Making a commitment to have healthier eating habits is a tough one. Knowing how to implement that commitment may be even harder. Where do you start? What foods should you eat, and which ones should you stay away from? These are all questions you should answer before going out to the grocery store.
We need nutrients to survive. We need vitamins, minerals and calories everyday. There are two types of nutrients. Micronutrients are our vitamins and minerals and macronutrients are where our calories come from. The three types of macronutrients are fat, carbohydrates and proteins.
Many people think that all fats are bad and recently started thinking all carbohydrates are bad too. Of course we can’t exist on a protein only diet, nor would it be enjoyable, and let’s not forget that food sustains us, so a meal should be a celebration. Knowing what to eat and in what proportion is the key to a healthy body composition, and will allow you to eat flexibly and sustain results over the long term.
Protein comes primarily from lean red meats, poultry and fish sources, it’s also present to a less extent in edible plants and nuts. Protein is essential for the repair and building of muscles, so having good sources of protein in your diet is important.
Fats are also very important. Without fat, our body wouldn’t be able to utilise some of the vitamins we consume. Fat is found in our cell walls and make up a big part of hormones. Fats you should avoid in quantity are saturated fats that come in meat, milk and dairy products. Trans fats should also be avoided. Every one should consume good (unsaturated fats) that come from plant sources such as nuts and olives, and also oily fish. Omega 3, 6 & 9 play many important roles in the body, and you should note that omega’s in fish are more bio-available to us than those in nuts and seeds, though both are a good healthy source.
Finally carbohydrates… With the recent popularising of ketogenic, low and no fat diets, plus negative publicity recently, you might be afraid to eat any carbohydrates. However carbohydrates are our main fuel source. Our brain can’t use anything else to power itself with and our muscles will work the best on it. Don’t deprive yourself of it. Carbohydrates that you should stay away from are simple sugars that are found in sweets, cakes, fizzy drinks and many snacks. Good carbohydrates such as whole wheats and fruits will stabilise your insulin levels, keep you energized throughout the day and avoid sugar highs and lows.
One way we can do this is by knowing the Glycemic Index of foods. You may have heard about the glycemic index and wondered what it is all about. The glycemic index is a ranking of carbohydrates based on their immediate effect on blood glucose (blood sugar) levels. It compares foods gram for gram of carbohydrate.
Carbohydrates that breakdown quickly during digestion have the highest glycemic indexes. The blood glucose response is fast and high. This mean insulin spike and over time this can lead to increased insulin resistance, increased body fat, and in some cases Type 2 Diabetes. Carbohydrates that break down slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the blood stream, have low glycemic indexes.
Foods with a high glycemic index convert into sugar very quickly, with negative physical effects. Foods with a low glycemic index turn into sugar gradually, helping maintain your body’s chemical balance. In general, foods with a low index are preferable.
Glycemic Load measures the amount of sugar a food actually releases in the body. Foods with a low glycemic load usually have a low glycemic index, yet still have a low glycemic load. Other foods have both a high index and a high load. You should avoid high load foods as a regular part of your meal plan.
When you choose carbohydrate foods, check both their glycemic index and glycemic load. Detailed tables with this information are widely available. Use the chart below to get started.
High Glycemic Index
# Fruits and Vegetables
* Cranberry juice
* Orange juice*
* Bread (white)
* Refined cereal
* Tortilla (flour)
Medium Glycemic Index
Fruits and Vegetables
Low Glycemic Index
Fruits and Vegetables
* Brussels sprout*
* Green Bean*
* Green pepper*
* Low glycemic load foods.
Simply eating more fruits and vegetables is not the answer – they must be the right fruits and vegetables. Starchy vegetables such as peas or lentils (200 to 250 calories per cup) are healthy, but they contain more calories than you may want. If you need to eat more to satisfy your hunger, add low glycemic load vegetables. For example, spinach and asparagus are better choices than higher calorie corn and peas. A cup of spinach topped with 1/2 cup of tomato sauce has only about 90 calories, but it gives you nutrients from two colour groups.
Why Not Brown and Beige?
When considering which foods to enjoy sparingly, also use colour as a guideline. Many brown and beige carbohydrates, like pasta, beans and potatoes, while healthy, also tend to be high in calories.
So how to apply this?
- First up know your calorie target for your body goals.
- Next know your optimum macro ratio for your goals (your ratio of proteins, carbohydrates and fats)
- Ensure your fat target is made up of healthy fats
- Ensure your carbohydrate target is made up of low GI carbs
- You don’t need to ensure every meal is bang on your target – looks to hit your macros over the day.
- If you have a blow out – just get your macros to balance over the next couple of days
- Monitor for 21 days and check the results
If you’d like to know more about this flexible nutrition approach why not join our Academy here, where you can use our macro calculator to work out your individual ratios, download meal planners, templates and have access to hundreds of recipes with macros included. Plus training, mindset and a private facebook group with live workouts, Q&As and more.