A healthy diet is a diet that contains the right amount of nutrients that the body needs to maintain health and wellbeing. How do you eat healthy? Different foods contain different nutrients; no one single food can provide all the nutrients that the body needs. Apart from getting the major nutrients from food, e.g., carbohydrates, protein, fat, and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), we also get some other nutrients known as phytonutrients or phytochemicals. Phytochemicals translate to plant chemicals. Phyto comes from the Greek word “phyton” which translates to plant. Some Phytochemicals tend to be used by plants to fight off plant infections and pests. These chemicals also give some of the fruits and vegetables their colours, e.g., the purple and red colours in berries are from a phytochemical called anthocyanin. Different foods contain different types of these phytonutrients or phytocompounds.
5 Tips to ensure your diet is varied for healthy eating
It can be challenging to eat everything that is good for your body in a single meal or in one sitting. Below are some tips to help you have a varied diet.
Tip 1. Plan your meals.
Planning your meals and going shopping with a food list helps a lot. Planning ahead is a great tip to help busy people eat a healthy and varied diet. In my case, when I plan a week ahead, it helps a lot and especially with my weekly batch cooking/meal preparation. My shopping list for food tends to be for food for the coming week. Sometimes I plan my meals one week ahead. A good example is sprouting seeds during the week to use in the salad for the following week. I prepare meals on Saturday or Sunday which would see me through the working week. Below are examples of meal plans which have been batch cooked/batch prepared. Want to learn more about batch cooking, check out this article by the BBC. They are not set in stone, especially the breakfast and lunch ideas. I swap around ingredients, to try new things or to incorporate a forgotten ingredient found in the cupboard.
An Example of a weekly meal plan – Week 1
Dinner option 1
- Oven cooked wild salmon fillets
- Brussel Sprouts (lightly sauteed onions, add Brussel sprouts, passata, and salt. Cook to desired texture). The method can be used for any other cooked brassica.
- Carbohydrate (wholemeal polenta or mixed grain pouch)
- Garlic sauce (garlic, sour cream, olive oil and salt)
Dinner option 2
- One-pot (lazy man dinner) leftovers (yam, diced smoked turkey leg, cassava, green banana, cabbage, canned chickpeas, chopped canned tomatoes, chopped onions, fresh coriander, minced garlic, some water, tomato paste, a drizzle of olive oil, salt to taste).
Method: Peel, clean and dice the root vegetables and green bananas, cut pointed cabbage into huge chunks, roughly eighths. Throw all the ingredients into one big pot, and boil till soft.
- Salad mix (rocket, baby spinach, spring mix)
- Boiled, diced butternut squash
- Chopped parsley and coriander
- Extra virgin olive oil or avocado
- Salt to taste
Breakfast option 1 – shake
- A handful of blueberries
- A slice of mango
- 1 tbs of ground walnuts
- 3 tbs of live culture yoghurt.
- wheat germ
- Collagen powder
Breakfast option 2 – shake
- A handful of strawberries
- A slice of butternut boiled squash
- Protein powder
- 1 tbs ground walnuts
- Spinach leaves.
- Milled chia seeds
- Collagen powder
Breakfast option 3 (cheat day)
- 2 fried eggs with some peppers on the side or omelette with peppers, onions, coriander
- A large mug of milky black tea (No sugar).
An Example of a weekly meal plan – Week 2
- Borlotti beans curry (Has onions, garlic, coriander, green pepper and diced carrots)
- Wilted spinach
- Basmati rice
- Sour soup (Romanian Ciorba)
- Legume sprouts (Lentil/mung bean/black-eyed peas
- Pea shoots
- Baby spinach
- Orange and yellow peppers
- Extra Virgin olive oil
- Optional canned tuna in brine.
- Optional garnish – raisins or walnuts
Breakfast option 1
- A slice of melon/bunch of grapes
- Almond powder
- A teaspoon of Macha powder
- Protein powder
- Collagen powder
Breakfast option 2
- Baby spinach leaves
- Protein powder
- 1 tbs honey (optional)
- 1 heaped tbs of walnuts
- Collagen powder
The above ideas are just examples. The following week, the plan would be different and other ingredients would be included. The idea is to alternate ingredients so as to add variety to the diet. Though I go shopping with a list, I am usually open to getting inspired by what is available in the supermarket. That is why I tend to go shopping in-store rather than order online. I go into stores in search of inspiration!
Tip 2. Eat for health
When planning your meals, the major food categories should be included. Have your starch base which if you can, should be a healthy option such as high in fibre (non-refined). If going for refined grains such as white rice, ensure that your side meals have some of the other nutrients such as fibre and B vitamins. As an example, a bean/chickpea or lentil stew can accompany white rice with some greens on the side.
Some food combinations tend to be lacking in many important nutrients. For instance, going for chips and meat only or just having a pastry such as a croissant for breakfast. It is to be expected that on some days, we can end up eating unbalanced food. The key is to be aware and not let it be the norm. Eat consciously for health. Check out this article on how to eat with purpose. Ensure your plate has the right balance of different types of foods, see a healthy plate below by The Lancet Commission.
Tip 3. Eat different foods.
Different foods offer different nutrients. You can only get the best by varying your diet and ensuring you incorporate foods with high nutritional profiles in your food. Dark green leafy vegetables will for instance provide you with calcium, potassium, vitamins A, C and K and fibre. Berries are another food that is worth including in your diet due to their nutrient and phytochemical content. Alternate different foods at different meals and on different days or weeks. For variety, we should aim to eat at least five different types of fruits and vegetables a day. We should also aim to eat both cooked and raw vegetables to ensure we are getting varied nutrients out of them. Cooked tomatoes for instance will provide you with the phytonutrient lycopene while raw tomatoes will have high vitamin C content and low lycopene content. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant.
In order to eat different foods and get the most benefit from food, be open-minded to trying different foods. Avoid eating the same meals all the time, diversify your diet. Be curious about different foods and different ingredients. Go into world food stores and look at the different foods, be inquisitive and look up recipes or ask the shopkeeper how some of those foods are cooked.
Tip 4. Maximise your fruit and vegetable intake
One way to eat as many vegetables as you can is to incorporate vegetables into your meals. An example can be, adding carrots, tomatoes, generous amounts of onions, coriander and garlic to your meat or legume stew. If you are steaming some broccoli, throw in some diced carrots. If you take a morning protein shake or smoothie, add some berries, a slice of mango, spinach, herbs or even salad leaves to the shake to get vitamins and phytonutrients.
Have a multi-ingredient salad. To get the most out of your salads, don’t be afraid to be creative. Thinking of nutrition as you prepare your salad, helps with your creativity. Go for leaves, fruit vegetables such as tomatoes or peppers, whole grains such as pearl barley or quinoa, onions, legumes, etc. You can get creative by adding diced cooked butternut squash, boiled sweet potatoes, olives, sweet corn, pickles, etc. Salads don’t have to be boring. Be creative!
Tip 5. Always stock up on some quick meal staples.
Stocking up on some long-life products such as frozen berries, frozen peas, frozen broccoli or frozen spinach can help fix quick healthy meals. Cupboard staples such as canned tuna and sardines, chickpeas, and beans can be a quick source of protein. I always have some cans of tuna, chickpeas, beans and sweetcorn and some jars of beetroot and sweetcorn if I need to fix a quick meal. Eggs are also great for a quick meal. For emergency quick meals, always have microwaveable grain pouches of quinoa, wild rice and mixed grains.