What is a good diet?
Updated: May 3
I was recently interviewed by JACE medical discussing what makes a good diet. The article was published on their blog . We talk about how important diet is to disease prevention, what game changing action you can take today to improve your health, what are the markers of a good diet and tips for sticking to your healthy eating plan. You can read all my answers here.
1. How important do you think diet is to overall health and disease prevention?
Prevention is the key point. In the health arena globally, the rate of non-communicable disease is rising and according to the World Health Organisation, having an unhealthy diet is one of the 4 modifiable risk factors (alcohol and tobacco use along with physical inactivity are the other 3).
In my clinical experience, a healthy diet is the foundation of good overall health. It is one of the key pillars of health, and I’d go further and say it is the corner stone. Taking that ‘building’ analogy a bit further it’s the loadbearing wall equivalent.
“If you try to remove a load-bearing wall without the help of a professional, you could cause all kinds of issues for your home.”
We have removed the “load-bearing wall” of home cooked, smaller portions, fresh seasonal locally grown vegetables, and very little eating between meals. And replaced that with low nutrient convenience and ultra-processed food, more meat, less vegetable, increased refined carbs, constant grazing, and a higher toxic load in our food.
The World Health Organisation says “It (a healthy diet) also helps to prevent noncommunicable diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, some cancers and other conditions linked to obesity.”
All of this adds up to putting a healthy diet front and centre in the prevention of disease.
An article in the British Medical Journal concludes:
“Food based prevention of chronic disease risk should prioritise fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish and lower consumption of red and processed meats and sugar sweetened drinks
Higher consumption of nuts, legumes, vegetable oils, fermented dairy products, are further likely to confer benefit.”
2. What game changing action do you think most people could take today to improve their diet?
I’m torn here between 2 game changing actions: I think it depends on the individual client and their starting base, but it would be either
· Reduce sugar (from refined and processed foods)
· Increase vegetables to a minimum of 5 portions per day)
Most clients I see will recognise that there is too much sugar in their diet. Chocolate, biscuits, sweet treats, refined bread products, drinks and hidden sugars in processed foods really drive anxiety, mood disorders, hormone imbalances, low energy, sleep issues, poor weight maintenance, and plays havoc with gut health and digestion.
It’s always a game changer and very quick win when a client reduces their reliance on sugar and refined carbs. After the initial challenge of making the switch, the benefits are immediately noticeable, more energy, clear thinking, less cravings.
One of the things that really helps when you are trying to reduce your sugar intake is to increase your protein at mealtimes, using cinnamon and supplementing with chromium which helps balance blood sugars and reduces cravings.
3. What other actions would you recommend to improve your diet?
Increasing vegetables and working up to 5-7 portions a day is always one of my strategies with clients. Admittedly, that ‘7 portions vegetables a day’ can seem scary, so I always start with increase by one extra vegetable initially, and then move on to including one leafy green vegetable a day.
A diet rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar, which can help keep weight balanced and appetite in check.
There are a few mechanisms at play here, but two of the important ones are
· Increase in fibre (food for our gut bugs). Happy gut, happy life is the has got to be the most well-known synergy in the health space.
· Increase in nutrients (more colour = more phytonutrients). Common nutrients in vegetables are folate, vitamin c, vitamin a, potassium with many other nutrients in the green leafy vegetables such iron, calcium, vitamin k, and magnesium and they also carry plenty of phytochemicals such as β-carotene flavonoids.
These are my top 12 most nutrient dense veggies you could include to improve your diet and in doing so, improve your health.
Spinach, carrots, broccoli, garlic, brussels sprouts, kale, green peas, swiss chard, beetroot, asparagus, red cabbage, and sweet potatoes.
You don’t have to try them all at once, add in one new vegetable every few days and at every meal ask yourself, Can I add one more?
Soups, stews, stir fries and salads are great for layering in the veggies.
4. Keeping to a diet can be difficult, do you have any tips on good practices people can incorporate to stay on track?
I encourage clients not to think of it as a ‘diet’ that has to be stuck to. That type of thinking leads to restriction, feelings of deprivation and therefore binging. It labels food good and bad, and the person feels there are either being good or bad. It’s more about making incremental changes that will make them feel better, then layer more changes on top over a period of time. This is a longer process but one that helps ensure the changes stick. And of course, it’s all about balance, not all or nothing.
In the early stages of the change process, working with a professional (like me) or having a mentor, support network or accountability partner will help. Most of us work better with some accountability.
Set small goals
Setting small, weekly goals and then measuring and tracking your progress will help make the bigger goal less scary and more achievable.
I have a series of tracking tools I use with clients. I find the pen and paper most effective. Research shows People who write down their goals are even more likely to have success getting to where they want to go. There’s a brain-to-hand connection that comes into effect. Writing down your goals plants the goal in your brain, and once it’s there, it sticks. The same applies to noting your progress.
How do you feel?
I always ask clients to record how they feel, how they sleep, energy levels, stress resilience, mood as well as their agreed action in terms of what foods they have agreed to eat or reduced. It is the ‘feeling’ that is the real benefit, that will be memorable, that will be powerful enough to keep you on track.
Build in a reward
And of course, there should always be a reward built in, no matter how small, for each small goal achieved.
5. What are the markers of a good diet, or what does a good diet look like?
One thing is clear to me, there is no ONE single diet that suits everyone. As a Nutritional Therapist I deal in more Personalised Nutrition, helping clients work out what style of eating suits them. The best diet for an individual will normally be a mix of some of the classic dietary styles such as High Carb, Low Carb, Keto, Low Fat, Mediterranean, Vegetarian, Vegan, Plant based, Paleo, Intermittent Fasting.
A good diet is one that
(a) Makes you feel good.
So, you’ll have good digestion, be sleeping well, have high energy levels, stable moods. Of course, there are other factors that affect how you feel such as stress levels, personal circumstances, hormone imbalances, but your food choices will either make these better or worse and generally you can get a feel for how you feel on a normal day.
(b) Suits your life stage.
A woman going through menopause needs a different style of eating, different macro and micronutrients than the man of the same age or the young mum. Quick tip. As women get older they need more protein, less carbs, some healthy fats, particularly omega 3 fats to support brain, joint, and hormone health.
(c) Supports your level of activity.
Are you training for a marathon, doing HIIT exercises 5 days a week, lifting weights or walking most days. Maybe your activity levels are low currently. All of these require a different balance of macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fats).
There are, however, some overarching constants in a good diet.
A whole food diet with a focus on plants (but not necessarily vegetarian or vegan). So that includes a wide variety of colourful vegetables every day, not forgetting the green leafy veggies and then legumes, nuts, and seeds.
A good diet could include some animal products such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy but if that doesn’t suit for whatever reason, it is possible to get your nutrients from solely plant based. It just takes a lot of consideration, planning and may also necessitate supplementation.
A healthy diet will be low in refined carbohydrates (bread products, biscuits, sweets, fizzy drinks etc) and highly processed foods. In particular some foods that have almost become dietary staples in many homes, such as bacon, ham, sausages, burgers should be reduced. These are classed as processed red meat and the World Health Organisation puts them in the same classification as smoking and asbestos, a Class 1 Carcinogenic suggesting intake should be very moderate.
Finally, if you’re looking to have a healthy diet, make sure to include hydration.
Michael Pollan, Best selling Author and Food researcher puts it very succinctly
“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”
I’ve already said that in my clinical experience, a healthy diet is the foundation of good overall health. It is one of the key pillars of health. But having a healthy diet alone will not be the panacea. The other pillars of health are sleep, stress management and movement. Some of these will be more impactful for each individual, most of us know which of the pillars we need to focus on first.
These pillars are all interlinked. Starting with improving diet is a great first step as it will impact the other pillars, you’ll sleep better, be more resilient to stress and have more energy for movement. And equally improvements in the other pillars will impact on your dietary choices.
Just make a start.
WHO AM I?
My name is Janice Tracey, and I am a Nutritional Therapist and Nutrition & Lifestyle Coach working with women who want a healthy and vibrant future.
I want to share everything I’ve learned from my own journey, starting as a busy female professional, working in a male dominated environment, not sleeping, gaining weight, energy highs and lows, burning the candle at both ends……...to now, at 61, a granny, feeling healthier, stronger and more energetic than ever before, running my own business and confident I’ll be showing up at life for decades to come with granddaughters, Ava and Maeve.
I combine all that know-how with the skills I have developed over 10 years helping people lose weight and 4 years learning everything about the human body, nutrition, lifestyle and how they all work.
My passion is giving women the tools and knowledge to start on their journey and keep on going long after they have finished working with me. If you’re a woman, at midlife or beyond, looking to lessen the impact of an existing condition, or avoid common age-related health issues, I’m here to help you.
Whilst I mainly work with women in midlife who want to elevate their health status so they can live longer, stronger, and happier lives, I also work with people of all ages and stages of life who want to improve their quality of life.
You may have diabetes, an autoimmune condition, thyroid imbalance, digestive issues, high cholesterol, weight management problems, low energy, depression, anxiety, or memory issues or maybe you’re not sleeping well and have unmanaged stress. All of these, and any medical issue or condition can negatively affect your quality of life. Working with me, you can turn that around.
I mainly work with clients on a 1:2:1 basis and offer a range of packages from 3 sessions to 12 sessions. Check out the packages here. However, the first step is always a FREE Discovery call to check we have a good fit. The potential client has the opportunity to discuss their health issue or goals and I can outline the approach that would suit them best.