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

Healthy eating: Think VARIETY

Variety – definition: a different form or kind within a general group

Variety is the spice of life. It is also the basis of healthy eating. Healthy eating is about balance – that is, eating foods from different food groups, each of which provides important nutrients that perform specific functions within the body (see my last blog post). When developing a healthier diet, the next step is to eat a variety of foods from within each food group.

I love food and I thank all that is good in the world that we have such a huge range of delicious foods available to us. Within each food group there are so many choices of food for us to enjoy and, happily, to benefit from health wise.

For example, many of us may have heard that we should eat 5-or-more fruits and vegetables everyday. However, 5 of any one thing doesn’t count! So don’t eat 5 of your favourite fruit, or drink 5 glasses of your favourite juice and think that you are sorted…because you are not.

We generally benefit from 2-3 fruits/2-3 vegetables each day (combine to make a total of at least 5).  Servings of fresh fruit and vegetables should be about 80g, or a handful.The 5 also refers to 5 different fruits and vegetables and, ideally, 5 differently coloured fruits and vegetables. For example, a small juice (150ml) and baked beans (yes, baked beans are one of your 5-a-day) for breakfast, tomatoes on your sandwich or in your salad at lunch, a piece of fruit for your afternoon snack and some green vegetables with your evening meal. Such a variety of fruits and vegetables provide us us with many, many vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre for good digestion.

The same variety is available within all the food groups and our health will benefit from including different foods in our diets:

CARBOHYDRATES – bread, pasta, rice, polenta, quinoa, oats, cous cous, noodles, potatoes  (potatoes do not counts as one of your 5-a-day)

PROTEIN foods – meat, seafood, eggs, beans, nuts, tofu

DAIRY – milk, yoghurt, cheese and alternatives (eg: soy milk)

When you think about the range of foods available within each food group and all meals that could be made from these foods, there is surely something for everyone, with all of our different tastes and needs.

To add variety to my diet each week I have embraced:

MEATFREE Monday – all meals are free of meat and/or meat products

WHEATFREE Wednesday – all meals are wheat-free, so I might have fruit and yoghurt for breakfast, rice for lunch and a baked potato for my evening meal

FISHY Friday – one meal will include fish – my favourites are sardines on toast, smoked salmon sandwich or baked trout

Variety makes life interesting and a varied diet does the same. Working towards a more varied diet is as simple as trying a new food or flavour every week, regardless of the variety already in your diet. This could be as simple as trying a different fruit juice or a different sandwich for lunch.

When you think of healthy eating, think variety, and think of all of the additional goodness you will be eating. Your body will thank you.

An introduction to healthy eating in Latin America

When travelling in Central America recently I was asked to provide an overview of good nutrition and healthy eating for a Latin American audience.

Nutrition: An introduction to healthy eating in Latin America

What do you think?