Eating well to feel well

In the past years, the awareness of healthy eating has increased considerably. Unfortunately, with the rise of electronic and social media, in many aspects the line between fact and fairy tale has been blurred, and we are left with confusing nutrition messages. We focus so much on the nitty gritty surrounding nutritional values of foods, reading labels that we forget to enjoy the food we eat. Although equipping ourselves with knowledge is very important, we also need to take the emotional aspects around our way of eating into account. In the light of that, let us 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 the table, eat mindfully and enjoy a meal in order to be satisfied. Rushing meals make us eat more in a sitting – not focusing on the task at hand eventually increases our risk of indigestion. So, how do we rectify this?

• Eat regular meals and do not skip breakfast

• Make your food look pretty

• Eat in a relaxed atmosphere, at the table if possible

• Take smaller bites

• Chew your food properly


It is an interesting fact that our emotions play a huge role in digestion. Not sleeping enough, worrying and daily stress and anxiety increases the amount of gastric juices we produce, often contributing 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 sleep.

Back to basics

The quality of the fibre we eat plays a role in our emotional wellbeing 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.

In this segment we have often spoken about the value of antioxidants and phytochemicals. Consuming our five a day of fruit and vegetables remain the mainstay of an optimal diet, a rainbow on our plate as the saying goes, as with colour and flavour also comes medicinal properties. It is 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 antioxidants.

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 healthy benefits. Choose nuts and avocados as well as healthier oils, such as Canola or olive oil, to increase your intake of unsaturated fats.

To conclude

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 granny’s advice: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!


Berna Harmse is a private practicing dietitian in Cape Town, 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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