Am I ‘healthy’ enough?

With magazines, newspapers, television, radio and social media providing constant reminders to make healthy choices, it is easy for us to doubt our own efforts and question our choices.

“If I don’t eat chia seeds and kale, am I healthy enough?’

‘Healthy enough?’ For what. What would be your reason for making healthier choices? To feel better? To have more energy? To have better skin or hair? To stop those niggly coughs and colds from visiting so often? We will all have different goals and therefore a different idea of what ‘healthy’ might mean. The best idea is probably to decide on some health priorities and make choices that suit our own circumstances.

Most of us are probably honest enough to admit that we could make improvements to our lifestyle, by way of healthier foods, more activity or less stress, but what are the basics? Can we establish a healthy baseline and move on from there, little by little?

The ‘5-a-day’ message (eat more fruits and vegetables) might be an easy and obvious place for many of us to start, as fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals and fibre that bring a range of health benefits. But what if we have more specific concerns?

Digestion – digestive problems can affect the absorption of nutrients and our immune systems. Some foods are gut-friendly, meaning that they can improve the functioning of the digestive tract. Fibre-rich foods, like oats and beans, probiotics (‘good’ bacteria), like yoghurt, and prebiotics (that feed the ‘good’ bacteria), like onion, garlic and bananas, can all contribute to a healthier digestive system that uses nutrients effectively and is less likely to experience other discomforts, like bloating or constipation.

Blood-sugar balance – with more and more people at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes (previously known as adult-onset diabetes) it is important to maintain a healthy weight, since overweight can be a factor in increasing the risks of diabetes. While having sugary foods and drinks is not directly responsible for the development of diabetes, excess calorie intake in the form of sugary foods and drinks may lead to overweight, which can put us at risk of developing diabetes. Eating foods that make us feel fuller for longer, like fibre-rich and protein-rich foods, may contribute to weight maintenance and reduce diabetes risk factors. Checking your waist measurement to determine if you might need to lose weight (aim for a waist measurement that is less than half your height measurement). Your GP can assess your diabetes risk with a simple blood test.

Bone and joints – children, teenagers and older adults should all be aware of the importance of building healthy bones and maintaining them throughout our lives. Foods containing calcium, including dairy foods and calcium-enriched products, should be a part of our diets. Vitamin D also helps us to maintain healthy bones and the government has recommended vitamin D supplements for all in the UK, especially in the winter months, because we don’t get enough sunshine (and therefore vitamin D) for healthy bones.

Heart health – our blood pressure and cholesterol levels are indicators of our health as we age and we can eat heart-healthy foods such as healthy fats, fibre and nutrient-rich foods, like fruit and vegetables, for improved heart health. Your GP can check your cholesterol with a simple blood test and a blood pressure check is often available in pharmacies around the country.

When we discern which aspect of our health is the priority then it is possible to decide where to start looking for answers to the question ‘Am I healthy enough?’ Is my heart healthy? Is my blood-sugar OK? With a starting point we can move towards our own ‘healthy’ baseline.

Healthy choices can be simple and inexpensive choices. Walking more often. Eating less salt. Drinking more water. It is not necessary to eat chia seeds and kale to be healthy. It is necessary to be aware of our health status, so that we may establish a baseline, decide on our goals and then make healthier choices as and when we can.

For more information about checking your health status and improving your health look for information from

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Healthy choices for the over 40s

A recent report from Public Health England warned that middle-aged people in England face a health crisis because of their unhealthy lifestyles. Apparently 8 in every 10 people aged 40 to 60 years are overweight, drink too much or get too little exercise.

The world has changed so much in just a few decades and now desk jobs, fast food and the drinking culture have resulted in a generation that is unfit and largely overweight.

Those of us who are in our 40s and 50s are advised to look after ourselves, though it has been acknowledged that this may prove difficult when caring for children and ageing parents often takes priority. In addition, accessing healthy choices is not always easy, since we are surrounded by cheap, over-processed, high calorie, nutrient-poor food. 

Many people no longer recognise what a healthy body weight looks like and obesity is increasingly considered ‘normal’. A recent survey into British attitudes towards obesity (www.bsa.natcen.ac.uk) found that people could not correctly identify obesity in a series of pictures of men and women – only 54% correctly identified when a woman is obese and 39% correctly identified when a man is obese. This is concerning because obesity is recognised as a contributory factor to many diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. The survey found that while there was some understanding of the health risks associated with obesity, with over 80% of people understanding that people who are obese are more likely to have heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, only 34% understood that there is an increased risk of liver disease.

Since we are all living longer, we want those years to be as happy and healthy as possible. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle may also prevent dementia, disability and stigmatisation. People who are obese are still stigmatised, with 53% agreeing that “most overweight people could lose weight if they tried” and 75% believing that a person who is not very overweight would be more likely to be offered an office manager’s job than a person who is very overweight.

So, when faced with the daily grind of modern life what sort of choices could make the over-40s fitter, healthier and more energetic?

A recent study (National weight control registry) found that adults who have successfully lost weight and maintained their weight loss used a few tried and true methods:

  • 98% modified their eating habits
  • 94% increased their level of physical activity, especially walking
  • 78% had a healthy breakfast everyday
  • 75% weighed themselves at least once a week
  • 62% watched less than 10 hours of television per week

If we take personal responsibility for our health we can start living a healthier life. Take steps today to make changes that will help you to avoid preventable diseases and disabilities, like poor mobility.

The government and industry have a role to play in making healthy choices more accessible but the scale of the changes required means that they may take years to plan and implement. Plans to develop healthier food products and a healthier environment, including urban planning, food systems, agriculture, economics, governance and politics, law, business, marketing and communication, may take years to come to fruition. If we wait for government and industry to make a difference to our health we will all be storing up health problems and the future will be upon us long before we are ready for it.

Since the government and industry won’t act quickly enough to help the over-40s it is time to take personal responsibility and commit to a healthier future. Individuals and healthcare professionals can immediately start to expose and challenge unhealthy working environments, social and dietary habits rather than accept them as an inevitable part of modern life.

So start 2017 with a focus on making healthy choices that will have happy consequences for you and your family in the longer term.

Enjoy Good Food for Good Health.

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