding.

Tip # 4. Eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Challenge yourself to try a new food every week. Eating a limited diet isn’t just boring, it reduces your chances of meeting your nutrient needs. There are over 10 000 phytochemicals (compounds produced by plants) that fight disease and boost our health and well-being; eating a limited range of food deprives you of this symphony of nutrients.I'm often asked by clients, what is the best variety of nut to eat, or the best legume, or the best berry? My answer is, there is no best! There is enormous variation in the nutritional composition of foods that are within the same food category (e.g. fruits, grains, seeds), let alone between foods in different categories (e.g. fruits vs vegetables). For example, almonds have nearly 7 times more calcium than cashews, but cashews have 1.5 times more zinc and iron than almonds, and nearly 4 times as much vitamin B1. Berries are rich in cancer-fighting polyphenols called anthocyanins and anthocyanidins; green leafy vegetables have none of these but are rich in cancer-fighting carotenoids such as lutein and alpha-carotene. You don't have to eat every single fruit, vegetable, nut, seed, legume and grain every single day to meet your nutritional needs, of course - your body is far smarter than that! Many nutrients can be stored within your body so that if you take in an abundance of a particular nutrient on one day, the excess will be kept for a later time when you're eating little or none of it. (There are important exceptions, including vitamin C which we're designed to consume ample amounts of every day, because unlike almost every other animal on this planet, we cannot make our own.) All you need to do is vary the kinds of plant foods you eat from day to day. This makes meals far more exciting as well as ensuring your nutrient needs are met. 

Tip # 5. Favour legumes (chickpeas, lentils, dried beans etc) over grains, as the energy-dense portion of your meal. Legumes are much more nutrient-dense than grains, higher in resistant starch which helps you feel fuller for longer and improves your bowel health, and have a much lower glycaemic index (GI) than grains. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when they begin moving toward a plant-based diet, is to fill their plates with refined grain products such as pasta, rice noodles, couscous and bread. These high glycaemic load drive up our bodies' production of inflammatory chemicals, which are associated with weight gain (or difficulty with losing weight), heart disease, diabetes and cancer. In contrast to grains, legumes have both a low glycaemic index and low glycaemic load. This is largely due to their higher content of resistant starch and fibre, which strongly promote weight loss and protect against bowel cancer.I advise eating at least a cup of cooked legumes per day - some at lunch, and some at dinner. And of course, follow tip # 4 above and choose different varieties from day to day.

Tip # 6. Eat nuts and seeds, not oil, to get your essential fats. Oils (and vegan margarine) are just empty calories. Nuts and seeds are power packages of anti-cancer, diabetes- and heart disease-preventing nutrients.As Dr John McDougall is fond of saying, 'The fat you eat is the fat you wear.' But not with nuts and seeds! A substantial proportion of the fat in nuts and seeds is not absorbed by the human body, unlike oil which is 100% absorbed. In addition, oils and fats have no appetite-satisfying properties whereas nuts and seeds are highly satiating, and eating them at one meal tends to reduce your intake of kilojoules at the next meal.Why waste a big chunk of your daily kilojoule 'budget' on a food which supplies no fibre, protein, minerals and (except for cold-pressed oils) no vitamins or antioxidants, when you could be boosting the nutrition and flavour of your meals with a handful of delicious nuts or seeds - and simultaneously protecting yourself against heart disease, cancer and diabetes? 

Tip # 7. Only eat when you’re actually hungry! Even nutritious food undermines health when you eat to excess. Most people don’t know what true hunger is; they mistake the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal from unhealthful foods, as hunger. True hunger is felt in the mouth and throat, and is really quite a pleasurable sensation. Get to know and love it – food tastes better when you’re really hungry!Clients often tell me that they have to eat frequently because they get so hungry, or that they have to eat as soon as they wake up in the morning because they're ravenous. I always ask them this one, simple question: "How do you know when you're hungry?" If the answer is "my tummy rumbles", "I feel sick", "I feel weak", "I can't concentrate", "I get a headache" or some similarly unpleasant experience, that's crystal clear evidence that they are not experiencing true hunger at all. Instead, they're suffering from toxic hunger.

Toxic hunger is a set of withdrawal symptoms, just like those that alcoholics or drug addicts suffer when they quit. But the addictive substances in this case are those found in food - specifically, low-nutrient foods such as highly processed 'edible food-like substances', as food write Michael Pollan has dubbed them, and animal products. Consuming these antioxidant- and phytochemical-deficient foods results in a build-up of metabolic toxins such as free radicals and advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These toxic chemicals not only contribute to the development of chronic disease but also provoke addictive withdrawal symptoms (toxic hunger) which drive you to eat too much and too often.Personally, I can very comfortably go without food for most of the day when required, without experiencing anything other than a great appreciation for whatever I eventually eat! Clients have reported similar experiences to me - even those who were firmly convinced, before switching to a healthy way of eating, that they had 'reactive hypoglycemia' va laregly fictItious illness0 and could not possibly last longer than 3 hours without eating. 

Tip # 8. Plan your meals in advance. I give my clients a meal planner template, so they can map out what they’re going to prepare and eat, a week in advance. Eating decisions made on the run are far less likely to be health-promoting than decisions made in advance.. Psychologists who specialise in behaviour change put a lot of emphasis on 'channel factors' - seemingly minor details or apparently insignificant actions that have a major impact on our choices and behaviour. One such channel factor is the presence - or absence - of a plan about what to eat. Think about this scenario for a moment: you get home from work at 7 pm, tired and hungry. You look in the fridge, and it's virtually empty. Your significant other suggests ordering take-away, and although you really want to stick to your healthy eating intentions, you give in to the suggestion, just because you don't have any better ideas about what to eat. Now imagine the same scenario, but this time you made a weekly meal plan and shopping list in advance, and you have everything you need in the fridge and pantry to make tonight's dinner. Now when your beloved suggests take-away, you consider the time it will take for the restaurant to make your meal vs the time it will take you to cook your planned meal yourself; the cost of the take-away meal and the cost of the ingredients you bought that might spoil if you don't use them up; the health effects of eating take-away vs your home-cooked healthy meal... and you're far more likely to stick with your planned meal. Sure, having a weekly meal plan does not guarantee that you'll always make good decisions, but it really stacks the deck in your favour, allowing yout o harness the benefit of positive channel factors

Tip # 9. Prepare meals with love, and share them with people you love – or if you eat alone, lavish yourself with love by setting the table beautifully. If you find yourself sinking into the feeling that food preparation is a chore, remind yourself why you’re doing it. I look at preparing delicious, nutritious meals for my family as a powerful demonstration of my love for them. And choosing healthy foods for myself is an expression of self-love, out of which love for others flows.My upcoming healthy weight loss program, Get Lean for Life, is all about making the shift from trying to punish and deprive yourself into losing weight, to 'loving yourself slim'. Making and serving meals with love is a key aspect of this overall philosophy. When we choose healthful ingredients and prepare them in delicious ways, we nourish ourselves and the people we feed, on many levels at once.

Tip # 10. Don’t forget the other elements of good health: regular enjoyable exercise, sensible exposure to sunlight, ensuring you’re getting enough good-quality sleep, and loving connections with others.

I have encountered many people in my personal and professional life, who are obsessed about food to the detriment of their relationships with themselves, others and the world. Whether you're obsessed about getting your next 'fix' of junk food, or obsessed with only EVER eating organic/local/raw/whatever your version of 'healthy food' is, obsession is unhealthy! That's not to say you shouldn't make good choices, just that they shouldn't take up much room in your head. Make those good choices and move on to doing all the other things that keep you healthy... and then capitalise on the good health you've earned, to engage in a productive, balanced, happy life; which is, after all, the reason we want to be healthy. In other words, healthy eating (and healthy living generally) is not an end in itself, but the means to an end: to have the capacity to enjoy our lives right through to advanced old age, and to bring our particular, unique gifts to the world in the fullest possible way, with our energy and enthusiasm unhindered by illness.

RobynRobyn Chuter is a university-qualified naturopath, with a Bachelor of Health Science (and the Dean's Medal for Outstanding Academic Achievement) from the University of New England, and a Diploma of Naturopathy from the Australasian College of Natural Therapies. Robyn runs the website Empower Total Health; and she has a naturopathic practice in Sydney, Australia where she specialises in chronic, medically 'incurable' health problems such as IBS, CFS, migraine, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

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