How to eat more of the healthy foods that make you feel better
It’s time to edit the phrase ‘you are what you eat’ to add ‘most of the time’. Having the occasional bit of junk food is OK. What’s more important is eating foods that make you feel better most of the time.
To be healthy, you need to eat nutritious foods more often than not. As anyone who’s ever tried to cut back on coffee will tell you, sometimes that makes you feel worse in the short term. But eating more healthily will always make you feel better in the long term.
The good news is that sticking with healthy habits is often easier when you know how your body will benefit.
We talked to Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist Shivaun Conn about why eating better, more often, is in your best interests. Plus, we got few tips on how to make it happen.
How your body benefits from better food choices
Aside from the obvious benefits of eating well, like reducing high blood pressure, improving heart health and strengthening teeth and bones, your body can gain from a balanced diet.
Glowing skin, glossy hair and glam nails
It’s not just your insides that will thank you for eating better foods. You can get that healthy glow on the outside too.
Taking care of your skin is about more than using the right cleanser, toner and moisturiser. Feed your face foods for better skin by eating a healthy, balanced diet. Eating better can help your body’s largest organ look and feel amazing by boosting collagen formation, reducing inflammation and even clearing up acne.
A balanced diet can also give you stronger, thicker Rapunzel-like tresses by encouraging hair growth, nourishing your hair follicles and stimulating more natural oils as conditioners.
Finally, why not skip the manicure and eat more healthily instead? A healthy diet can help to strengthen your nails, enhance their shine and prevent hangnails.
A beautiful mind with more clarity
Your brain likes healthy foods too. As part of a balanced diet, some antioxidant- and vitamin-rich foods may help to improve memory, learning and brain function while reducing the risk of cognitive decline.
Better food choices can help boost your energy levels by giving you a more stable energy source without the spikes and crashes that sugary junk food can cause.
When digestion goes smoothly, you don't even notice it’s happening. You start to pay more attention if you’re worried about why you’re farting so much, have nausea, bloating or wheat intolerance symptoms.
Eating for better digestion involves a balanced diet that incorporates better foods for your gut health.
The friendly bacteria in your gut communicate with your brain. Wait, what?! Yep, it’s true, and they do it through the millions of nerve cells lining your digestive system.
The foods you eat then influence the types of microorganisms in your gut. And the one thing that ‘good’ (probiotic) gut bacteria can’t get enough of is healthy food.
Gut bacteria also produce neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate memory and mood.
The foods that make you feel better
The foods that make you feel better are all foods that are part of a healthy, balanced diet. While you might remember the old Australian food pyramid from school, a few things have changed since then.
The current Australian dietary guidelines are like a more modern, better food pyramid. They recommend eating a variety of nutritious foods from each of the five food groups per day, including:
- grain foods, especially wholegrain and high-fibre varieties
- lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds and legumes or beans
- milk, yoghurt, cheese or their alternatives
Generally, wholefoods like these are better for you because they retain much more of their fibre and nutrient content compared to commercially processed foods.
It’s important to recognise that cooking is a basic form of food processing that can change the nutritional value of what you eat. This doesn’t always mean that you reduce nutrient values, but you do change them.
For example, people often wonder whether it’s better to eat spinach raw or cooked. The answer is that it depends. Cooked spinach might contain more of the building blocks for vitamin A, whereas raw spinach has more fibre.
It’s a good idea to speak to a qualified dietitian if you’re unsure of the healthiest ways to prepare food. Don't know what a dietitian does? They can advise you on the right proportion of foods to include in your diet, the pros and cons of organic food and whether it’s better to snack or eat big meals.
Tips on how to eat better
Accredited Practising Dietitian Shivaun Conn says that the key to making better food choices is “making healthy food more attractive and easily accessible.”
Here are her top 3 tips for how to eat more of the foods that make you feel better.
1. Plan ahead to make choosing healthy foods easier
“While it might sound a little clichéd, planning and organisation are fundamental to making it easier to choose the healthy option,” says Shivaun. She recommends thinking about how busy you will be in any given week or month, and then planning easy meals that will work for your schedule.
“Think about the kinds of meals you can make for the busy weeks, and go for the quick, easy options. Then have those meals ready in the freezer, fridge or cupboards,” she adds.
Shivaun says to choose meals that take a maximum of 20-30 minutes to prepare, so those busy weeks are less stressful. “Make it so simple that you barely have to think about cooking during those hectic times. Prepping food on the weekend can help reduce time spent cooking during the week.”
Another time-saving tip from Shivaun is to order your groceries online.
2. Give your food a makeover without compromising on taste
You can tweak most recipes to include healthier ingredients while still keeping them delicious.
“Give the meals you already love a healthy makeover. For example, suppose you love lasagne. In that case, you can easily make it healthier while still looking and tasting amazing,” Shivaun advises.
3. Swap out your convenience foods with healthier options
“The food that’s available in your immediate environment plays a massive role in what you eat,” Shivaun says.
She recommends keeping healthy options on hand, instead of filling your cupboards with ultra-processed convenience foods that are high in sugar and saturated fat.
“Instead of just having chips, lollies or chocolate in the cupboard, swap them out for better-for-you options like dried corn, edamame or nuts. While those are still processed and convenient, they can be much healthier.”
Shivaun adds that being aware of our hunger cues and food craving triggers can help to improve our food choices.
“When we’re tired, stressed and hungry, we’ll default to grabbing the unhealthy options if they’re there. Be aware of the times when your blood sugar might be low, or you’re stressed, and you’re looking for a reward to help cope. Know your cues and triggers and have healthy options easily available for these times."
Feel better about trying to eat more healthy foods
Ultimately, Shivaun says, it’s not about eating perfectly and avoiding junk food all the time. Instead, it’s about developing habits that make it easier to choose healthier food most of the time.
If you want to eat foods that make you feel better, try eating a more balanced diet that includes each of the five food groups daily.
Use Shivaun’s tips above, or speak to a nutritionist or dietitian if you’d like a bit of extra help with making better food choices.
Shivaun Conn is an Accredited Practising Dietitian, Accredited Nutritionist and Certified Health Coach with particular interests in nutrition, lifestyle, executive health and health behaviour change.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board June 2021