These days, with the millions of different diets, theories, and range of nutritional advice being dispensed, eating healthy seems to be more confusing than ever! What sort of diet is best to follow? The Mediterranean Diet for its cardiovascular benefits. Or maybe the Paleo Diet for it's focus on fast fat loss and stabilizing blood sugar by cutting out most carbs. Or perhaps (and this can be big in the yoga world) either the Vegan Diet, which cuts out all animal products altogether and of course focuses on whole grains and plenty of vegetables and fruit or the Raw Food Diet where most of the food you eat is either uncooked or cooked to no higher than 40 degrees to preserve the active enzymes within the foods. No doubt, whichever diet you follow, there will also be mountains of research to back up the claims about why this particular way of eating is so beneficial.
And of course, besides the different diets, there are now also plenty of food culprits to be wary of! Dairy, Wheat and Gluten (a protein found in certain grains, including wheat) have featured heavily for some time. Now, also all our meat and most fruits and veg should be grass fed/organic. And, fish, a healthy option??...forget farmed fished which has virtually no omega 3's and if it's wild then is it sustainable and does it have heavy metal poisoning? Yikes! It can seem as though we can't put anything in our mouths these days!
So, if that's the case, then what are we to do? Well in my opinion as a nutritionist and as someone who gets a lot of enjoyment from my food, I think calming down, using common sense and being mindful about food is key. For me, those three things mean this:
First of all, eat food!! When I say eat food, I mean real food. If it contains ingredients that you can't pronounce and have no idea what it is, then odds are that's a chemical/preservative that has been added. If it can stand on a shelf and not go off for months on end, then most likely it's also not real food.
Second, get your anti-oxidants. These are mainly found in fruits and veg and yes, that means eat plenty of those. Especially ones that are bright or dark colours (blues, reds, dark greens, orange, etc). To get enough it means that with most meals we should be including veg (mainly) and some fruit. And, make sure you eat a lot of different colours regularly.
What about the free-range/organic debate? Well, if you can afford it, to be honest, I would opt for organic produce and organic/pastured/grass-fed meat and poultry. In this way, you can at least limit some of the pesticides, anti-biotics, and other chemicals that are found in foods these days. If organic isn't within your budget, then know that any foods with a hard peel (example: avocados) are more protected from sprays than foods that you don't have to peel (example: apples--one of the most sprayed foods). When it comes to free-range vs organic chicken, free range can be a fairly meaningless term. It means that the chickens can run around a bit (although the area where they run around varies greatly) but it doesn't control the kind of food they are fed. If you want a chicken that is fed well and lives under humane conditions, then opt for hens which have been "pastured." This is difficult to find in most supermarkets, and might be easier to order online from suppliers who specialize in ethically and sustainably raised meat.
Besides eating real food (most of the time), creating mindfulness around food is hugely important and is an ongoing process which takes time and is part of our journey. Notice how different foods make you feel (do you feel energetic, bloated, happy, lethargic?). If you have a craving for a particular food, notice the feeling that you have at the time. Are you upset? Are you angry? Or maybe you've been feasting for awhile and you're body strangely craves broccoli (that's your body's way of trying to bring back some balance). Notice feelings of hunger (and what you do about it) and of satiety (fullness). Know that if you're hungry, you can always have more!
Lastly, try to refrain from judging and criticizing yourself about what you eat! Today I was good because I ate salad, yesterday I was bad because I had a slice of cake. If your intention is to become healthier around food then that's fantastic, but make sure you enjoy what you eat (most of the time...no one enjoys a freshly pressed wheatgrass shot!). Most of all, if we're mindful, then forget about the word cheating, and introduce the word "treating."