Tips & tools

Principles of a healthy lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle is NOT a diet. It’s also not a long list of ‘can’t eat this, shouldn’t have that and not allowed’ foods. It’s a choice you make, because once you’ve experienced how fantastic you feel when you eat and live healthily, it will be easy to make it a way of life. Rather focus on the foods you should include as part of a healthy way of eating, like enough fresh fruit and veggies, lean meat, lentils and pulses, healthy oils and unrefined, high-fibre starches.

The following five guidelines and five practical applications will help you along the way. Healthy living is not just about what you eat, but also staying hydrated and drinking enough water, resting and sleeping enough and being active – all of these are good for body, mind and soul.

LiG Tydskrif |
Neville Lockhart Photography

LiG Tydskrif |
Neville Lockhart Photography

LiG Tydskrif |
Life Photography Berna Coetzee

5 Basic guidelines

1. Moderation and variation. Choose a variety of different foods and enjoy them in moderate portions so that you provide your body with a wide range of nutrients. Try to keep your plate as colourful as possible as an easy way to include a good variety. The most important food groups are proteins, fruit and vegetables, unrefined high-fibre carbohydrates (starches and sugars) and healthy fats. It is essential to eat from a range of different sources of each of these food groups. For instance, get your protein from chicken, fish, red meat and pulses throughout the week.

Part of moderate eating is that you can spoil yourself once in a while with a small treat, rather than feeling deprived, as this often leads to overindulging at a later stage. Choose a homemade treat or good-quality product and appreciate a small portion for what it is.

2. A balanced plate of food. Always remember to keep meals balanced. Fill half of your plate with fruit and vegetables; only one quarter with a portion of unrefined, high-fibre starch, and the last quarter with a portion of lean protein. Add a small portion of healthy oil or fat. For example, enjoy salad with olive oil or avocado slices, roasted butternut and cauliflower and a portion of pan-fried fish or chicken.

Portions should be moderate, yet filling enough. Young children should have smaller portions than adults. If you are very active, you may need slightly bigger portions to keep you satisfied and stabilise your blood sugar levels. The size of the palm of your hand is often used as a broad guide for a portion.

3. Know your body. Learn which foods make you feel food long after the meal and which foods leave you feeling uncomfortable. If foods like bread or pasta leaves you feeling bloated or you find that it slows down you metabolism, rather avoid these. Foods with lots of sugar, salt or artificial preservatives are known to aggravate symptoms like headaches, eczema, blocked sinuses or dry skin. Also learn to discern whether you are really hungry or actually thirsty, and not just bored or stressed.
Part of moderate eating is that you can spoil yourself once in a while with a small treat, rather than feeling deprived, as this often leads to overindulging at a later stage. Choose a homemade treat or good-quality product and appreciate a small portion for what it is.

4. Reduce the amount of sugar and avoid too much salt and processed foods. These ingredients in food are really not good for you. Rather eat as fresh and natural as possible. Too much sugar leads to weight gain, can cause mood swings and spikes in blood sugar levels and can negatively affect your immune system. Eating too much salt can increase your blood pressure. That is why it is so important to manage how much sugar, salt and processed food you eat.
5. Increase the amount of good quality fats. For many years we were told that fat should rather be avoided as far as possible. Today we know that the quality of the fat is what is really important and that the quantity should be controlled. Healthy fats like those found in avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds and oily fish like sardines, mackerel, fresh tuna and salmon should be enjoyed regularly. Mono-unsaturated fats (like Omega-3 fatty acids) are important for healthy brain function, skin, hair and nails, immune system, hormones and metabolism.

5 Practical applications

1. Choose fresh products as far as possible. Homemade is always the best. So if you buy fresh ingredients, you can decide how you want to prepare them. Then you will always know what goes into every meal.
2. Limit the use of processed ingredients and seasonings. Sometimes this is unavoidable (for convenience), but if you do need to use them, choose wisely. Always read the food labels to know what is in your food and make the best choice. A tin of fish or lentils can be a great pantry ingredient, but buy fish in water, not in oil, and pulses in water with as little salt and sugar added as possible, instead of a salty brine. Be aware of hidden ingredients in pre-prepared marinades, stocks, sauces or ready meals.
3. Season food with natural, fresh seasonings like herbs, ginger, garlic, salt-free spices and lemon. Substitute stocks and stock powders for strong Rooibos tea to limit salt intake. Rather ‘sweeten’ a stew or soup with carrots, apples or sweet potato to avoid just adding sugar or sugary ingredients. Lemon brings out the natural flavours in food without the need for too much salt. Think of lemon as the ‘new salt’.
4. Prepare food using healthy cooking methods. If food is perfectly cooked, it retains its natural flavour, texture and nutritional value. This way you don’t need to cover or ‘revive’ it with unhealthy sauces and seasonings. Choose methods like grilling, roasting, pan-frying and lightly simmering, rather than cooking into much water or oil or deep-frying.
5. Start to understand the synergy between ingredients to prepare flavourful meals. Experiment and combine a few ingredients that work well together, rather than using lots of different ingredients. If you struggle, invest in a good recipe book with healthy recipes. This way you make the most of complementing flavours and will find that meals will be far more satisfying. Once you get this right, you will enjoy nourishing and delicious yet healthy meals. You will always finish eating thinking, ‘Oh, that was a good meal!’

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