Food is absolutely fundamental to our lives. We eat every day, cooking different meals, sourcing new foods at grocery stores, trying recipes from around the world. Food brings us together around the table but it can also provide a moment of solitary bliss in the form of a quick one-pot meal alone at lunchtime.
The flavours we go for and the choices we make aren’t just about enjoyment though. What we eat affects every aspect of our lives from our health to our weight and from the money we spend to the times we can save. Food can give us momentary joy, later replaced by frustration standing on the bathroom scales, but it can also help us to get the healthiest body we can.
Understanding foods and the benefits they bring is key to having a healthy, balanced diet that takes in everything from a bit of chocolate here and there to a huge bowl of steamed veg whenever you like. These are the foods that make us feel good every day.
A completely unsurprising first entry: steamed vegetables are fantastic for your body and will always make you feel good. You can choose from a wide range of flavours so that you can easily eat something completely different every day.
A good rule to go by is to choose from a wide range of colours when you decide which vegetables to eat. Dark leafy greens tend to contain lots of iron, carrots with their vibrant orange contain vitamin A and pulses like peas and bean contain plenty of fibre and protein to keep you fuller for longer.
Steaming vegetables is a good way to cook them as you don’t lose any of the vitamins or minerals to the cooking water. It is also significantly better than frying or roasting because this method doesn’t need any fat.
Another way to enjoy vegetables is to pickle and ferment them, as in the case with sauerkraut. The fermenting agent is a bacteria that is particularly good for your gut, allowing you to take in more vitamins and minerals and making you feel generally more healthy.
As a probiotic, sauerkraut does seem to help people who need IBS relief as it improves the functionality of the gut. Though it’s often unclear what causes IBS in each individual, it does seem that an imbalance in your gut flora is a possible cause of the discomfort you experience. Sauerkraut and other foods like kimchi and miso help to restore the balance by introducing new ‘good bacteria’ which allows your gut to function properly again.
One final reason to eat sauerkraut is simple: it’s delicious.
Though milk and white chocolate are often full of sugar and fat, dark chocolate is a bit more forgiving and a little bit each day can be good for you. Lots of people find that dark chocolate is an acquired taste and if you are used to eating the high fat and sugar stuff, anything about 70% cocoa is going to be a surprise with its depth and bitterness. However, if you do like it, there are lots of reasons to love it.
Dark chocolate can help to lower your blood pressure, improve your eyesight and even help to increase your metabolism. Plus as it is sweet once you get past the bitterness, it can be the perfect alternative to a calorific dessert your main meal. Dark chocolate has also been found to help with symptoms of depression, lower cholesterol and seems to help with cognition too.
So if you are feeling stressed, trying to study for an exam and wanting to lose weight, dark chocolate might just help you on your way.
Though people with diabetes will need to watch out for eating too much high sugar fruit, for most people, eating fruit is a great way to pile in on lots of vitamins and minerals. Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and limes are ideal for gaining vitamin C. This is important because vitamin C is shown to increase the absorption of iron, making citrus fruits the ideal companion for green leafy veggies. If you are feeling fatigued or you are trying to work out harder at the gym, up your citrus fruits to really make a difference.
Fruit, like veg, is also a good way to increase the amount of fibre you eat. This will help your digestive system stay regular as well as keep you fuller for longer. Lots of fruits are also good for helping to increase your liquid intake. Though drinking a glass of water is always a good idea, fruit is a simple way to introduce more liquid into your diet, keeping you well hydrated throughout the day.
There is a lot of research into the benefits of flax seeds including whether they might help to prevent cancers, lung disease and cardiovascular disease. While this research has not provided any conclusive evidence just yet, there is a wealth of optimism that the flax seed could be ideal for improving your health.
What it certainly does contain is plenty of fibre (a theme is developing with fibrous foods!) as well as omega 3, an essential fatty acid and lignans, which are what researchers are looking into as they may help to protect against cancer.
The foods we choose to eat are vital for our health and well being and finding the best foods can be difficult. As the science around what we should eat changes all the time, it can be confusing to follow the best advice as it changes so frequently.
One thing you can do is listen to your body. Think about how you feel after eating certain foods. Do you feel good and energised? Do you feel happy? Do you regret what you ate? All of these questions will help to indicate the types of foods that you should be going for. And if you are really committed to your quest, keeping a diary will help to isolate the foods that really bring you joy.