Pretty much everyone will agree that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a combination of exercise and the right diet. However, with so many diet trends right now, it can be hard to know what we should actually be eating. We hear different things everyday - one day we are being told not to eat gluten, the next we shouldn’t be eating dairy… hearing all these conflicting opinions leads to confusion which ultimately puts people into a negative mindset about eating healthily, and they end up asking themselves ‘ well what can we eat?!’.
Rather than telling you what foods you should be avoiding, I want to share with you some of my favourite healthy ingredients that I believe should be incorporated into all diets due to their high nutritional value.
1) Coconut oil
Yes, it may be a popular food of the moment, but that doesn’t take away from its long list of health benefits. First, let’s go over the science-y bit: coconut oil is made up of mostly MCFAs (medium-chain fatty acids), as opposed to vegetable and seed oils which are made up of mostly LCFAs (long-chain fatty acids). LCFAs are difficult for your body to break down and therefore require special enzymes for digestion. MCFAs, on the other hand, are small and permeate cell membranes easily so they do not require special enzymes and consequently they are much more easily digested in our body.
Some of the health benefits of coconut oil are:
Curbs sugar cravings
Helps weight loss by promoting thermogenesis in the body (increased metabolism)
Anti-viral and anti-bacterial due to the high content of lauric acid.
Great for the skin - protects skin from the ageing effects of free radicals and when absorbed into the skin it helps to reduce the appearance of wrinkles by keeping your connective tissues strong.
Not only does garlic bring a delicious flavour to most dishes, but it is also well-known to be a food that reaps health benefits. Garlic contains allium compounds which are phytochemicals (active compounds in foods which play a vital role in our health). Some of the health benefits of allium compounds found in garlic are:
Protection against stomach cancer - garlic is able to block the conversion of nitrates (found in many preserved foods) into cancer-causing nitrosamines.
Inhibits the action of aflatoxins (found in peanuts) which can cause cancer.
Significantly lowers cholesterol in the blood.
Helps prevents blood clots.
Anyone who knows me will know that I sprinkle chilli flakes on absolutely everything. But there may be more to my madness than simple taste preferences. Chilli is abundant in capsaicin which is another phytochemical. Capsaicin helps to protect DNA from damage and consequently contains anti-cancer properties (the American Association for Cancer Research reports studies suggesting that capsaicin is able to kill prostate cancer and lung cancer cells). Some other health benefits include:
Reduces pain from arthritis.
Weight loss due to a decrease in appetite and an increase in satiety.
Whether you like them poached, scrambled or fried, eggs are a great way to start the day. They are packed full of vitamins, minerals, protein, fats and antioxidants making them one of the healthiest foods available. Plus, they are relatively cheap! Whilst they’ve been given a lot of slack in the past for raising cholesterol levels, it’s now pretty well known that they raise the good cholesterol (HDL) not the bad.
Some of the nutritional benefits of eggs are:
Vitamins A, B1, B2, B5, B6, B12, D, E and K
Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids
Contains selenium - an element high in antioxidants which improves our immune systems and has been shown to decrease cancer risk by protecting cells from damage.
I’ve spoken about the nutritional benefits of avocados in my previous post which you can read here. They are rich in monosaturated fats and also an excellent source of fibre and potassium. I won’t go into this too much again but one important thing to remember is that they are extremely satiating and therefore incredibly good for weight loss!
6) Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)
Our body’s natural state is to be alkaline - this is essential in keeping our blood cells alive. ACV helps our body maintain a healthy PH level and therefore brings our body into a more alkaline state (which seems kind of counter-intuitive because it would appear to be acidic!). This alkaline effect also helps to detoxify the liver.
Other health benefits include:
Helps break down mucus in the body - great for fighting off a cold or infection.
Great for gut health by improving digestion - clear chronic acid reflux when taken with a meal.
Contains anti-bacterial properties
Aids weight loss - a 2009 study in Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry found consuming acetic acid for 12 weeks led to significant declines in body weight, abdominal fat, waist circumference and triglycerides.