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Essential Advice on How to Start Eating Healthy

"Primum non nocere" is a Latin expression meaning: " Above all, do no harm " This has become the main precept of all considerate and caring health practitioners. 

Why healthy eating matters

Let us look at the food we eat through the lens of this principle. Not eating the right foods will cause more harm than good. Poor nutrition is one of the major causes of disease today. Modern diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression, chronic inflammatory diseases, and many more are the result of a drastic change in diet that has been taking place over the past 80 years. Western societies are now facing the paradox of being undernourished from too much "empty food". 

Eating satisfies our instinctive hunger and our senses. Besides, sharing a meal is a great way to connect with friends and family. It seems, however, that the primary reason for eating has been lost: repairing and restoring metabolic functions. Without sufficient components such as high-quality protein, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and fiber, our bodies cannot function efficiently. The food we eat should enable us to produce the most possible energy while making a minimum effort during digestion and the elimination of toxins. Fluidity is the key to health.

Energy and fluidity mean proper cell communication and a healthy system. Sound sleep, balanced moods, a strong immune system, all are dependent on a healthy diet and a healthy microbiome.

What is a healthy diet?

Healthy eating is a matter of being as plain and natural as possible in your food choices. One of the first rules when beginning a healthy diet is to choose foods that have not gone through elaborate processing. Natural foods are nutrient-dense foods that require less energy to be digested and assimilated. 

Let’s have a closer look at our basic needs and their healthy equivalents.

All we need is...lots of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain cereal, plenty of legumes, nuts and seeds, oils, herbs, and spices. Non-vegans may add small amounts of high-quality farm meat, eggs, and some dairy farm products.

Grocery list guide

Here are a few examples of unhealthy foods with their healthy equivalent that can serve as a healthy eating grocery list.

Unhealthy

Healthy

🍕 Carbohydrates

Refined grain: white bread, white rice, biscuits, pancakes, industrial pasta, pizza, all-white dough pastries, and bread.

Breakfast cereal, cornflakes and other flakes, granolas, mueslis that are not homemade.

Wholemeal flour, best choose small German wheat and other ancient varieties. Buckwheat, quinoa, millet, wholegrain red or black rice.

Make your own biscuits and cakes.

Go for low glycaemic index carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes.

🍏Fruit and vegetables

Non-organic, imported fruit and vegetables.

Tinned vegetables.

Vegetables that have spent a week in the bottom of your fridge.

Organic, local fruit and vegetables.

As fresh as can be!

Vegetables are the building block of a healthy diet! Eat around 800g/day and at least 10 different types/ week.

🥫Legumes

Tinned beans, lentils...

Dried, rehydrated, rinsed, and cooked (lentils, red beans, black beans, white beans..).

Organic soy products (tempeh, and lacto fermented soy)

🥛Dairy

Long-life milk and other industrial dairy products.

Farm milk, yogurt or kefir, a little goat cheese.

Almond milk and other plant-based milks and yogurts.

🌶Spices and herbs

Eat plenty of spices such as ginger, turmeric, cumin, coriander, parsley, basil, mint...

🍫Sugar, chocolate and other sweet foods

White and milk chocolate, chocolate spreads.

Jam

White or brown sugar

Sweets...

Artificial sweeteners

Dark chocolate 80% cocoa minimum

Coconut sugar

Honey

Dried fruit (figs, dates, raisins...)

Healthy snacks (a Crownhealth bar!)

🍔Ready or frozen meals

Supermarket ready meals

Carry-outs

Fast foods

Pizza and other kebabs and burgers...

You can make your own in just 10 minutes!

Homemade gluten-free or sourdough pizza, homemade veggie burgers, homemade pancakes...

🌰Nuts and seeds

Salted roasted peanuts and other processed nut mixes.

Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, sesame, flaxseed, sunflower, pumpkin seeds.

🧃Drinks

Industrial fruit juices

All types of sodas and fruit drinks

Alcohol

Homemade smoothies, lacto fermented drinks such as kombucha and kefir, herbal teas, green tea, mate.

If you occasionally do drink alcohol, choose natural red wines.

🧉Oils and fats

Margarine and other butter substitutes made from hydrogenated oils.

Corn and sunflower oil.

Cheap oil in plastic bottles (oil absorbs bisphenol and other toxic agents contained in the plastic bottle)

Olive and coconut oil for cooking.

Linseed, hemp, and rapeseed for seasoning.

Healthy eating for beginners

Now that you know what is healthy and what is not, make a list of what has to be discarded or changed.

The trickiest aspect of changing your diet is the habit factor. This is why it is important to take steps to organize your new diet gradually. State what is possible right away, what can be done a little later, and what you are just not ready to do yet! 

Budget-wise, a healthy diet is often surprisingly cheaper than you might imagine. Eating healthy on a budget is easy as long as you stick to the first principle: simplicity! It is easy to picture the number of meals you can get out of a kilo of lentils measured against a kilo of meat. You will be saving on your budget and you will also be helping reduce the environmental toll of beef production on the environment.

Keep away from fancy organic stores and delicatessen products, as the health food industry has also become a big business. Stay as close to local farmers and locally made foods as possible (vegetables, legumes, flour, oil). Remember the more intermediaries you have (food wholesalers, supermarkets...), the more expensive the items.

You can very reasonably start eating better by sticking to plain staple foods such as rice, vegetables, and legumes. To this, add your nut, seed, and oil budget and you have the necessary ingredients for plenty of mouth-watering recipes. 

Nutrient dense food against cravings

Also consider that the more nutrient-dense the food, the smaller the portions and the fewer cravings you will have...as you are not filling up with empty calories. Once you have got used to your new eating habit, you will quickly notice that you eat less for a significant energy gain in return.

You can also give yourself a new challenge each week. Start by cutting back on industrial toast for instance. And once this step has been taken, challenge yourself into eating at least 3 different vegetables per day. Then replace all your pasta meals by wholegrain rice and curry suppers...You will be surprised how your body and mind adapt and how cravings and sluggish mornings suddenly disappear!

Healthy eating plan

Eating healthy is a matter of choosing high-density foods. But it is also important to respect a few rules in regard to daily requirements, nutritional chronology, and food combinations. 

Daily requirements are essential and tend to get forgotten amongst the tribulations of new eating plans. 

Make sure you get sufficient protein from your vegetable sources (beans, lentils, quinoa, hemp, pumpkin seeds, soy). Are you getting your omega 3s and magnesium? Are you assimilating your fat-soluble vitamins?

Proper food combinations do matter as they guarantee that what you eat will be easily digested and assimilated.

Also, another useful tip would be to avoid eating fresh fruit straight after your meal if you are prone to bloating and indigestion. Additionally, try adding nuts and seeds to legumes to ensure you get a complete protein.

Adopting such new habits can facilitate your new eating plan.

o o o

To conclude, here are a few suggestions for healthy menus:

  • Meal 1

Breakfast: a high protein smoothie - banana, date, hemp protein, flaxseed, water, cinnamon (or find your favorite smoothie recipy here!)

Lunch: lentil salad + raw vegetable salad

Dinner: chick pea and pumpkin curry + rice

  • Meal 2

Breakfast: wholemeal sourdough bread + peanut butter and avocado, a glass of soy or almond milk.

Lunch: tofu and vegetable stir-fry and rice

Dinner: minestrone soup and a piece of homemade cake

Author: Marie-Noëlle Bourgeois, Nutritionist at Bounce Up Micronutrition

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