Modern life puts an immense strain on our health.

Environmental changes, increased stress levels of work and play and changes in food production and eating habits place increased demands on our systems, requiring more nutritious foods and making good nutrition more challenging to achieve. Before you read on, we want you to take one key message with you: when choosing your food, think natural, nature knows best.

It is a common misunderstanding that good nutrition can’t be obtained through a vegan or vegetarian diet but that’s not the case. By eating a wide variety of plant foods alongside limiting or ideally avoiding refined and processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, white bread and pasta, it can.

Sugary foods contain empty calories, this means calories with no nutritional benefit; if anything, they put a strain on the body by using stored nutrients to metabolise and detoxify the food from your system.

Junk food also contains chemicals which the body will store as fat, this can make later attempts to lose fat difficult, unless you have a high nutrient diet. Fat storage of chemicals can be a protective mechanism that your body uses to avoid exposing itself to chemicals that can be harmful.

Changes you can make to aim for a balanced diet

  • Vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds and plant oils should be making up the bulk of your diet. If it looks natural, you could have picked it or planted it, it’s likely to be nutrient dense.
  • Try to eat a predominately raw food based diet.
  • Have home grown and local organic vegetables grown in selenium enriched soil.
  • Don’t wrap leftovers especially fat or hot food in cling film or reuse plastic water bottles.
  • Opt for caffeine free drinks and drink plenty of water.
  • Take a good-quality multivitamin and mineral to act as a ‘nutritional insurance policy’.
  • Combine vegetable proteins i.e. tofu with a nut smoothie. Plant foods don’t all contain ‘complete proteins’ like animal produce does, combining legumes with nuts or beans helps to achieve this.
  • Follow a gluten free diet.

Make space and get green fingered!

Ideally if you have the space, start your own veg patch. However small, it can be a great opportunity to eat fresh produce. You can enrich your own soil with nutrients such as selenium drops and use organic methods for treating plants to maximise their nutritional value.

Quite often supermarket bought produce is the subject of aggressive agricultural treatments in an effort to increase crop yield, however the impact of this is that these pesticides can often damage bacteria and fungi that support nutrient uptake by plants.

Soils now tend to be low in selenium, and deficiency of this essential mineral can be a contributing factor in the increasing number of people with a low thyroid function, slow metabolism, low energy and poor weight management.

Frozen food is your friend

If home grown food isn’t an option for you then consider increasing the amount of frozen veg in your weekly shop.

Frozen foods lock in essential vitamins and minerals meaning when you come to eat them there is a great nutritional value when compared to that of supermarket ‘fresh’ produce. How long have those potatoes been sat on your supermarkets shelves?

Once plant food is picked its nutrient levels begin to rapidly fall – the plant is dying. So when you next buy ‘fresh’ lettuce think about how long it’s been out of the ground and how long it may have taken to transport it to your supermarket’s shelves.

Preparation is key

Preparing food can also impact the nutrient value of foods. Raw is best, but if cooking fresh produce consider lightly steaming it so it’s still al dente. Steaming preserves some, but not all, water-soluble vitamins such as vitamins B and C which would otherwise leach into the water when boiled.

We all like to be a little lackadaisical with the use of frying pans and toasters but frying, toasting and browning foods can produces acrylamides, chemicals that can be carcinogenic (cancer forming).

With the occasional BBQ aim to have vegetables, preferably raw vegetables, which will contain plenty of antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E and minerals such as zinc and selenium which neutralise the negative effects of acrylamides.

Think Packaging

Ideally when packaging food, try not to reuse plastic or use flimsy plastic and aim for water bottles that state they are BPA free.

The structure of clingfilm and reused plastic water bottles can be damaged causing chemicals similar to the hormone oestrogen (not to be confused with plant oestrogens) to leach into your food and beverages. These chemicals when consumed over a period of time may have a negative impact on fertility and may be linked to hormonal cancers.

The drinks we choose

If you are growing foods in your garden, why not grow some mint which can even be grown on your window sill taking up minimal space? This can be really refreshing and beneficial to your digestive system by settling any potential discomfort after eating.

Other options are fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies, such as tomato juice and beetroot juice, there are so many options, be creative and make some of your own inventions.

Alcohol blues – alcohol depletes the system of most nutrients, especially B vitamins that are important for energy and mood. Make some ‘mocktails’ instead, they can be nutritious and what’s better than feeling very smug the following morning when you feel energetic and great?

Fizzy drinks and caffeine – can draw minerals such as zinc from the bones to alkalise the system. When levels of zinc are low it can impact on our reproductive system and the metabolism of carbohydrate rich foods.

Avoid gluten

Some benefits when removing gluten may include:

  • Improvement in mood
  • Bowel movement
  • Less bloating and more energy

A gluten free diet may be a lifestyle choice or a necessity if you have a severe gluten intolerance. Many people, even if they don’t initially suspect that they have a gluten sensitivity, feel benefits after just a couple of weeks of avoiding it.

How to manage a gluten free diet

The easiest way to manage a gluten free diet is to make your own meals where possible and use ingredients that are natural, this way you are less likely to be caught out by hidden gluten from packet foods.

Try different kinds of flour when making your own dishes such as rice or almond as they are a great substitute when trying to avoid gluten.

Try adding more vegetables and rice in place of where your gluten loaded foods would have originally been. Head over to our recipe section for some delicious dish suggestions.

Whilst shopping in the gluten free aisle it can look temping and appear to be the answer to all your cravings; bread, biscuits different types of flours and cakes, but be sure to check the ingredients.

Many gluten free foods, even breads and pastas, are heavily refined or loaded with processed fats and sugar to make up for missing gluten texture.

Gluten nutrient shortfalls

If you do have a gluten intolerance it would be a good idea to refer to our ‘nutrients you may be missing’ sections on vitamin B12, iron and vitamin D as these tend to be common deficiencies due to absorption issues.

Avoid dairy

Benefits to a dairy free diet may include;

  • Better skin
  • Improved bowel movement
  • Better mood
  • Less bloating

A dairy free diet can be a lifestyle, ethical or health decision.

A common health reason for avoiding dairy is due to a sugar that it contains called lactose. A lactose intolerance is caused by insufficient levels of a natural digestive aid called lactase which breaks lactose down into two simple sugars making it easier to absorb. When lactose isn’t digested it may irritate the digestive tract causing irritable bowel syndrome and dry itchy skin.

There are other dairy proteins that cause allergies as well such as whey, casein and albumin. The immune system may also react to these putting up defences to cause vomiting, diarrhoea, respiratory problems and dry itchy skin. The severity of these symptoms depends on your type of sensitivity.

How to manage a dairy free diet

A dairy free diet can be great, there are so many alternative options to having milk such as coconut, almond or rice milk. Remember to look for unsweetened versions where available.

Coconut milk can be especially good to incorporate into the diet if you have been suffering from dry skin as it is rich in fats such as lauric acid that will support the moisture in the skin.

If you are having dairy free cheese or yoghurts, do make sure you check the labels as they may still contain casein making them unsuitable for vegans.

Making food from scratch is always the easiest option as you know what you are eating, but if you do have packet food look out for hidden ingredients from milk such as lactic acid (E270).

Also, try not to get sold into shopping too much for products which state ‘dairy free’. Examples of these foods are dairy free chocolate, ice cream, cheese, soya yoghurts and custards. If you take a look at the labels you will often notice that dairy free options make up for their lack of dairy by including vast amounts of sugar and fat to give the product a desirable taste and texture.

Dairy nutrient shortfalls

There are concerns that a lack of dairy means a lack of calcium in the diet, this isn’t necessarily the case. If you are concerned, refer to our section ‘nutrients you may be missing‘ which covers calcium to help you support your levels.