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Getting Started With Healthy Eating Print E-mail
Robin Forrester   
Thursday, 26 March 2009
Getting Started With Healthy EatingHealthy eating is about making responsible choices that give you the correct balance of daily nutrients required to get your body functioning at optimum levels and help keep it disease free. The right diet also increases your energy levels, helping you to feel refreshed, rejuvenated and can even improve your mood.

Healthy eating is something we’ve all excitedly planned to make a core part of lives at one stage or another. We know that it’s important but unfortunately it all too often stays in the “to-do” list thanks to our hectic, frantic lives. The impact that this procrastination is having on our lives is having huge implications both here in South Africa and across the globe.


Global Lifestyle Trends
The ‘Perceptions’ study released in March 2009 by Dr Craig Nossel, the head of Vitality Wellness at Discovery highlighted some worrying statistics when looking at the impact of unhealthy eating habits in South Africa. He found that around 20 percent of South African males and 26 percent of females were overweight.

The study also looked at the prices of basic foods and found that the price of staples like maize for example had gradually risen from January 2005 till June 2008 upon which Nossel commented, "This has resulted in a growing international trend whereby fast, unhealthy food continues to take off because of both convenience and cost."

On causes of death in South Africa Nossel stated, "Non-communicable chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes are among the top 10 causes of death in our country… Research has shown that the combination of exercise and healthy eating has the most significant impact on weight management and overall health outcomes such as prevention of hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes."

The World Health Organisation also now attributes a staggering 60 percent of deaths worldwide to changes in global lifestyle trends and the resultant unhealthy lifestyle habits being adopted (WHO Country Health System Fact Sheet 2006 – South Africa).


Getting the Balance & Five a Day
Balancing our diet with a mix of foods from the following groups; protein, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, and grains is the key to achieving a healthy diet. The most important, and perhaps most neglected of these are fruits and vegetables. How many times have we heard health experts extol the virtues of five portions a day! (i)

As well as being delicious, fruits and vegetables have numerous health benefits. They help the body’s digestive process by providing us with roughage and thus decreasing the risks of colon and bowel cancers. They are packed full of vital vitamins and contain phytonutrients (which are responsible for their bold and bright colours) that serve as powerful anti-oxidants and help keep cancer causing free radicals at bay. Studies have also shown that diets high in fruit can even prevent the symptoms of such diseases as Alzheimer’s. (ii)


Super Fruits and Veggies

For its incredible health benefits one of the best vegetables you can eat is broccoli, which is an excellent source of calcium, potassium, vitamins A and C, anti-oxidants, beta-carotene, and folates. These help to reduce the risk of cancer, heart diseases and tumour formations.

Another super vegetable, with its impressively high levels of iodine, potassium, iron, calcium, sulphur and phosphorus, is cabbage. It is also packed full of  vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, E, K and folic acid which boosts the immune system, detoxifies the body and stimulates production of antibodies. What more could you ask from a simple ball of leaves!

Other great vegetables are carrots, celery, any dark leafy vegetables, bell peppers, sweet potato, tomatoes and the wonderfully scented garlic.
Fruits also have their nutritious hierarchy, for example any types of berries, especially blueberries as they have one of the highest levels of anti-oxidants, top the tree. Guavas are one of the best sources of vitamin C, the vitamin responsible for keeping our skins healthy and boosting our immune systems. Other outstanding contributors to a super healthy diet are kiwifruit, grapefruit, papaya, cantaloupe, apricots and oranges.


How to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet

There are some really simple and tasty ways to ensure you get those five servings a day we mentioned earlier. Try introducing a fruit or vegetable salad topped with some herbs as a tasty side dish or even a main meal.

How about mixing up a delicious smoothie anytime of the day for a quick boost? Susannah Blake in her book ‘Juices and Smoothies Galore’ says, “The great thing about making your own juices and smoothies is that it means you get the absolute best out of them that you can. You control the freshness of the fruit and vegetables used, and can adjust the quantities of ingredients included to create a drink exactly to your liking. The versatility of making your own juice or smoothie is amazing.”

Dried fruit, packed with vitamins and minerals, is also an excellent way to treat hunger pangs during the day. Some tasty combinations to start with are dried papaya, pineapple, peaches, banana chips, apricots and the super fruit cranberries.

Other great ways to start eating more fruit and vegetables are to add fruit to your breakfast cereal, adding vegetables to a soup or curry for dinner, or even try substituting chocolates and sweets with an exotic fruit you’ve never tried. With so many tempting choices, fitting in five servings a day should soon pose no problem! The challenge now is also to get the most out of your foods, that’s where preparation is so important.


Food preparation makes a difference
The way food is prepared can have a drastic effect on its end result nutritional value. Steaming is one of the most effective cooking methods, as it's proven to retain the highest amount of a food's nutrient value compared to any other cooking method.

However, as some of the nutrients will always be lost through cooking, eating raw fruits and vegetables is the ultimate way to consume them. This is why juicing is a very effective method of enjoying all the nutrients a vegetable or fruit has to offer.


Keep temptation at bay, and smart choices

Once your healthy eating diet is in full flow you’ll need some smart ways to avoid the temptation of un-healthy foods. Try replacing some of your unhealthy snacks with tasty alternatives such as fruit yogurt, fresh fruit, or even carrot sticks.

Healthy eating is not about denying yourself of all your favourite snacks but to practice a little restraint when faced with the thousands of choices given to us at every turn when purchasing foods.

There are thousands of mouth-watering healthy recipes out there waiting to be discovered by your taste buds. Just keep enjoying your favourite foods in moderation, start with the small changes, practise restraint when presented with unhealthy choices. You’ll be reaping the benefits in no time at all.

References:
(i) http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publichealth/Healthimprovement/FiveADay/index.htm
(ii) http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2006/sep/01/health.foodanddrink


Robin Forrester is a staff writer at Harmonious Living.

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Disclaimer: Harmonious Living is written for and read by a community of individuals with strong and independent opinions. While the publishers of Harmonious Living are dedicated to providing a forum in which views can be openly expressed, those views do not necessarily reflect those of the publishers.
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