As a personal trainer in London, I regularly advise my clients on their eating habits. One question I’m often asked is “so what’s the healthiest diet in the world?” My answer is that rather than going on a short-term commercial diet, make a permanent change in your eating habits which is sustainable and ticks the following 10 boxes:
1. No excessive calorie restrictions
So many commercial diets require you to virtually starve yourself. This is totally counter-productive, as it slows your metabolism right down, causes you to hoard existing body-fat, depletes your energy levels, and leaves you nutrient deficient with all the health consequences that flow from semi-starvation.
If you want to lose weight, reduce your calories to around 2,000 a day for men, and around 1,700 for women. These daily calorie figures are just rough guidelines, as everyone is different in height/weight/age/activity levels, all of which should be taken into account.
2. Adequate protein
Most commercial diets these days (Atkins, Dukan, Paleo etc) are high in protein, sometimes too high. Protein is vital for growth, maintenance and repair, and should be consumed in moderate portions throughout the day. But excessive amounts overload your liver and kidneys and the excess just gets flushed out of your system.
Avoid junk-food protein such as sausages, meat pies, takeaways, ready-meals.
3. Adequate carbs
The problem with the majority of modern commercial diets is their demonization of all carbs. The truth is that you need enough complex carbs (as opposed to refined and processed carbs) as your primary source of energy. So include in your diet things like brown rice, quinoa, sweet potato, and oats.
The carbs to avoid at all costs are junk-food carbs like crisps, chips, cakes, pastries, biscuits, ready meals, the list goes on. You also need to avoid highly processed carbs like white bread, white rice, white pasta.
4. Eat “good fats”
Some diets, like Atkins, recommend plenty of fats, but fail to distinguish between good and bad fats. Try to cut down on saturated fats (such as cream, fatty cuts of red meat, chicken skin, cheese), eliminate all trans/hydrogenated fats, and eat more unsaturated fats. Foods high in ‘good fats’ include avocados, olive oil, salmon, nuts and seeds.
There are some crazy diets out there which advocate cutting out all fat. This would seriously damage your health, as fat is a vital part of any healthy diet, for hundreds of functions in the body. So eat good fats daily, but eat them in moderation.
5. Drink water and other healthy drinks
Water, green tea (with a slice of lemon to boost absorption of green tea’s antioxidants), and home-made vegetable juices (include young leaf spinach for its anti-cancer properties), are all healthy drinks. Avoid sweet fizzy drinks like the plague, even diet versions with sweeteners like aspartame.
6. Plenty of vegetables
Focus mainly on green leafy vegetables like cabbage, spinach and spring greens. Broccoli is a superb superfood, rich in many nutrients. Also include a wider range of vegetables, but always keep green veg at the top of your list. Aim for around 5 portions of veg a day. A portion is the size of your fist. And always eat more veg than fruit.
7. Fruit in moderation
I recommend 2-3 portions of fruit a day, and make one of these an orange for the vitamin C. Any more than 3 fruit a day is not necessary, and the excess fruit-sugar (fructose) will just get converted to fat by the liver. Too much fruit also plays havoc with your blood-sugar levels.
I had a personal training client in north London who ate way too much fruit, in the belief that it was good for her to eat as much fruit as she could. She was very overweight, and when she cut down on the fruit and started eating more green veg, her weight came down.
8. Eat garlic, ginger, herbs & spices
These things not only make your healthy meals tastier, they have positive health benefits too. Garlic has strong anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, as well as helping lower blood pressure. Ginger has similar properties. Dried herbs such as oregano are rich in antioxidants, and spices like chilli-powder raise your immune system.
9. Include some healthy treats, in moderation
A couple of squares of dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids) twice a week, a couple of glasses of red wine a week, and cocoa made from sugar-free cocoa powder, are all treats which can actually boost your health, due to the antioxidants they contain. But they’re only good for you in very small quantities, so don’t kid yourself that more is better.
10. Don’t skip meals
Your body needs a steady flow of nutrients, so don’t skip meals, particularly breakfast.
Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London with 11 years’ experience helping clients to eat more healthily.