The importance of eating healthily is known to us all. Without the right diet, it is hard to live the life we would all like to, keeping energy levels high and being able to do the things we enjoy. However, it is not all about the physical benefits of a healthy diet. Eating the right things can have a beneficial effect on your mental well-being too.
The truth is that mental health and physical health are interconnected. If you are eating too little, or too much of the wrong thing, then you are going to suffer mentally for it as well as physically. Your brain requires nourishment every bit as much as your body, and a lack of protein in your diet can result in the onset or aggravation of depression.
If you suffer from depression, then one of the main negative effects of the illness is a lack of energy, a situation which affects your ability to fight the condition. Eating the right things is important, and while often depression sufferers will feel that they do not want to eat at all it is important that they make the effort. Rather than eating “comfort food” – which is rarely very comforting – getting some fresh fruit and veg, as well as carbohydrates from pasta or potatoes can help.
Drinking plenty of fluid is also important for mental health. Ideally, five glasses or more of water a day will prevent you from becoming dehydrated and depriving your body and mind of the fuel that is so important. Having the energy and the sharpness to send the symptoms of depression packing is essential, and your diet will play a big part in this.
How many times have you had the following conversation? You’re trying to persuade someone to do something, and they say “No, I don’t like that”. You ask them how many times they have actually done that thing and they eventually admit they never have, but still maintain that they know they wouldn’t like it. That is the way that many of us behave when it comes to food, and especially healthy food.
The bare fact about eating healthily is that it involves expanding your range a little. Many of us will bellyache about trying a new food because we like what we are used to. The things that we have eaten for years were new to us once too, and the issue is one of being set in our ways. If you try something new every once in a while, you can become better acquainted with variety, and pick the new things that you really like.
There is no point in banging your head against a brick wall trying to develop a taste for something you know you do not like. However, you’ll never know if you like something until you actually try it. This is particularly true of international cuisine. It may look different, but millions of people eat it regularly, so it can hardly be poisonous. Taking a leap of faith and trying a different food is not going to be the death of you, so why not try something different once a week and surprise yourself with how much you enjoy it?
The old cliché that if something is delicious it must be fattening has a lot to answer for. Take any list of favorite foods, and there is little doubt that the majority will be things that are bad for us. We instinctively crave foods that, on balance, are not the best option for us – they are unhealthy, lack nutrition and often they don’t really fill our stomachs very well – but we keep going back, for whatever reason. Why DO we crave foods that are bad for us?
There is no doubt that there is a certain charm to food that is not particularly healthy. That charm is not always in the way the food tastes. Sometimes it is a convenience thing – if you’re at a football game the chances are that the options for a snack do not include a healthy casserole, but will include burgers, hot dogs and various other foods that won’t do your waistline a lot of good. Sometimes it can be something as simple as the way a food smells – find someone who doesn’t enjoy the smell of fried onions and you may just have found alien life.
As often as not, we just crave the unhealthy food because it is simple. We’re used to it, we don’t need to sit down to eat it or pair it with just the right side dish. It’s easy and it tastes good. What we need to do is to get to the point where we find a healthy option to be just as hassle-free. For many people, the best option in this case is a sandwich – just as long as there is not too much butter on it, anyway!
Fast food is, and will no doubt continue to be, one of the most secure industries in the world. The simple truth of the matter is that sometimes, we look for the quickest option when we are on the move. So it does not appear that fast food will disappear from the high street any time soon. From a healthy eating point of view, the question has to be whether we turn a blind eye to it or find healthy fast food. Does healthy fast food even exist, though?
Well, if fast food is a secure industry, then healthy eating is one that compares with it. While many of us need to eat on the move, there are certainly enough people around who don’t want to compromise on their healthy eating plan. There are options for healthy fast food, even if we tend not to define it as such.
The best fast and healthy option for many of us is a sandwich. Certainly, the number of sandwich chains around the country is testament to how much people enjoy a good sandwich, and the advantage is that sandwiches are readily customizable. Admittedly, not all sandwiches are healthy, but it is up to you how you have them. A chicken salad sandwich on wholemeal with no mayo is certainly healthier than a burger and fries – and the level of variation compared to burgers means that it is a choice that need not get boring. Most sandwich shops also do wraps, pasta salads and other variations too.
Part of eating a healthy diet is in looking at what you eat now and making the necessary changes to turn it into something healthy. Although this may initially seem like deprivation, it allows you to keep a similar eating pattern but improve what it gives you in terms of nutrition. It is as much about a shift in mindset as anything else.
For example, if you are used to having a burger for lunch, it may be a good idea to switch to a tuna or chicken sandwich on granary bread. The principle is the same – meat, bread, seasoning – and if it seems a little tasteless in comparison then there is a lot you can do with pepper, paprika or a range of other light spices.
For many people, the idea of replacing a chocolate bar with an apple or a packet of crisps with a handful of fruit and nuts is tantamount to replacing a swimming pool with a small puddle. However, if apples aren’t for you there is a wide range of fruit that is packed with taste and nutrients. And none of this means you can never eat chocolate again. In fact, an occasional bar may make it easier to stick to the diet long-term.
Also think about the part that soft drinks play in your diet. If you can replace a few soft drinks every week with a glass of water or fruit juice, then you will benefit from the change that this brings. It may seem boring, but there really is no better taste on a hot day than an ice-cold glass of water.
Although our attitudes to food and drink have changed subtly over the years, there will always be truisms that hold out against logic, reason and our own benefit. One of these truisms is that if it is good for you, it cannot possibly be fun. Hence we are tempted by the hamburger and fries because it is more “fun” than the healthier options. Of course, it must be – why would we eat the less healthy option if it were not superior in some other way?
In many ways, we stick to the less healthy food because it is what we are used to. Take as an example someone on holiday in a foreign country. There is always a sense that someone who holidays to another country will look for home comforts – in the UK it is a cliché born out of truth that a “Brit abroad” will book into their hotel and unpack then look for the nearest British-style eating and drinking establishments.
If we widen our range, we will usually find that the things we have ignored out of habit are actually quite good. Whether it be a salad with light dressing, or an element of international cuisine, there are some healthy options that have plenty of taste and enough of a “wow” factor to remain part of our diet going forward. Less fat doesn’t mean less fun, unless you have such a low imagination that you can’t bear to be parted from what you are used to.
There has for some time been an impression that healthy food is tasteless, boring and even off-putting. We all know that a salad is better for us than a hamburger, but we go for the burger because it has more taste – or so goes the theory, anyway. But there is no reason that this needs to be the case. With the addition of a little spice, any food can become more interesting.
There will always be people keen to point out that, although a grilled chicken breast may contain fewer calories than a family bucket from a fried chicken outlet, it doesn’t taste as good. And while this is a matter of opinion, the fact of the matter is that perceptions matter. If you marinade that chicken breast with herbs and spices, though, the taste can change considerably, and be a lot more fun.
You may get bored with eating tuna salad in your sandwiches, even though tuna is far from tasteless. But if you add a little spice when you make the tuna mix you will find that there are a range of different tastes that add very little if anything in the way of calories. Paprika, pepper, cayenne… the list goes on. The addition of some chopped jalapenos can make it even more interesting, if you have the stomach for them. And these days, the bottles of sauce on the supermarket shelves goes beyond steak sauce and ketchup – additions like piri-piri and teriyaki are a welcome break from the norm.
When people embark upon a diet, they are often given to mention that the big test for them will be how much they miss a certain food. For a diet to be effective it needs to be stuck to – often to the extent that people who have lost weight on a diet put it all back on in weeks once they revert to their old ways. So it can be hard to stick to a diet if you tell yourself that it’s over between you and your favorite chocolate bar, or that you can never again eat cheese.
If a crash diet is required for health reasons, it must be stuck to. But if you simply want to lose weight and keep it off for your own reasons, the best way of sticking to a diet may be to allow yourself to relax it at certain points. If you eat chocolate every day, and often several times a day, then you’re not going to lose weight. But only a diet fascist will say that the occasional bar as a treat is off limits.
This is not to say that you can carry on eating chocolate as regularly as you wish, or having fried food every few days. For a diet to mean anything, the healthy options have to be the norm. However, a small treat once or twice a week as a reward for sticking to the diet is not going to be the end of the world – and it can enable you to keep to that diet indefinitely, aiding you to lose weight in the long run, which is what you want.
It is not at all uncommon to meet a person who cannot understand why they are unable to lose weight, and curses the fact that although they are eating all the right things, their weight hangs around the “few pounds overweight” barrier. They will tell you all of this and wonder what they are doing wrong, and in the next few moments will take a gulp from a can of soda, a glass of beer or something similar, and admit on questioning that it is their third of the day or night.
Now, it is far from impossible to maintain a healthy diet while continuing to enjoy the occasional glass of wine or can of soda. Neither is it unthinkable to stop drinking these things entirely, but it is not compulsory. However, it is important to realize that issues with weight gain or weight loss can often be down to what you drink as much as what you eat. You will not be at a healthy weight if you drink a bottle of wine a day, or get through a family-sized bottle of soda.
If you have to have a drink with food, then often a glass of water will be the best option. There are more reasons for this than just the weight issue. A glass of water will keep you from getting thirsty and will help you enjoy the meal, but will not interfere with the taste. And if you are thirsty, a glass of water is the best thing you can drink – it replenishes the body’s hydration levels and allows you to enjoy the occasional glass of wine or soda more, because you get to really savor the taste.
If eating healthily was as easy as it should be, then the diet industry – books, DVDs, diet plans themselves and exercise equipment – would be in the doldrums. The fact that it is thriving to this day is a sign that, as much as we would like to think it, dieting is not easy or straightforward.
We like to think of pasta as being the healthy option – many of us will replace fries with a serving of pasta when we are trying to lose weight – but unless we are careful, we can end up gaining more weight for the addition of pasta to our diet. A lot of it comes down to what we eat with that pasta. In some cases it is a thick, creamy sauce or a salad dressing that contains a bunch of calories. And even plain pasta can be a weight gain nightmare if we don’t get the exercise to work off those carbs.
Very often it is not what we eat but how we cook it that is the issue. Many of us will, for example, quite enjoy a nice steak every once in a while – as long as the fat is trimmed. But how we cook it affects how good it is for us. If you are frying it in oil or butter, then it will become unhealthy very quickly. If, however, you grill it or sear it in a pan, there is certainly no harm to enjoying it.
One of the most enjoyable quick meals is a chicken breast with baby potatoes. Now, boiled potatoes can hardly be a diet destroyer, can they? Again, it depends what is done with them. If they are tipped out of the pan and have a mound of butter melted over them, they’re as much a risk as fries. If they are drizzled with a little olive oil, then they’re more than fine.