Much of the world is vegetarian and it is consistently shown to be healthier to eat this way. Populations that switch to animal protein start to develop the illnesses of the west. The best evidence is for reducing cardiovascular disease, but cancer, dementia and many inflammatory diseases are also improved.
However….avoiding animal protein isn’t enough for a nutritious vegetarian diet. It must also be wholegrain, oil free and sugar free. It also must include variety. Eating jam on toast every day is vegetarian, but isn’t nutritious.
The best diet avoids processed food and tries new tastes often. It is open to new inspiration and new evidence.
When you are eating out – opt for the highest fibre dish. This will almost always be the best. See the fibre section below to learn how to make this choice.
Eat a wide range of each food group across a week. Try new things. If you don’t like them first time round, give it a few tastes. (they say it takes 30-50 tastes to like a new food)
The more variety you eat, the more nutrients you’ll get because different foods absorb different nutrients from the soil. It is important to make every calorie count and be as nutritious as possible to keep you looking and feeling good.
1 Kilocalorie = 1 Calorie = 4.1 Kilojoules. It is hard to calorie count, especially if you make your own food, although it can be worth putting the effort in for a week or two at least once. You’ll be surprised that 2000 calories (8000 Kj) is not very much food over a day. Most of us eat too much – on average in NZ around 3000 Calories per day. Any more than your energy needs is laid down as fat for later in case of starvation, but many of us never have a ‘later’ as we always have food available. If you eat 500-1000 calories per day of non-nutritious food (like sugar) then your body makes fat out of it, but still makes you hungry for food it can use.
When the average calorie intake was recommended at 2000 per day many years ago, it was assumed everyone did 1 hour of vigorous exercise per day. (We used to commute by foot or bicycle each day). Unless you do more than this, you do not need extra calories, and if you do less exercise, you need 200-400 fewer calories per day.
Many people tell me they eat very little, or don’t snack, or they do calorie count but they still gain weight. In this situation they are usually eating some food without paying attention, or ‘treating’ themselves too often. It can be useful to keep a brutally honest food diary and record everything you eat each day. The reality can be very interesting.
Because calorie counting is difficult I recommend dividing your food up into roughly equal portions and aiming for approximately 50% vegetables, 20% carbs, 20% protein and 10% fat. Your vegetables have carbs in as well, and most food is a mixture, so count the main ingredients. See below for examples.
Aim for 1700-2300 calories per day. Lower end if you are small and upper end if you are large or do a lot (>7 hours per week) of vigorous exercise. Eating slightly fewer calories has been shown to be good for us (do not become underweight though). Some people however will need to increase their calorie intake to reach this range.
While most people eat too much. It is equally important not to eat too little. Especially if your diet doesn’t contain variety. Skipping meals, eating processed food (which is non-nutritous) and eating the same thing every day can lead to a skinny person being very unhealthy and malnourished.
- Aim for >50% of your food to be vegetables each day (potatoes count as carbohydrate!)
- 20-30% of your food should be protein based – eg beans, peas, lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds. As much variety as possible.
- 15-20% of your food should be carbohydrate (you’ll also get carbs in your veges, that’s why this is low). Eat a wide variety. See the section on carbohydrate.
- 10% of your food should be fat. Oil is not good for you (even olive oil!) so aim to get most of your fat from nuts, avocado or seeds every day. (10% of your food = approx 30% of your calories)
- Eat as much fibre from your food as possible (rather than from supplements)