Berna Harmse unpacks different factors that influence our eating practices and helps us get back to the basics.
In the past years, the awareness of healthy eating, self-care and mindfulness has increased considerably. Unfortunately, with the rise of social media, in many aspects the line between fact and fiction has been blurred, and we are left with confusing nutrition messages.
We focus so much on the nitty-gritty surrounding nutritional values of foods and reading labels that we forget to enjoy the food we eat. Although equipping ourselves with knowledge is important, we also need to take the emotional aspects around our way of eating into account.
In light of that, let’s look at some key factors surrounding our eating practices.
In our rushed lifestyle, we are used to eating on the go. We swallow now and chew later! Research has shown that we need to eat at a table, eat mindfully and enjoy a meal to be satisfied. Rushing meals make us eat more in a sitting, not focusing on the task at hand, and eventually increases our risk of indigestion. So, how do we rectify this?
- Eat regular meals, and don’t skip breakfast.
- Make your food look pretty.
- Eat in a relaxed atmosphere, at a table if possible.
- Take smaller bites.
- Chew your food properly.
It’s an interesting fact that our emotions play a huge role in digestion. Not sleeping enough, worrying, daily stress and anxiety increases the amount of gastric juices we produce. This often contributes to bloating and heartburn as well as other gastro-intestinal symptoms often associated with a spastic colon.
If this sounds like you, it might be a good idea to talk to a health professional to acquire some skills in dealing with the stress of your daily life. For example, relaxation exercises and meditation. Read up on sleep hygiene to ensure your bedtime routine is conducive to a good night’s rest.
Back to basics
The quality of the fibre we eat plays a role in our emotional well-being by keeping the blood glucose levels in check. Whole grains and fibres, like oats, also contain much needed B vitamins and other nutrients that are important for brain health. This is one of the reasons we are advised to include a complex (fibre-rich) carbohydrate to most meals.
By now, we all should know the value of anti-oxidants and phytochemicals. Consuming our five-a-day of fruit and vegetables remains the mainstay of an optimal diet: a rainbow on our plate. With colour and flavour also comes medicinal properties. It’s thus less important to focus on a certain vegetable endorsed for its disease-fighting properties, but more important to focus on variety of vegetables and herbs to make sure you are armed with a fuller spectrum of anti-oxidants.
Anti-inflammatory fats, of which omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish is our hero, should be included for brain health as much as for its heart health benefits. Choose nuts and avocados as well as healthier oils, such as canola or olive oil, to increase your intake of unsaturated fats.
Science suggests that our food behaviour, and not just what we eat, limits our capacity to get the most out of our diet. With the abundance of information and misinformation surrounding health issues and nutrition, it would be wise to follow the old adage: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
MEET THE EXPERT – Berna Harmse
Berna Harmse is a private practicing dietitian. She holds a MSc in Dietetics, and has a special interest in oncology nutrition. She is also an external lecturer at Stellenbosch University Division of Human Nutrition.
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