We sat down with Wholefood for Families’ Nutritionist, Emma Dean to unpack some of the misconceptions around nutrition and the common barriers that can prevent us from eating healthy.
Healthy eating and nutrition can seem confusing sometimes. We are surrounded by many different eating principles and guidelines, why is this?
You are right, there is so much information out there at the moment, which can be a good thing in terms of having access to resources, but it can also feel overwhelming for many people who are looking to improve their health and food choices.
Going back to basics, we need to remind ourselves of what nutrition is and the purpose of food. Our bodies are made up of dynamic cells and complex systems that are interdependent, they initiate and regulate each other, develop, communicate, heal, recycle and eliminate all on their own, as long as we provide the right ingredients and environment.
The purpose of food is to provide our bodies with the energy, substrates and nutrients required to keep all of this working efficiently and for as long as possible.
Looking beyond nutrition, food is also a core part of our social connection and pleasure in life, as it should be! Food is what brings us together and always has.
The problem is we are literally overwhelmed with food options and for the majority of us food is readily available at any time of day.
Adding to this, food marketing is very clever. We are also surrounded with many social media accounts promoting different eating principles and perspective on 'healthy eating'. This can easily feel overwhelming and create confusion about the direction we should go in rather than simply connecting to our own body, listening to how our body feels eating certain foods and our true hunger cues.
So what does ‘healthy eating’ actually mean?
Put simply, healthy eating is consuming the right foods for your body, so that all your nutritional requirements are met and that the foods you are consuming, or how you consume them, don’t harm your body.
There are standard guidelines for healthy eating suggesting recommended food groups, serving sizes and intake levels of macronutrients (protein, carbs, fibre and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) for the average person at each life stage, but we also need to consider individual requirements or medical conditions when determining what foods should be on our ‘healthy’ list.
What are some of the misconceptions around healthy eating?
The biggest one is that eating healthy foods is expensive. Yes, sadly buying ‘organic’ can cost more and it’s crazy how cheap highly processed food is, but if you keep your meal plans simple, plan ahead, buy local wholefoods, eat seasonally and most importantly, smaller portions, it is possible to not spend a fortune eating fresh wholefoods. Another misconception is that healthy meals should look like the posts we see on social media.
The trick to making long-lasting improvements with your food choices is to keep things simple and make gradual changes. Focus on a number of meals that you find easy to prepare and enjoy, and make some simple healthier ingredient ‘swaps’ to increase diversity of nutrients and build confidence in exploring new foods. Once you have that down-pat, start exploring some new recipes with those recent ingredient additions you are now mastering. If it looks like it should be on the cover of Vogue, awesome! If not, have a laugh and just enjoy the flavours.
It also doesn’t have to be hard to eat healthy when you are on the run, or eating out. A quick bit of forward thinking and prep will see you with some healthy snacks in your bag/pocket, which could be enough to keep you going till you have time to sit down and peacefully eat a healthy meal. When eating out, there are generally many options on a menu, it’s about making the right choices, or the best of those available and not over-eating.
What are some barriers to healthy eating?
One of the biggest barriers can be our relationship with food; unhealthy behaviours and habits that sabotage our ability to maintain a healthy foundation of eating, once we know what foods to eat. Part of this is that we have lost touch with our true hunger cues. There are many external cues that drive us to eat, such as the time of day, social situations, boredom, habits, and then the internal cues such as emotions, reward and pleasure centres in our brains, gut health and nutrient imbalances.
It can be challenging to overcome these aspects of food behaviour, yet it is really important to know why you are eating what you are and how to change that without a sense of depravation, exclusion or loss of pleasure. A game-changing mind-shift is required, where you alter what food means to you and how you use it.
Another huge barrier to healthy eating is marketing. Unfortunately, food advertising is everywhere and it influences us to be thinking about food a lot, and choose certain foods over others. We also need to be aware of misleading statements and images on food packaging that make us think something its healthier than it actually is. Knowing how to read a food label or ingredient list is paramount to healthy eating, especially for kids as they are key targets for food marketing. Think of it as a life skill!
Lastly, our sense of time and pressure in our daily lives can be a barrier. It can be hard finding the headspace to think of, let alone create, healthy meals that are diverse in nutrients and keep the family excited about exploring new foods. Support in meal planning is really useful and not putting too much pressure on yourself, if it’s eggs on toast tonight that’s fine, just add some veggie sticks and avocado, then make up for it tomorrow night!
Emma is a qualified Nutritionist passionate about reducing the complexity around food, health and wellbeing. Her approach is holistic, supporting physical, mental and emotional aspects of eating so that individuals and their family create change around their beliefs, dialogue and habits with food.
Emma has a private practice on the far north NSW Coast, where she works within the local community and NDIS space, as well as supporting clients online through her business, Su Luna.
Information provided is not a substitute for a professional medical opinion, nor is it a diagnosis. Please seek the advice of your GP if you have any concerns around your health and/or to consult with them first regarding any changes to your diet and lifestyle