As the old saying goes, ‘you can’t out train a bad diet’, so what does the perfect diet look like? Is there any such thing? The market is saturated with information on what to eat or more commonly what not to eat. It you followed all the advice out there you’d end up eating nothing.
The simple fact is there’s no such thing as the perfect diet, and there’s certainly no quick fix to weight loss. Eating healthily is all about eating nutritious foods that provide us with the right amount of energy to function and avoiding high calorie foods that contain little or no nutrition.
If you want to eat a healthy balanced diet and are wondering where to start or you just want a few pointers in the right direction then read on. Here are 5 general principals to live by before we go into how you might structure your daily food intake.
5 principals to live by
1) Never skip meals and don’t go more than about 3 hours without eating. This will keep your metabolism ticking and avoid blood sugar lows causing binging and overeating later.
2) Combine protein and fibre at every meal. Protein might include meat, fish, beans, nuts, eggs or dairy and examples of fibre are whole grains, fruits and vegetables. When these foods are eaten together, they take longer to digest than simple carbohydrates (such as sugars and white bread), so you stay fuller for longer.
3) Drink plenty of water. This will help minerals and vitamins enter your system as they’re often water-soluble. It’s better to sip fluids all day long than skull 2 pints at the end of the day when you realise you’re thirsty.
4) Eat a wide variety of food sources. The more colours and diversity on your plate, the more variety of nutrients you’ll be eating.
5) Avoid processed foods as they’re often high in salt and preservatives and contain lots of calories but little nutrition. The less a food item looks like it did when it came out of the ground (or wherever it came from), the worse it is for you. I.e. sliced ham is worse than a pork chop. A bag of chips is worse than boiled potatoes etc.
So what might your daily food intake look like? Below a guide to what you might eat in a 24 hour period. This is just a sample and it won’t be suitable for everyone. Portion size will depend on your gender and how active you are. The times you eat will obviously vary depending on the type of job you do or the hours you work.
6.30 to 7am – Drink a glass of water with lemon
When you sleep you’re abstaining from water as well as food. The acidity of the lemon will help rebalance the ‘good’ bacteria in your digestive system and because many vitamins are water-soluble, the water will help your body absorb nutrients from food better.
Tip: This is also your ideal fat-burning window. A light bout of cardio soon after you wake up and before you eat taps into your body’s energy reserves. This doesn’t mean go for a 2-hour hike on an empty stomach! A 15-minute walk with the dog or going up and down the stairs in your home is ideal.
Muesli or oats are a perfect choice for breakfast as your body digests the fibre slowly. You can always jazz it up with some yoghurt, nuts to add a bit of protein or berries (rasberries, strawberries, blueberries etc). If that’s not your thing you could go for a fruit smoothie, a bowl of fruit and yoghurt (bananas are good at filling you up) or eggs on toast. Whatever you do don’t miss breakfast – this is THE most important meal of the day.
Eat an apple or piece of fruit, a handful of nuts or yoghurt to keep you going until lunchtime.
Tip: Take your time eating. Research shows the more chewing you do, the more nutrients your body absorbs.
Make yourself a colourful salad; start with dark, leafy greens and pile them high with a mix of veggies, protein, and healthy fats. Tomatoes, carrots, capsicum, cucumber or mushrooms will provide a healthy mix of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Avocado provides a healthy, monounsaturated fat. Tuna fish, grilled chicken, turkey, beans, or lentils will give you your protein. Be adventurous – the more colour and variety, the better. Dressing is fine but don’t drown your salad, and feel free to have a slice of wholegrain bread on the side if you find you get hungry before the next snack time.
Keep your metabolism going in the afternoon with a yoghurt, a small bowl of cereal or a banana with peanut butter. Or if you’re really struggling with sugar cravings some dark chocolate (70% cacao) will fill the void. Let your appetite guide you here – if you had a large lunch you may only want a small snack. If you’re hitting the gym after work you may need a bit extra to keep you going.
Grilled salmon (preferably wild), fish or chicken are great sources of lean protein with fish providing some healthy omega-3 fats too. Add veggies (again lots of colour and variety) and brown rice or healthy carbs to add a bit of bulk.
Tip: Soup such as minestrone or miso before your main meal will help fill you up and eat less overall. It’ll also add to your daily fluid intake.
8.30pm After dinner snack
Here you can have a little treat but try and avoid completely empty calories (i.e. calories with no nutrition). A small amount of chocolate drizzled over berries or fruit, apple and banana with honey, a yoghurt or fruit icy pole are a few ideas.
So there you have it… How you might structure your daily intake and some ideas for what you can eat to stay healthy on a daily basis.
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