Registered Dietician, Kim Hofmann is Virgin Active South Africa’s expert on all things nutrition and she's here to share some tips on how to eat to keep your mind and body strong.
It’s pretty logical - we have to put good nutrition into our bodies if we want our bodies to work at their best. But as much as this is logical, many of us do fall short of this goal. Why is this?
Because we’re only answering half of the question with the what. How we eat is, in my opinion, is almost more important than what we eat. In this article, we’ll look at both of these, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’, to help you keep your body and mind strong.
Let’s do a recap of foods to eat to make you strong
You can’t go wrong with fruit! Fruit is full of nutrition such as energy, fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Oranges for instance are packed with vitamin C, which we need to help fight infections. Berries on the other hand (take your pick, they are all amazing) contain powerful antioxidants, which help protect us from free radicals.
Vegetables are a must. Vegetables, like fruit, are a powerhouse of nutrients. Examples include broccoli (for vitamins A, C and K), spinach (for vitamins A, C, K as well as folic acid and iron), tomatoes (vitamin C, potassium as well as the well-known antioxidant lycopene), potatoes (for vitamin C and B6), orange sweet potatoes (rich in vitamin A) to name just a few. Think colour when it comes to vegetables. The more colour you have, the more nutrition variety your body will get.
You should try to incorporate legumes in your diet. Legumes are an amazing source of plant protein, energy, fibre, vitamins and minerals (especially iron and folate). They have been shown to keep your cholesterol in check, lower heart disease risk, and generally keep your energy levels nicely stable so that you have balanced energy to keep going longer.
Don’t starve yourself of grains. Grains have gotten a bad rap, but it’s only because too many people eat the refined grains. Yes, once they’re white, they only give you energy and not a consistent supply. But add the whole-wheat and brown ones into your diet and immediately you bring in fibre, and many of the B vitamins as well as iron, magnesium, and selenium. And remember that grains also contain some protein!
Fats are vital for healthy bodies. But when you think fats, think plant. For example, avocadoes are high in monounsaturated fat, a fat that helps with good blood flow as well as brain health thereby helping you to stay mentally strong. Then there’s nuts and seeds – all varieties are great sources of fat (including peanuts!) with walnuts and linseeds/flaxseeds having the highest omega 3 quantity of the plant sources. Fatty fish is your exception to the plant/animal rule. The fat in fish is great for preventing cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and will help with brain development. Examples include sardines, pilchards, trout and salmon.
Eggs are another amazing food, but remember to eat the yolk, as this is where all the goodness lies! Eggs contain antioxidants to protect the eye and is one of the best sources of choline, which is important for brain development and enhances memory.
Last, but not least, try to incorporate some yoghurt into your diet. Yoghurt contains the good bacteria which is a must for a healthy gut. Plus it’s a great source of calcium, which will keep your bones healthy and strong. Choose the low fat or fat free options because the fat is not the healthiest of the fats.
There are many other foods that will bring health including herbs, spices, teas, and cocoa powder. Bring them into your diet to spice up your meals whenever you can. Your body will thank you for it!
How to set up your day for success
Eat early and regularly. Eating early is vital because you will have had an overnight fast and your immediate energy stores will be running low. We need to top up the energy levels so that you can function maximally in the first part of your day.
And then, because your body uses energy, you will need to top it up on a regular basis. This generally means eating every 3-5 hours. You can learn the timing by listening out for the hunger signal that the body sends out. The secret to why we should do this is because our physiology will be supported and cravings later in the day will decrease.
Eat more during the day. This is important on two levels. Firstly, we need energy when we are busy, and for the majority of us, that is during the day. And secondly, the functions of nutrition, such as digestion of the food, utilisation of the energy and removal of waste is best during the day as our bodies work with the circadian (or day/night) cycle. So when you eat most of your energy during the evening, your body cannot manage these processes so well, and more energy is stored.
Eat balanced. Balanced meals are good to strive for as they will help your blood glucose levels stay stable. This means that each meal should have energy food (the carbohydrate – and before you ask, no carbohydrates don’t make you fat. They actually help with weight loss. But you must choose the ones with more nutrition most of the time), protein and fat. The energy food will ensure that the body has immediate energy (the body favours the glucose cycle for energy – and just by the way, if you don’t eat carbohydrates your body will use muscle to get the glucose. The protein and fat ensure that the carbohydrate is digested more slowly and the release of the glucose is slower, thereby giving you more lasting energy.
Eat mindfully. Mindful eating is being present while you eat, enjoying the food with all your senses and noticing how the food makes you feel. When you savour your food your mouth and taste buds will be satiated and not ask for more food. Your brain will also receive the message that food has arrived with less food, leaving you less likely to overeat. All of this means that you will be able to eat less without feeling deprived.
Once you bring these concepts into your daily lives you will start noticing that your body can do so much more than you ever thought. When we work together with our physiology, the body can function so much better.
And then give it foods that bring in more nutrition and you’ll think you’re a new person. You’ll have the strength and stamina to get through your hectic days and still have a smile on your face at the end of the day.