There is a whole array of diets, nutrition plans, eat clean regimes available on the Internet with most of them either factually incorrect or unsustainable. If you’re confused whether you should you go low fat or high fat, or is vegetarian and vegan any healthier, here are my 8 need to know nutrition facts to help you make the right food choices.
1. GOING GLUTEN-FREE IS NOT ALWAYS HEALTHIER
You should only be avoiding Gluten if you have been diagnosed with Coeliac Disease or have Gluten intolerance. Gluten is predominately found in carbohydrate-based foods in the likes of Rye, Barley and Wheat. It’s also found in the unhealthiest items such as pastries, cakes and biscuits.
Many Gluten-free foods would be tasteless without the higher levels of sugar, salt, and other additives to make them more palatable. Gluten-free junk food is still junk food.
2. LOW-FAT FOODS ARE NOT HEALTHIER THAN FULL FAT FOODS
A Low-Fat diet is most definitely not better for you. People often tend to cut out fat altogether when they go for a potentially damaging low-fat diet. Fats are extremely good for you and contrary to popular belief, they are not going to make you fat.
Unsaturated fats are the kind our bodies need found in tasty healthy foods such as avocados and nuts. Low-fat yoghurts and products often have added sugar to replace the taste of the lost fats.
3. SUGAR OFFERS ZERO NUTRITIONAL VALUE
Every aisle in your favourite supermarket is saturated with sugars, from syrups, nectars, organic honeys to granulated coconut sugars, the list goes on. Sadly, sugar has no place in our diets unless it is from natural sugars such as the fructose in fruit or glucose from carbohydrates, which contain micronutrients in vitamins and minerals.
Refined sugar offers absolutely zero nutritional value. Sugar contributes to glycation, the stiffening of our collagen and elastin, which actively creates wrinkles. The over consumption of sugar can lead to high Glycated Haemoglobin which can cause cardiovascular disease and significant circulation issues. The hidden sugars like maltodextrin and oligosaccharides should always be avoided if found a label.
The issue we face is that with raising awareness of the dangers of sugar, so-called ‘healthy’ types of sugars are popping up all over the market. One of the best alternatives is Brown Rice Syrup which contains no Fructose, just Glucose. This Glucose is used as energy by the body whereas fructose is simply stored by the liver and often turned to fat. To keep you blood sugar levels balanced, avoid the Fructose heavy sugars like agave syrup altogether.
4. STOP SHAMING CARBOHYDRATES
Cutting carbohydrates from meals was once hailed as the answer to fast track fat loss. The Atkins and so many other fad diets all avoid bread, potatoes and pasta in favour of loading up on protein sources like eggs. And so began a widespread misconception that carbs make you fat. As a general rule of thumb, a low carbohydrate meal is healthy but the degree to which we enforce a low-carb diet is wholly dependant on the life we lead. The key is to find a balance and understand exactly what carbs to embrace and those we should avoid.
Opt for grains over refined starchy items like white pasta, bread. Grains are significantly more nutritious with tons of nutrients. Quinoa, amaranth, pearl barley, bulgar wheat and spelt are some of my favourite complex carbs. All are high in fibre, which is great for your digestive system, the nutritious carbs including oats tend to offer slow releasing energy keeping you fuller for longer.
5. FRESH VS. FROZEN - WHICH IS HEALTHIER?
Frozen produce can be superior, in terms of nutrient value, quality, shelf-life and cost when compared to fresh produce. Paying a premium for food which you believe is fresh may sound great but often the reality is that these vegetables and fruit may have been held in storage for up to a month and then they sit in the fridge at home for days before being eaten. Over time, fresh produce deteriorates, losing some of the nutrients associated. By contrast, frozen vegetables and fruit are chilled soon after harvest and retain higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants.
6. ARE VEGETARIAN AND VEGAN DIETS THE HEALTHIEST?
In short, the answer is no, unless you are ensuring you are eating the correct foods and getting the right nutrition without any doubt. Vegans can run a danger of being deficient on omega-3, B12, protein and much more. This is purely as a result of animal products containing a lot of important micronutrients that are otherwise never consumed. Vegetarians may struggle to consume enough protein and could have a diet high in carbohydrates with a small variety of vegetables.
Both Vegans and Vegetarians will find these diets are lower in the bad saturated fats as they’re often found in animal produce and obviously environmentally friendlier. If you get the diet absolutely spot on you can really reap the benefits with some studies suggesting Vegans have substantially lower death rates than meat-eaters. Research has found every 3% increase in calories from plant protein was found to reduce risk of death by 10%. The figure rises to 12% for risk of dying from heart disease.
7. IS SNACKING GOOD OR BAD?
Snacking throughout the day is actually one of the best things to do but making the smart choice is critical. Adding low-sugar, high-protein snacks to your day helps maintain blood-sugar levels, keeping you full and preventing your body from storing excess fat. Boiled eggs, a handful of unsalted nuts or The Food Doctor Roasted Bean Mix and olives are great examples of healthy on-the-go snacks.
Snacks keep your performance and concentration levels up in between meals, helping your avoid those awful hunger pangs. They key to healthy snacking is to think about what your body needs and what it hasn't had, if you haven't had enough protein then snack on a boiled egg. If you're missing some greens then gran a pot of edamame beans. Just keep away from anything processed so forget about cakes, biscuits, chocolate and the usual treats, they aren’t nutritious.
8. ARE YOU EATING ENOUGH PROTEIN?
No supplement is more widely consumed than protein powder. I believe people from all walks of life should embrace the consumption of protein to fully enable your body’s cells to grow and repair. However, it is worth noting that a protein deficiency only exists in someone who does not consume adequate calories. This is because of the macronutrient make-up of food, which is only made up of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and water. It is therefore impossible to be protein deficient when sufficient calories are consumed.
Protein powders often contain hidden sugars and chemicals, which are not beneficial for the body. I particularly enjoy organic types such as Pure Blend Co and Vegan options like SunWarrior and Creative Nature Superfoods Hemp Protein which are the only options containing a full amino acid profile.
The powders of choice in the mainstream are whey and casein, which are both proteins derived from cow’s milk. However, Vegan protein powder blends have become an increasingly popular choice, harnessing the power of hemp, peas, rice, quinoa and more. The result is a gluten-free, dairy-free and soy-free supplement that can nutritionally stand up against animal-based products, without you having to worry about amino acid deficiencies.
What is crucial though is to eat protein within an hour or so of exercising to fuel to body. If you do work out regularly, it’s important to remember the body can only metabolise a certain amount of protein at a time so over consuming protein will unnecessary and potentially damaging to your body. Studies suggest anything over a 20-30g protein threshold is simply converted into glucose and burned.
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