Healthy Food Guide is 10 years old this year. I’m lucky enough to have been along for the whole ride, and as you might imagine, during that time I’ve learnt a few things. In the spirit of our back page, here are ‘10 things’ I’ve learnt.
1. What we eat is really important
When we’re young, we tend not to think too much about the impact of what we eat. If it tastes good and it’s fun, we’ll eat it. But as we grow up it becomes clear that the quality of what we put into our bodies is reflected in how we feel and, of course, how we look. A diet of fresh, whole, colourful food is going to make us look and feel better than a diet of brown and white processed food.
2. But don’t let it rule your life!
Paying attention to eating well is important but it’s not a good idea to obsess about it. Food is just food, after all, and when we let what and how we eat control us and make us feel guilty, ‘bad’ or wrong, we’re giving it much more importance than it deserves.
3. Diet trends come and go
In the world of healthy eating trends, nothing new is really new. When Healthy Food Guide started in 2005, the low-carb Atkins diet was in full swing. Despite this, many average Kiwis remained sceptical. Our January 2006 story titled ‘Carbohydrates: why you need more!’ struck a chord of relief with many readers and was one of our most popular issues at the time. Since then, we’ve seen many diets wax and wane in popularity. Low-carb seems to be having a moment again right now — it’ll be interesting to see if that sticks. In the meantime, I’ve learnt to be suspicious of any diet that divides foods into ‘allowed’ and ‘not allowed’ categories, and to expect another diet to be coming around the corner.
4. There’s always a baddie
Diet trends come and go but one thing’s stayed the same: there’s always a food or group of foods that some say should be avoided. Twenty years ago it was fat; 10 years ago it was carbs. Now it’s carbs again, or sugar, and if you’re on the Paleo diet it’s also grains, legumes, dairy, vegetable oils and potatoes. But to me, denial is not an enjoyable or sustainable way to think about eating. There’s really no need to ‘give up’ any foods to be healthy.
5. Superfoods aren’t, really
If there’s a baddie, there’s got to be a goodie — and over the years these have become not just good, but ‘superfoods’. But no one food, no matter what it is, is going to transform your health. Not coconut oil, not goji berries, not camel milk and certainly not — as I read with horror on my Facebook feed recently — bacon. There’s no such thing as a superfood. There’s only a super diet.
6. Myths persist, despite all evidence
In our wired world where everyone’s a publisher, myths hang around like ghosts. Some food myths that still persist 10 years on include: cellulite is caused by ‘toxins’ and a bad diet; raw veges are better than cooked; margarine is one molecule away from plastic; microwaves ‘kill’ food. (All untrue, by the way).
7. Slow and steady wins the race
Another thing that hasn’t changed in 10 years: a fair few of us are still keen to lose weight. I know we’ve brought many readers along with us who have learnt that the best way to lose weight, and keep it off for life, is to make small changes to everyday habits. Whether it’s changing your portion sizes or switching from sugary drinks to water, little things you can keep doing for life will always be better than drastic measures that you can’t keep going.
8. There is no ‘perfect’ diet
Since we all eat, we all have opinions and feelings about the ‘right’ way of eating. While it’s natural to tend towards thinking that our way is the best way, there are in fact lots of ways to eat healthily. The best way of eating for you is one that suits your life, family situation, budget and personality. Any diet that’s promoted as the only way for everyone to eat probably isn’t.
9. Treats are OK — but know what they are
A little bit of sugar (or fat, or salt) will not kill you. Treats make us happy. But we’ve lost touch with what treats are, over the years. They’re not everyday foods. So that chocolate or piece of cake is best kept for a weekly or monthly occasion, not a daily one.
10. Veges, veges and more veges
This should really be the first thing on your list. If there’s one thing that everyone in nutrition agrees on, and that research continuously backs up, it’s that the more vegetables we eat, the better. So whenever you can, just add more!