5 Goals for Good Health

Developing and maintaining good health need not be difficult. Take steps to achieve these goals that will be the basis of a healthy eating plan and pave the way to better health in the long term. Overall, the goal is to have a healthy lifestyle all year which is so much better for our health than embarking on a short-term diet for a week or two every summer.

Changing how, when and what we eat can help us to look and feel better, provide us with the energy we need to be happy and productive, as well as stave off all manner of illness. When considering ways to improve our eating habits we should think about mealtimes, snacks and drinks, our choices at the supermarket, the recipes we use at home and eating out.

Choose healthy meals – what do healthy meals look like?

Foods from each of the five food groups can be eaten throughout the day. Eating a wide variety of foods will provide the important nutrients we need for good health.

See the Eatwell Guide for information on eating a variety of foods.

For example, a main meal might include:

  • Lean protein – like chicken, fish, eggs or tofu
  • Starchy carbohydrates – such as a small baked potato, brown rice or a wholemeal roll – choose wholemeal or wholegrain options whenever possible
  • Vegetables – try broccoli, spinach or a salad

When shopping at the supermarket choose foods that will make it possible to prepare healthy meals and snacks at home. I like to look out for recipes that encourage me to use ingredients that I haven’t tried before, like different beans and pulses, since I am currently trying to eat less meat for health and sustainability reasons. When eating out choose meals that include proteins and vegetables – for example, a Sunday Roast at the pub is a great choice.

Maintain your energy levels

When we eat the right foods and drink plenty of fluids we can sustain good energy levels throughout the day. A good variety of foods will include a combination of  protein, complex carbohydrates and fibre – for example:

  • Breakfast – wholegrain cereal with milk, fruit, juice, tea or coffee
  • Lunch – an egg sandwich made with wholemeal bread, yoghurt, fruit, water
  • Dinner – Jacket potato with beans and side salad, fruit, water, tea or coffee

Healthy snacks between meals may help us to avoid hunger, fatigue, food cravings and energy slumps. Healthy snacks should consist of a drink and a small amount of food that also incorporates a combination of  protein, complex carbohydrates and fibre – for example:

  • fruit, a small piece of cheese, water, tea or coffee
  • crackers with homous or nut butter, vegetable crudités (eg cucumber or carrots), water, tea or coffee

Keeping your fluid intake consistently high is a surprisingly effective way to maintain your energy levels, so we should aim to drink at least two litres of fluid every day (includes water, milk, juice, tea, coffee).

Eat a proper breakfast

Don’t skip breakfast since your energy levels will already be low after a night’s sleep.

Eat a healthy, filling breakfast that includes protein – such as milk, yoghurt, nuts and seeds, beans, eggs, or meat. Don’t forget your starchy carbohydrates and fibre, as found in cereal, muesli, porridge or wholemeal toast. Whenever possible avoid highly processed foods with added sugar (such as some breakfast cereals).

When short on time grab a yoghurt and fruit before leaving the house and eat these while travelling or at work.

Choose good fats for great health

Some fats are beneficial to the body and it is necessary to have fat in our diet for optimal health, including good hair, skin, nails and a well-functioning body.

Healthy fats are naturally found in a range of foods, including:

  • Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna steaks, trout, and sardines)
  • Avocadoes
  • Olives
  • Raw nuts and their oils (eg: walnut oil)
  • Seeds
  • Wheatgerm

Choose healthy fats instead of saturated fats (like butter) for better health.

Treat yourself occasionally

If you choose healthy options at least 80 percent of the time it is possible to eat the occasional dessert or enjoy a party without feeling guilty. If there are times when chocolate becomes a necessity, have a few squares of good quality dark chocolate – preferably with more than 70% cocoa (the higher the cocoa content, the lower the sugar and fat content).

As long as treats are occasional (that is, not every day) and do not become a habit, we can indulge occasionally.

Learning about healthier options and establishing good eating habits can help us to develop and maintain better health. The goal of good health is within our reach.

Enjoy Good Food for Good Health

Keep a well-being diary for better health

Keeping a well-being diary may help you to track your path to better health. A well-being diary can help you to record progress in many areas of your life, including your eating habits but also improvements in your physical activity achievements, sleep patterns, stress triggers, weight, waist measurement, blood pressure, resting heart rate, your emotions and any other aspects of your general health that you would like to improve. Keeping track of where you started and your progress over weeks and months may help you to maintain your motivation and continue to work towards your goal of a healthier lifestyle.

It’s like a healthy eating diary

A well-being diary is similar to a typical healthy eating diary though with a little more information. Design your own diary (use a notebook or your computer) that will help you to keep track of your overall health. Write down the things that you think affect your well-being. Are you tired? Stressed? Drowning in ironing? Write down anything that you think is affecting your well-being and ways in which you could make improvements. Take advantage of apps on your smart phone that can help you to count calories, monitor your sleep patterns, track how many steps you are walking everyday, and many other things, then write it all down at the end of the day.  When exercising I keep track of the reps I can manage when doing push-ups and sit-ups. I am trying to build my strength so I do an extra rep in each set every week and I have improved over time (eg: week 1 = 5 reps/set, week 2 = 6 reps/set – I am now up to 15 reps/set). When I recognised that looking at a pile of ironing was stressful I made plans to change my wardrobe and now I choose clothe that need little ironing.

If you are concerned about the food you are eating (how much or how often) keeping a diary will help you to identify any areas that may be making it difficult for you to achieve your goals. Consider calories, nutrients and hydration. Perhaps you feel uncomfortable when exercising in the mornings, or you can’t lose that last bit of weight? Keeping a record of what you have eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as snacks and drinks may help you to identify any problems or inconsistencies with your eating habits. For example, if you have reached a plateau with your weight loss progress you might decide that replacing your late night snack with a healthier option is the next step towards your overall goal. If you are always tired you might not be getting enough iron and you could decide to eat more meat or take an iron supplement.

Consider keeping a shopping list of all the foods and drinks that you want to keep to hand and stock up on when you get to the supermarket. Having your favourite healthy choices available will often help you to avoid unhealthy choices. Eating a balanced diet, containing all the nutrients you need is easier when your cupboards and refrigerator contain a wide range of foods – including fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, protein foods and dairy/alternatives. Keep a record of recipes that are your favourites or that you might like to try. Experiment with new foods even if you have to look to the internet to find out how to cook them – I suspect many of us have tried quinoa by now.

Keep track of your activity

Do you want to be fitter? Faster? Stronger? Leaner? Keep track of your daily activity. Consider keeping track of the time of day you are exercising, the time spent exercising, distance, cardio/intensity, weights/sets/reps, strength and performance. Write down your overall thoughts – did it work for you today? Was it a bad day?  Try to do some activity every day and write it all down, so that you can assess your activity levels at the end of each week and each month. Compare your activity with your food intake, your sleep patterns or your stress levels. Can you see any patterns emerging? Do you need to make some changes?

Recent research has identified that our sedentary lifestyles are not healthy, so even keeping track of how many hours you spend sitting down and on your feet might provide useful information. Being more active is as simple as walking 10,000 steps a day, which is easier to achieve if you don’t use the car for short journeys (less than one mile). If you are feeling a bit sluggish in winter maybe it’s because you are a bit less active when the days are shorter and colder. In establishing a reason for the way you are feeling you can make a change and take some action to ensure that you start to feel better again.

Write down your goals, both short-term and long-term. A short-term goal might be to go for a 20 minute walk every day this week and then go for a hike on the weekend. A long-term goal might be to improve your blood pressure, run 5km in three months time, or lose weight. In establishing your long-term goal you can decide on the short-term goals (daily and weekly) that will keep you headed in the right direction.

What inspires you?

It can help you record your inspirations too. Did the Olympians inspire you to be more active? Perhaps your friends marriage inspires you to communicate better with your own family. Look for people who are working towards being happier or more grateful or more committed to their cause. Perhaps you have seen a quote that inspires you to make changes or keep going? Anything that helps you to maintain your focus on your goal is useful. Continue to look for inspiration as the weeks progress. Many people have experiences similar to yours and it can be incredibly useful to know that they continue to make progress, with good days and bad days a part of their journey, just as they will be in all of our journeys.

Your time is precious and you may not want to record everything you do or feel, but if the alternative is to go round-and-round in circles with little progress, then investing time in a well-being diary may be worthwhile. Try to keep a diary for three months and see if it is useful. Monitoring your progress as you work towards improved well-being can be very useful and you will inspire yourself when you can see the changes that you have managed and maintained.

Enjoy Good Food for Good Health

The Mexican Diet is changing

Researchers investigating the nutritional adequacy of the Mexican diet have found that Mexican’s are not getting all of the nutrients they need to be healthy and that most Mexican’s are consuming more energy (calories) than they need. Of particular concern is the stunting and micronutrient deficiencies in young children, iron deficiency in pregnant women and the high incidence of obesity and diabetes in Mexico.

Across the world the consumption of high-energy, nutrient-poor foods has increased and in recent years the average Mexican diet has changed. Traditionally, the Mexican diet contained cereals and legumes (common beans), but now most people are eating less of these foods and eating more sugars, animal products and vegetable fats.

Diets containing too many corn tortillas, refined grains, high fat foods, sugary soft drinks and alcohol can be harmful to our health – in particular because these foods may not provide important micronutrients, like calcium and vitamin D, and can contribute to tooth decay. In addition, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle (little physical activity) may also contribute to health problems.

A recent study (López-Olmedo et al, 2016)  found that more than 50% of the Mexican population (aged over 1 year) are eating more than the recommended amount of added sugar and saturated fat. It also found that intakes of saturated fat and added sugars were higher in urban compared with rural areas, in the North compared with South regions, and among those with higher socio-economic status (compared with low socio-economic status).

Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and oils are the healthiest diets. Diets containing red meat, processed meat, eggs, fish, poultry and milk are OK. Foods with a high fibre content are a healthy choice.

However, many Mexican do not meet dietary recommendations for good health:

  • Infant formula was consumed by almost half of infants aged <6 months (not meeting breastfeeding and complementary feeding recommendations)
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages were consumed by two-thirds of children aged 12-23 months
  • Less than 23% of adults met recommendations for legumes, seafood, fruit, vegetables, and dairy foods
  • Foods high in saturated fats and/or added sugars contributed 26% of the population’s total energy intake
  • Across various age groups there was found to be excessive intakes of added sugars and saturated fats and insufficient intakes of fibre, vitamin A, folates, calcium, iron, vitamin D, vitamin E, magnesium and zinc. Some age groups need more B vitamins and vitamin C

Barriers to making healthier choices

Making healthy choices may be difficult in some circumstances, but identifying the difficulties that some people experience may help individuals and health professionals to overcome these barriers:

  • women experience difficulties related to personal, family and work-related circumstances
  • men have established food preferences and lack familiarity with fruits and vegetables
  • physical activity may be limited due to stress/depressed mood, lack of motivation and concern for physical well-being (will I hurt myself?)
  • physical activity is usually performed within the context of work and domestic responsibilities

Behaviours or routines involving eating, activity and smoking are often well established and intertwined and can be difficult to change. High fat/high sugar foods are more likely to be eaten when watching television, or when eating on the street, at work or at school.  Individuals can try to make healthier choices when snacking and watching television and interested parties could lobby for healthier food environments at work, school, and on the street.

Children’s diets

Children’s snack choices have been found to include fruit, salty snacks, candy sweetened breads and cookies. Among older children, whole milk as a snack was partially replaced with soda and sweetened fruit drinks (Taillie et al, 2015). Children are particularly at risk of malnutrition if they are not eating a diet that provides them with the various nutrients that they require for growth and good health.

Recommendations

  • eat more legumes/beans and fruit and vegetables
  • practice healthy cooking habits
  • eat enjoyable meals with family and friends
  • drink water
  • avoiding the consumption of sweetened beverages, grain-based desserts, and highly processed foods

Improvement’s in children’s diets could be achieved with healthier snack choices.  For young children, parents should follow recommendations regarding breastfeeding and complementary feeding.

For further information

Look for El Plato del Bien Comer

See Mexican Dietary and Physical Activity Guidelines: Moving Public Nutrition Forward in a Globalized World.

References

Taillie LS, Afeiche MC, Eldridge AL, Popkin BM (2015)  Increased Snacking and Eating Occasions Are Associated with Higher Energy Intake among Mexican Children Aged 2-13 Years. J Nutr 2015 Nov; 145(11): 2570-7.

López-Olmedo N, Carriquiry AL, Rodríguez-Ramírez S, Ramírez-Silva I, Espinosa-Montero J, Hernández-Barrera L, Campirano F, Martínez-Tapia B, Rivera JA (2016) Usual Intake of Added Sugars and Saturated Fats Is High while Dietary Fiber Is Low in the Mexican Population. J Nutr. 2016 Aug