Niamh McMahon, health and wellbeing specialist at RSSB, shares her knowledge of nutrition. She explains how we can balance our diets in our fast-paced, hectic lives. We will need to do battle with over-processed foods in the supermarkets, and remember that ultimately, we are the ones who are in control of what we decide to consume. If we get it right, we will help improve our performance at work too.

The British Nutrition Foundation promotes healthy eating and drinking habits as well as encouraging people to make meals from scratch at home, instead of getting takeaways or eating highly processed foods which can be damaging to health.

Nutrition from the food we eat provides our bodies with the protein, essential fats, minerals, vitamins and energy it needs to grow, function and live well. As indicated on the Food4Health plate (see image below), a high intake of colourful fruit and vegetables every day is important. The more variety the better, as each type has different nutrients.

Go for whole grains such as brown rice and quinoa, good fats like avocado, oily fish, olive oil, and protein rich food, such as free-range chicken. Fish, beans or pulses are also essential, while fresh herbs and spices can provide concentrated nutrients and add fantastic bursts of flavour to our meals.

In our modern society we are bombarded daily with advertising for processed products. Supermarkets are lined with heavily processed foods that are quite often high in sugar, salt, bad fats and artificial flavours. While moderate amounts of these foods are ok, they are often missing the key nutrients we need to fuel our bodies and feel our best.

Other factors affect how we eat too, including work and home pressures, the stresses of our modern fast paced lifestyles, general time restraints, lack of education around nutrition, poor food quality and an over-reliance on convenient pre-packaged food. While this often does not have an immediate impact, over time, this along with other lifestyle factors such as lack of activity and sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on our physical health, wellbeing and performance at work.

Nutrition is a huge topic and there is often conflicting advice from various sources - my suggestion is to keep it simple. Here are some good tips:

  • Avoid restrictive diets as they often lead to feelings of deprivation, which rarely result in long term success. Also, diet foods are often highly processed and artificially flavoured.
  • Except for vegetables, be portion aware.
  • Become label aware – respect your bodies and be mindful of what you are fueling it with. Watch out for excess salt, sugar and artificial flavourings.
  • Educate yourself on the recommended daily allowance of sugar, salt and fat. Beware of long labels on food packets because they tend to indicate a lack of nutrients.
  • As much as possible, stick to fresh, whole foods, fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, healthy fats and fresh fish and pulses – eat red meat less often.
  • Eat as much variety of fresh wholefoods as you can, the more colour the better!
  • Aim to get three portions of fruit and five (or more) portions of vegetables per day.
  • Remember balance is key, going for a not-so-healthy option every now and then is fine! Just enjoy it and get back on track at your next meal.
  • Educate yourself, buy a new wholefood cook book, challenge yourself to cook from scratch more often, remember every little thing counts.
  • Think health and abundance, not diet and deprivation.
  • Consult a nutritionist if you require more guidance or have more specific needs.

The power lies in taking control of what goes into your body – remember it’s the only one you have so be sure to look after it!

© Alliance for Natural Health International. Food4Health plate 2018. Download poster here.

More information about nutrition can be found on the British Nutrition Foundation website (www.nutrition.org.uk) and on the Food4Health webpage (www.anhinternational.org).