When it comes to nutrition information available to people these days – it’s a total minefield out there.
On one street corner (or magazine/blog/newspaper/book) someone shouts about Atkins being the only way, on another it’s Paleo, on another it’s being vegan, on another it’s intermittent fasting, on another it’s being ketogenic, on another it’s being alkaline, on another it’s Weight Watchers, on another it’s IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) and so on and so on.
It’s impossible to go near a women’s magazine without seeing yet another diet plan or instructions on exactly what to eat and when to eat and how often and how much.
It’s confusing, no? I think the answer is not: eat like Scarlet Johannsen and get the body of Scarlet Johannsen. Everyone has their own body and what works for you might not work for me (or for Scarlet) and vice versa.
I think if you are interested in fine tuning your diet, for whatever reason – weight loss, muscle gain, improved energy, etc. – it’s a good idea to keep a food diary. Write down what you eat but most importantly how you feel immediately afterwards and also 1-2 hours later. For example:
- Ate XYZ. Felt great / happy / energetic / blah / tired / sleepy / bloated / upset stomach / had tons of energy for exercise / had no energy for exercise, and so on.
Observe your body and find out what it’s telling you. Different people can handle different foods and only by observing what certain foods do to your body – your digestion AND your brain AND your fitness (power output) – can you deduct what is the right way of eating for you.
I, for example, keep forgetting that sugar not only messes with my stomach but it also messes with my brain. In best case scenario it makes me very sleepy and bloated, but it can also make me really, really blue. Most of our serotonin is made in the gut, not in the brain, so it’s no wonder that I’m so affected by sugar – my body’s not very skilled at making and distributing serotonin (at the moment I’ve been off Citalopram for 3 months though and doing well :) ) so anytime my stomach is not happy, my brain is not happy.
Since you are not me though, I am not going to tell you to eat like me, but I have been observing my digestion and my moods for a long time and I’ll quickly just share some basic principles that I follow (most of the time ;)
- Protein for breakfast, not sugar
I always thought that it’s impossible that two little eggs and some veg can keep you full longer than a bowl of porridge, but it turns out it’s totally true for me. Every time I have porridge for breakfast, my stomach is growling LOUD by 11 am. That never happens to me when I eat my usual 2 poached eggs, a few cherry tomatoes and half an avocado.
Also, because my digestion and moods are greatly affected by sugar, I find that starting my day with a non-sweet breakfast means my blood sugar levels are more stable and I don’t crave sugar during the day.
- Protein + (green) veggies first and foremost for every meal
I eat plenty of carbs throughout the day but I try to make sure that my plate always includes a good portion of protein and a large portion of veggies. I like putting the focus on adding, not on taking away.
- Freeze green vegetables
You might not always have leafy greens in your fridge so I buy large quantities of spinach or kale, chop it up in food processor and freeze in ice cube trays. That way I can always toss in a few cubes into whatever I’m cooking and the veg part of my meal is taken care of.
- Watch those liquid calories
I love Fanta in the summer but most of the time I just drink water, black coffee, Kombucha and wine or beer. Most store-bought fizzy drinks, juices and smoothies have just way too much fructose (and sometimes other questionables) for someone who needs to watch their sugar-intake. And – don’t get me started on things like Starbucks Frappuccinos – the S’mores flavoured Frappuccino, for example, has 500 calories and close to nil nutritional value. I personally would rather get 500 ‘bonus’ calories from a good slice of cake or a good burger, at least those things come with a side of some nutrients.
- Instead of sugar I use honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, stevia, xylitol or dates
I have such a sweet tooth though that I need to remind myself all the time that sweet treats made with these sweeteners are still sweet and are still treats and that I cannot stuff my face with them every single day.
- No artificial sweeteners
Made in a lab somewhere and mess with your pancreas and other organs. And that means I gave up my long-lasting Diet Coke habit several years ago and am much happier now just drinking carbonated water (the more bubbles the better), sometimes with a dash of fruit juice.
- Gluten free doesn’t equal healthy
Most gluten free products are loaded with sugar, I pretty much stay away from the gluten free aisle and just buy Biona or Amisa rice bread.
- Omega 3 and probiotics
Since I need to be good to my brain and my digestion, the only two supplements I try to take daily are omega-3 and probiotics. Omega-3s you can also get from fish and from flaxseed oil (among a few other things), probiotics you can get from fermented stuff like kefir and kombucha.
- Drink water
My bladder hates me but I try to drink 2 litres of water a day. More if I’m running a lot or have an extra sweaty Crossfit session.
Remember when they used to tell us that butter was bad for us and that margarine was better? Geebus. I’m glad they (The Clever Scientists) have now figured out that butter is actually all kinds of natural and good (still in moderation though as it has quite a few calories) but margarine is in the same boat with artificial sweeteners – not natural, messes with our natural bodily functions (that applies to those olive oil spreads that are labelled as “super healthy” as well).
- Like to snack? Pop your own popcorn.
I’m terrible at wanting to snack in the evenings. I often pop some popcorn and add a bit of coconut oil + sea salt. Popcorn in microwave bags – Google “diacetyl” and then decide :)
- Freeze bananas
Most of the time I have frozen bananas in my freezer. Whenever I see super ripe bananas in the shops, which actually isn’t every day as the nation seems to prefer green bananas :|, I buy a truckload, peel and slice them and freeze. I use them for making ice cream – blending them with cashew butter, or for chucking into smoothies.
- No need to buy everything organic
I’m a bit of an organic snob, I know it, I buy organic milk, meat, eggs and most fruit and veg. The thing is though that you don’t have to buy everything organic, some things have more pesticides on them than others, the things that have more and should therefore be bought organic are generally anything with soft skin – berries, peaches, grapes, etc. Other stuff just needs to be washed well.
Whew. I think that’s enough for one post! If I’ve confused you even more with some stuff I’ve said let me know, and if there’s one thing you remember, remember my rule number 1:
Or just choose spelt over regular wheat. Spelt has more protein and less gluten and is better for your bod. At least my primadonna digestion gets less bloated from spelt bread or pasta than from regular kind.
Let me know what you think – what are the general rules you live by when it comes to food? Have you tried different ways of eating and found the one that works for you?