Good Habits for Balanced Eating Behaviours
A new year is a time when many people start to evaluate their lifestyles and start implementing the odd change or two. These changes can often be related to health and one of the big changes many people decide to make in January is a change to their diet or eating habits. So to help you on your way with implementing some new positive habits, which can help rebalance your eating behaviours, here are some things to remember and try.
Chew more & slow down
Most of us can be guilty of this, especially in today’s fast moving world, but eating too quickly is not beneficial for health for a number of reasons. Over the last few years there has been a continual increase in the incidence of a whole range of digestive disorders including IBS, reflux, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. There are of course a number of reasons for this increase and if you are someone who suffers from digestive disorders you will be one of those people who could benefit from slowing down your eating and giving your digestive tract a little more time to process the foods you are eating.
The actual process of digestion starts in your mouth, where we chew our food and it is mixed with saliva. This is a very important first step in digestion, as an important digestive enzyme (Amylase) is found in the mouth that starts to digest carbohydrate based foods. Saliva also contains antibacterial agents, which help kill bacteria found in foods and also provides relief for inflamed intestinal tissues, which many people can have. If we don’t give ourselves time to chew our food properly and mix it well with saliva, we are swallowing foods without giving salivary amylase a chance to start the digestive process. The average person produces a total of about 600 milliliters of saliva per day, so start using it more! Also, if we don’t chew our food enough to break it down into smaller chunks, it is not as easy for our stomach to break these larger bits down and will certainly take longer to digest.
Eating quickly can also cause a lot of air to be taken in with the food, which can lead to stomach bloating and excess gas, two main symptoms that many people suffer with and which can cause a lot of discomfort. Acid reflux is also shown to increase when food is eaten quickly, so slowing down your eating should help to reduce the incidence of reflux too.
Eating more slowly is also beneficial for weight loss. This is because when we eat food fast, the mechanisms that tell our brain we are full are overridden. It roughly takes twenty minutes after you start eating for a message to reach your brain to tell you to stop eating as you are full. Therefore if you are gulping down food at record speed you are likely to overfill your stomach and continue eating even though you are actually full. This is certainly not beneficial if you are on a weight loss mission.
So if you are one of those people who does everything fast and is constantly rushing around, at least use meals times as an excuse to slow it down a bit and take time to actually taste your food.
Think like a rainbow
When you look at your plate of food you should be seeing colours and lots of them! You may not see all the colours of the rainbow represented in one meal, but you should certainly be eating all the colours of the rainbow over the course of a week, if not daily, in some shape or form. People are creatures of habit, but when it comes to eating and eating behaviours, habits are not always a good thing. Sometimes we need a bit of a change and a bit more variety in order to maximise and improve our health and this is why it’s important to think colours when we are consuming foods.
The different colours of fruit and vegetables all provide different nutrients, so if you are not eating a certain colour range you are missing out from a health perspective. Go through the colours of the rainbow and makes sure you are eating fruit and vegetables from each of the colours regularly (by regularly this means ideally 3-4 times a week). If you find you are missing out on a colour, or a few colours, identify fruits and vegetables that are that colour and when you next take that trip to the supermarket make sure they are added to your trolley.
Water Water Everywhere
Lack of fluids has a lot to answer for when it comes to our health. Dehydration, even by a very small amount, can have a huge impact on how we feel mentally and physically. Water is essential for every biological function, so if water is lacking in the body, your metabolism slows down, your skin gets dry, you can get headaches and dizziness, and you can be more prone to urinary tract and kidney infections, as your body cannot efficiently perform all these biological functions without sufficient water. Tiredness and fatigue is a symptom experienced by thousands of people every day and one of the biggest causes of this is dehydration. Cognitive impairment (thinking difficulties, brain fog, difficulty focusing and concentrating) can also be hugely impaired by lack of water in our systems and January is difficult enough without having to contend with those symptoms!! Water is still the best fluid to keep the body hydrated, so if you are one of the many people just consuming multiple cups of tea and coffee a day, break that habit and replace some of those hot caffeinated drinks with water instead.
Up your fibre
Most people, including children, do not eat enough fibre. In fact despite the guidelines stating everyone over 16 should be eating 30 grams a day, many people fall way short of this and only manage to consume on average 18 grams a day. With one slice of wholemeal bread containing just 2.2grams of fibre, this gives an idea of just how short most of us are falling when it comes to fibre consumption. Low fibre consumption is a problem when it comes to health, as fibre is not only vital for a healthy digestive system and bowel, but is also vital for lowering cholesterol levels, aiding weight loss and maintaining normal blood sugar levels in the body, which is required to stabilise energy levels.
Remember too that science now shows that our digestive health is linked to both immunity and mental health status, so if we have poor digestive health then we are likely to have both compromised immunity and poorer mental health too. Fibre also reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, with figures showing that for every 10g more fibre eaten each day, the risk of heart disease can fall 14%. So the moral of this story is to up your daily fibre levels wherever you can and regularly include in your daily diet foods such as pulses, beans, wholegrains, oatmeal, bran flakes, seeds, quinoa, vegetables, nuts and brown rice.
Don’t buy into the ‘fads’
There are many dietary fads and crazes out there, and with social media providing a platform for all, many people can find themselves falling for advise and fads that are at best useless and at worst detrimental to health. Always make sure that advice you read and any action you decide to implement from it has ‘sound’ scientific backing. Remember also that the classic fad diet, which often involves cutting out a food group, can have some positive short terms effects, but most should never be done over the long term, especially without proper nutritional guidance from a professional. Our bodies do require a proper balanced diet and that is one that consists of a variety of different foods (and food groups) that provide adequate amounts of nutrients necessary for good health, and many dietary fads miss the mark here.
Changes do not need to be big or dramatic to have positive effects on health, they just need to be consistent. So start with making changes that are simple and small that over time will snowball and create good habits for balanced eating behaviours.
- The role of diet and nutrition on mental health and wellbeing, 2017. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society
- Healthy Eating, 2016. NHS. http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/healthy-eating/Pages/Healthyeating.aspx
- Dehydration in older people: A systematic review of the effects of dehydration on health outcomes, healthcare costs and cognitive performance, 2021. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics
- Dietary fibre & Health: An Overview, 2008. Nutrition & Dietetics