What does ‘healthy’ actually mean anyway?

I am not a particularly big fan of labels, they tend to pigeon hole things or people and once attached are hard to shake. Saying that however society seems rather intent on applying them to most things these days including food so I thought I’d try to separate the truth from some of the tall tales currently floating about under the ‘healthy’ umbrella.

So my first rule is if it is claiming to be healthy it probably isn’t. If it’s printed on a packet and shouting at you through an advertising campaign I suggest a case of “one doth protest too much”. I’m talking about all those snacks and pre-prepared foods that tout themselves as healthy versions like big brand granola and cereal bars, sports drinks, fruit smoothies and low calorie options. Their underlying flaw? Huge amounts of sugar. Fat free? What do they do when they take the fat content out? Replace it with sugar or chemical sweeteners of course. And just because its made out of oats does not make it good (although oats themselves are fabulous), check the nutrition information and your ‘healthy’ snack bar could contain the same amount or more sugar than a Mars bar.

Searching for better snack options on the go? Try Nakd, Bounce, Pulsin or Beond bars & energy balls, (check out my recipe for making your own here) raw nuts & seeds, fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs, steamed edamame beans and organic houmous with veggies. 

Next a quick highlight on fruit, juice and smoothies…..there is conflicting information out there about whether we really should be munching away on these delicious multi-coloured treats. The short answer is yes absolutely. When in their natural form fruits are a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals, provide fabulous levels of fibre and keep that spring in our step. It is this fibre in whole fruits that balances the naturally occurring sugars when we eat them, preventing our blood sugar from spiking too rapidly and requiring our body to  produce insulin to bring it back down. So  when you juice fruit you take away this fibre and you’re left with the sugar content by itself, hence why fruit juices are now considered to be bad for our health. The other issue is the amount we can consume. I doubt most people would work their way through 5 or 6 oranges in a sitting (although I have friends who would disagree) but a large glass of juice would get you there easily. Smoothies fair slightly better as they retain the fibre however shop bought ones tend to be far too heavy on the fruit and light on the vegetables so again are not a brilliant choice.

My advice would be to enjoy your whole fruit but stick to about 2 portions a day ideally paired with some form of fat or protein to further help with the sugar balancing. Examples would be a banana with 10 almonds or apple slices with pumpkin seed butter. When it comes to juice steer clear of the pure fruit juices and shop bought smoothies. Instead try heading to a fresh juice bar or make your own, opt for a blend with a ratio of at least 70:30 vegetables to fruit (go for even more veggies if you can, especially those green leafies like spinach, kale and lettuce). Striving for smoothie stardom? Get some protein and good fat in there too; chia seeds, soaked nuts or seeds (cashew and walnut are personal favourites), good quality protein powder or a tablespoon of coconut oil are great places to start.

Not ready to start blending your own but fancy something other than the plain stuff? How about infusing your water with some fresh fruit or veggies? Berries, cucumber slices or citrus work really well, simply slice, add & refrigerate. Alternatively coconut water is fab as it contains natural sugars to satisfy those cravings, is full of minerals and is wonderfully hydrating. Check the bottle for added sugars though! Unoco, Chi, Harmless Harvest, Jax or fresh raw coconut water are all great choices. I would advise caution with a certain popular brand  as it was recently purchased by a large drinks manufacturer who decided the addition of extra sugar was a good idea but to avoid liable I shall say no more!

Next up…..try and go as natural as you can, if you can clearly identify the ingredients in what you’re about to eat then you’re on to a good thing. If the ingredients list exceeds 3-4 things maybe pop it back and go for something else. Have you had a look on the back of that innocuous jar of tomato sauce that’s a staple on your shopping list? If not maybe have a quick glance and see what else is lurking in there, you might find yourself rerouting back to the fresh section to grab some of the real things and whipping up your own. And how about heading for the salad drawer rather than the cupboard when you fancy a snack? The variety of fruits and vegetables out there is staggering, have an experiment and see what you like.

Bored of houmous and carrots? How about raw cauliflower and broccoli florets with a roasted squash and white bean dip instead?  Or a super fast grated courgette salad with avocado and toasted seeds? Click links for recipes

Then there’s the mid-afternoon monster, we all know him well! If you can allow your step to falter en route to that fizzy drink or other caffeinated beverage your entire being will erupt into a heavenly chorus……well maybe not but you will be doing yourself a massive favour. These induce what we refer to as your ‘fight or flight’ stress response (think running away from a tiger) which is why they give you a quick boost but let you down again half an hour later. Fizzy drinks also contain huge amounts of chemicals and sugar which leach minerals from our bones and dissolve our teeth as well as other gruesome things I won’t head into now. Go for a protein rich snack instead, it’ll add fuel to your fire and keep you going much longer I promise.

I always have a small container of my favourite nuts, seeds and a piece fruit or a couple of hardboiled eggs in my bag so there’s always something good to hand when I’m out and about.

Finally and most importantly take everything in moderation. Any small positive change you make is a step in the right direction. Attempting to alter habits of a lifetime in one go is too much even for the strongest of wills to handle! This is a lifestyle choice not a diet so it’s not about deprivation (which is exactly why I shun the D word as this is sentiment it tends to conjure) take it slow and find what works for you.

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One thought on “What does ‘healthy’ actually mean anyway?

  1. I believe and concur that boiled eggs, nuts in your handbag is a great way to feed your body when your hungry. This is something I do and especially after sport when I’m not near good wholesome food. Great blog!

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