What does eating well look like? 
 
Whilst there’s no ‘one size fits all’ guide to eating well, research repeatedly shows us the patterns and principles which help everyone.  
 
The Mediterranean diet is a good example of a healthy eating pattern strongly linked to good overall health. (1) I’m not talking about pizza or bowls of pasta here. I’m talking about a diet consisting of high intakes of fruits, nuts and seeds, vegetables, fish, legumes and cereals and limited amounts of meat and dairy. At the heart of this diet and its primary fat source is OLIVE OIL. Olive oil is belived to be its principle ingredient and it is this ingredient that's believed to underpin the mountain of beneficial health data. Hundreds of thousands of people consuming this type of diet have been found to have lower risks of a whole range of chronic diseases, including cancer and much better overall health.(2–4) 
 
Eating well should prioritise fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish with lower consumption of red and processed meats and sugar sweetened drinks plus regular additions of unsalted nuts, beans, pulses vegetable oils, fermented dairy products, tea and coffee.(1) 
 
I’ve no doubt you’ve heard this many times before. It’s a great starting point but I’d like to highlight a few key principles to help with the details. 
 

Eat Whole 

The idea of eating whole is to focus on minimal processing. As a rule of thumb, the closer a food is to its natural form, the more nutritious it is. All refined foods tend to be high in salts, sugars, additives such as flavour enhancers, emulsifiers and saturated fats. Minimally processed or unprocessed foods are packed full of beneficial nutrients such as fibres, healthy oils, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients with little if anything added or removed. That doesn’t necessarily mean eating raw though. In fact, many foods become more nutritious with a little cooking. 
 
Tip- Replace white foods with a whole version such as brown or wild rice, whole-wheat flour. Frozen fruits and vegetables are highly nutritious because they’re picked and frozen on the same day. Avoid synthetic sweeteners as they can adversely affect your gut microbes. 

Eat quality 

Firstly, the most nutrient dense foods are the least expensive. Think cabbage, carrots, parsnips, cannellini beans, lentils, free-range eggs, tinned tomatoes, frozen berries and peas and you get my gist. Quality doesn’t have to cost a fortune. So, what do I mean by quality? 
 
Locally and seasonally grown foods tend to be more nutrient dense. Plant oils that are minimally processed such as cold pressed rapeseed oil or extra virgin olive oil are much more nutritious than a highly refined version. (5) This is because many beneficial plant chemicals called phytonutrients are lost in refining. The same is true for animal foods. Meat from free-range grass-fed cows for example is nutritionally very different to meat from an improperly reared animal(6) 
 
Tip-Eat local seasonally produced foods, cold pressed oils and reduce or eliminate mass produced animal foods 

Be plant focussed 

I’d like to encourage everyone to aim to eat 8-10 portions of different fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds daily and 30 different plant foods a week. Don’t be alarmed- this is very do-able when you know how. A good way to think about portion size is to use your hands which tend to in proportion to your body. A cupped palmful is a simple way to approximate a portion of fruit or chopped vegetables and for leafy greens such as spinach, kale and lettuce use both palms cupped. A portion of dried fruit would be a level tablespoon(7) As a general rule aim for 2-3 portions per meal and use fruit or nuts to snack on. This is food for you and also food to boost gut health.(8) 
 
Tip -Start increasing the amount of plant foods you eat by adding an extra portion to each meal 

Eat colour and variety 

I always encourage my patients to ‘eat the rainbow’ daily. This lovely little phrase is a great way to ensure variety and balance. The different colours in plants indicate different vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients so focussing on eating a range of colours each day is a simple way of gauging whether you've eaten enough variety in any given day. Varying foods and colours ensures better nutrition and different foods feed different microbial communities so it's a great way of ensuring your good gut bugs get what they need to thrive. So to keep you and your gut as healthy as possible, colour and variety are key.(8) 
 
Tip- Keep skins on fruits and vegetables wherever possible. It’s where all the really beneficial phytonutrients can be found. 

Eat mindfully 

Having a healthy mindset and a positive relationship with food is a really important part of eating well. Eating mindfully is essentially an ‘awareness of physical as opposed to emotional hunger cues and then eating healthily in response to those cues'.(9) Habits that are unhealthy may feel like huge obstacles but recognising and understanding emotional triggers makes it far easier to focus on building healthy habits to replace the unhealthy. 
 
As far as possible prepare your own meals. By doing this, you know exactly what you're eating and straight away you’re removing one of the biggest problems- processed foods. It helps to plan as most people place lack of time as the top reason for not eating well. Planning saves time, money, waste and helps you to eat well balanced meals.  
 
When you eat really matters too. Eating at regular times, ideally consuming all food in a 12 hour period has been shown to be hugely beneficial to health as has eating with others around a table whenever possible. (10)  
 
Eating a diet that nurtures your gut microbiome is where most research is currently focussed because we now know how influencial these microbes are for our overall health. 
 
By following these core nutrition principles you’ll be improving not only your own health but the health of those beautifully beneficial gut microbes too! 
 
 
References 
 
1. Schulze MB, Martínez-González MA, Fung TT, Lichtenstein AH, Forouhi NG. Food based dietary patterns and chronic disease prevention. BMJ [Internet]. 2018 Jun 13 [cited 2019 Mar 6];361:k2396. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29898951 
 
2. Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvadó J, Covas M-I, Corella D, Arós F, et al. Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet. N Engl J Med [Internet]. 2013 Apr 4 [cited 2021 Mar 20];368(14):1279–90. Available from: http://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMoa1200303 
 
3. Jannasch F, Kröger J, Schulze MB. Dietary patterns and Type 2 diabetes: A systematic literature review and meta- analysis of prospective studies. J Nutr [Internet]. 2017 Jun 1 [cited 2021 Mar 20];147(6):1174–82. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28424256/ 
 
4. Sofi F, Macchi C, Abbate R, Gensini GF, Casini A. Mediterranean diet and health status: An updated meta-analysis and a proposal for a literature-based adherence score [Internet]. Vol. 17, Public Health Nutrition. Cambridge University Press; 2013 [cited 2021 Mar 20]. p. 2769–82. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24476641/ 
 
5. Ananth DA, Deviram G, Mahalakshmi V, Sivasudha T, Tietel Z. Phytochemical composition and antioxidant characteristics of traditional cold pressed seed oils in South India. Biocatal Agric Biotechnol. 2019 Jan 1;17:416–21. 
 
6. Daley CA, Abbott A, Doyle PS, Nader GA, Larson S. A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef [Internet]. Vol. 9, Nutrition Journal. BioMed Central; 2010 [cited 2021 Mar 20]. p. 10. Available from: http://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-9-10 
 
7. Find your balance - get portion wise! - British Nutrition Foundation [Internet]. [cited 2021 Mar 20]. Available from: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/find-your-balance/portionwise.html 
 
8. De Filippo C, Cavalieri D, Di Paola M, Ramazzotti M, Poullet JB, Massart S, et al. Impact of diet in shaping gut microbiota revealed by a comparative study in children from Europe and rural Africa. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A [Internet]. 2010 Aug 17 [cited 2019 May 5];107(33):14691–6. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20679230 
 
9. Warren JM, Smith N, Ashwell M. A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: Effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms [Internet]. Vol. 30, Nutrition Research Reviews. Cambridge University Press; 2017 [cited 2021 Mar 21]. p. 272–83. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954422417000154 
 
10. Chaix A, Manoogian ENC, Melkani GC, Panda S. Time-Restricted Eating to Prevent and Manage Chronic Metabolic Diseases. Annu Rev Nutr [Internet]. 2019 Aug 21 [cited 2021 Mar 21];39(1):291–315. Available from: https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/10.1146/annurev-nutr-082018-124320 

 

 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
Tagged as: Gut health, Nutrition
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