Healthy Eating

Remember the traditional food pyramid? As kids, many of us began our food education with this simple diagram of how to create a healthy diet. Start out with a base of complex carbohydrates like bread and pasta, bang on a layer of fruit and veg, then a smaller layer of protein and top with a small triangle of fats and sweets. It's not a bad pyramid. Well, it's got most of the right components, but its construction is a little old and creaky. We're shooting for optimal health so we've taken that traditional food pyramid and remodelled it; made it lean and mean and fortified it with the latest scientific information and nutritional findings.

Fruit and Vegetables
At the bottom of our new, rejuvenated pyramid we start with a solid base of fruit and vegetables, lots of them. They're low in calories and loaded with nutrients, fibre and disease-fighting antioxidants. With this rock-solid foundation, we're well on the way to improved health and effortless weight control.

Did you know that eating your fruit whole is much better than drinking it?

Carbohydrates and Proteins
The next level of our pyramid is made up of two blocks: quality carbohydrates and quality proteins. Carbohydrates combine both sugars and starch, giving us the energy to burn through our workouts and keep our brain powered-up all day. However, some carbs are better than others at providing us with a sustained supply of energy. The Glycemic Index (GI) ranks foods according to their effect on glucose levels in our blood and by using it, we can choose foods that release energy slowly and steadily and avoid those that cause a rapid influx.

White bread will cause a larger and more rapid rise in your blood glucose than the same amount of sugar in fruit juice or table sugar!

Low-GI foods are usually the ones closest to their natural state, without all the processing and refining, so they're full of vitamins and minerals, and are a great source of fibre. Recent research also indicates that a low-GI diet reduces your risk of heart disease, diabetes and can help you to lose body fat.

A diet rich in wholegrain carbohydrates reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer.


Carbohydrate High GI Low GI

Starchy foods

Potatoes, chips, most varieties of rice

Sweet potato, taro, basmati and brown rice, chickpeas, lentils, beans, pasta, noodles, barley, sweet corn

Bakery

White or wholemeal bread, crumpets, pancakes, scones, bagels, baguette, muffins, waffles

Wholegrain bread, fruit loaf, sourdough bread, pita bread

Cereals

Breakfast cereals, low fat cereal bars

Porridge, muesli, wholegrain/high-fibre cereals

Biscuits and crackers

Rice cakes, water crackers, plain biscuits

Fruit slice, oat cakes

Snack foods

Pretzels, sweeties/lollies, popcorn, processed fruit bars

Dried apricots, prunes, nuts, fruit, yoghurt


Avoid low-carb diets. Just make sure you chose the right kind: the unprocessed, grainy carbs!

Proteins are essential for muscle growth and repair and have the added bonus of helping control our appetite because they're so satisfying. And they also provide numerous vital nutrients like iron and zinc. Aim for a lean or low-fat protein source at every meal and if you're a vegetarian, combine foods to ensure you get all the amino acids – the building blocks of protein. Go for things like rice and beans, pita bread and falafel, porridge with nuts, or good old baked beans on toast.

Fish and seafood are great for essential fats and minerals

Fat
Next up the pyramid comes a smaller amount of good quality fat. Don't be fooled into thinking that all fat is bad and we should cut it out altogether. You may end up replacing the fat with carbohydrates and still battle to control your weight. We know now that healthy, unsaturated fats are an essential part of a healthy diet. Things like olive oil, avocado, nut and seeds are all great choices.

Try using mashed avocado, hummus or an olive oil mayonnaise instead of butter or margarine on bread, or dip it in a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar (the vinegar will also lower the GI)!

Treats
Right at the very top of the pyramid are our treats. We all have our favourites: chocolate, sweets, a glass of wine. See it as a reward that you've earned for all your hard work. In moderation, a bit of what you fancy does you good!

Remember to have at least two alcohol-free days each week!

Attitude
Remember, an essential part of a healthy diet is having a healthy attitude. Emotions, situations and habits can all have an influence on our diet and factors other than hunger sometimes affect when and how much we eat. We may eat when we are bored or sad, or because other people around us are eating. We may eat out of habit or drink alcohol as a means of stress relief. We all do these things on occasion and it's perfectly normal. It's only when it happens regularly that it can pose problems to our health or hinder our progress towards our goals.

The key is paying attention to situations when we eat for reasons other than hunger. Try keeping a food diary and record your appetite and mood, what you eat and how much. Be honest. Make note of your feelings before you have an alcoholic drink. At the end of the week you'll be able to look over your diary and see situations where you use food or alcohol as an emotional release or out of habit. From there you can come up with strategies to overcome these trigger situations. Head down to the health club for a workout, go for a walk, talk to a friend, play with the dog. The idea is to do something that relieves whatever feeling you have, be it anger, boredom, frustration or stress. By the time you've finished the activity, the feeling will have passed.

Healthy eating is not just about what you eat, but having a healthy attitude to food and eating.