Maintaining a healthy diet is one of the most important things you can do to help you achieve your fitness goals. You can do all the exercise you want, but if your nutrition isn’t on point then you aren’t going to achieve the gains you were looking for.
Eat more healthy oily fish
Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and trout provide protein as well as healthy omega 3 fats which are important for your brain function, heart health and normal vision. They’re also one of the few food sources of vitamin D, which contributes to maintaining your bones and helps you to absorb calcium. Aim to eat at least one portion of sustainably-sourced oily fish per week. They work really well in place of chicken or red meat in pasta dishes, stir fries and salads too.
For a delicious, healthy and simple dinner, try fresh egg tagliatelle tossed in extra virgin olive oil, garlic, chilli, lemon and parmesan, served with steamed tenderstem broccoli and flakes of lightly smoked salmon fillet.
Choose unsaturated fats
Fat is an essential part of the diet, providing energy, fat-soluble vitamins as well as essential fatty acids that we cannot make in the body. You’ll find two types in your food: saturated and unsaturated fat. Reading the nutritional label on the back of a product will tell you what type of fats it contains and in what quantity.
Saturated fats are generally found in animal products such as butter, cream, cheese, lard, and products made from these, as well as vegetable fats such as cocoa butter and coconut oil. It’s recommended that you use saturated fats in small amounts because they increase the cholesterol levels in your blood and therefore your risk of heart disease.
Unsaturated fats, however, are found in olive oil, rapeseed oil (vegetable oil), sunflower oil, nuts, seeds and avocados. These foods don’t all contain the same type of unsaturated fat, and there are two types that are considered to be essential to the human body: omega 3 and omega 6.
Omega 3 fats are found in oily fish, flaxseed, chia seed, walnuts, certain brands of eggs, and some fortified foods such as margarine, yogurts and plant-based drinks. The omega 3 found in oily fish is important for your brain function, a healthy heart and normal vision.
Meanwhile, omega 6 fats are mainly found in plant foods. Sunflower oil, sunflower seeds, walnuts, walnut oil, pine nuts and pistachios are all packed with it. There is substantial evidence that swapping saturated fats with unsaturated fats can help to lower cholesterol and risk of heart disease, so improving your diet could be a simple as choosing olive oil instead of butter for frying.
You could also try carrying around a small pot of nuts and seeds to snack on. They’re nutritional powerhouses, providing energy, fibre, protein and an array of different vitamins and minerals, making them a key component of any healthy diet. If they can stop you reaching for a biscuit too, the benefits are two-fold!
Fibre is massively important to maintaining a healthy diet. It plays a vital role in digestion and studies have shown that eating more fibre is closely associated with lowering your risk of bowel cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, too.
It’s found in a range of foods such as wholegrain breakfast cereals, fruits, vegetables, pulses, wholegrain cereals (e.g. barley, rye), nuts, wholegrain rice, seeds and foods – such as bread and pasta – made with wholemeal flour. On average, people in the UK currently consume less than 19g of fibre a day – far less than the recommended 30g. So we could all do with paying more attention to our fibre intake.
Drinking plenty of fluids and keeping your body hydrated is an important aspect of a healthy diet. Losing just 1% of your body weight in water can lead to headaches and poor concentration, so six to eight glasses of fluids a day are recommended. Water is great, being calorie free, as well as contributing to your normal physical and cognitive functions.
However, tea, coffee, lower-fat milk and sugar-free soft drinks all count too, but try and limit the amount of fruit juice and smoothies you take on for hydration purposes. These can contain large quantities of free sugars (all types of sugars added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices), which could make you regular visitor to your dentist. Try and keep yourself to around 150ml a day.
Eat your 5 a day
The World Health Organisation has recommended that we should all eat five 80g portions (400g in total) of fruit and vegetables a day for well over 10 years now, but we know that both adults and children in the UK are still not meeting this target. It’s vital because daily consumption of fruit and vegetables reduces your risk of cardiovascular diseases, obesity and some cancers. They also contain fibre, and lots of different vitamins and minerals – variety is absolutely key for the right balance.
Making fruits or vegetables your first choice for a snack is one of the easiest ways to boost your intake and ensuring you have a healthy diet. You can also try balancing your main meals with equal quantities of vegetables and carbohydrates. Remember, 150ml of smoothies or juices can only count as one of your 5 a day, no matter how many different types of fruit or vegetable it contains!