Ten rules of healthier eating

Regardless of how active you are, eating healthily can make a huge difference to your life – and your running. If you’re just starting out, then a few tweaks to your diet can easily deliver more energy to power your running.

Healthy eating is also a key factor if you’re trying to lose weight or simply maintain a good level of fitness. It can even reduce the risk of illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer. Here are 10 healthy-eating rules to kick-start your new regime…

Variety is the spice of life

“Fill your diet with a wide range of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, eggs, pulses, nuts, seeds, wholegrains and naturally low fat dairy foods, ” says TV chef Jamie Oliver. There’s no need to get obsessed with eating your greens, either. Different coloured fruit and veg provide the body with different nutrients to stay strong and healthy. Red peppers, for example, contain more vitamin C than oranges.

Don’t ignore the labels

Food labels may seem boring but if you pay attention to them you’ll find healthy eating so much easier. Most supermarket packaging now includes the red, amber and green traffic-light coding, which should make it easy to see if a product contains high amounts of fat, saturated fat, sugar or salt. Stick to greens and a few ambers if possible. Also, pay attention to exactly what the label refers to – sometimes it may be the entire pack of food, at other times just a certain portion size.

Three meals a day

Aim to eat three balanced meals a day, with healthy snacks in between if necessary. Breakfast is important so don’t skip it, or you will probably end up more hungry later and eat too much. To balance your meals, aim to include more fruit and vegetables, foods high in fibre (wholemeal bread, beans and pulses), low-fat dairy products and starchy foods like rice, pasta and bread. Cut down on processed meat, crisps, ready meals, sweets, biscuits, cream and cakes.

Don’t rely on supplements

Instead of splashing out on vitamin pills, try to ensure you get all the nutrients you need from the food you eat. Certain pills might give you the recommended daily amount of a particular vitamin or mineral but a healthy diet should also contain protein, fibre etc in the form of calories, which no supplement provides.

Choose the right type of fats

The British Heart Foundation warns against eating too much saturated fat, which is found in butter, meat and in many cheeses. Trans fats – found in foods such as biscuits, cakes and pastries – are also bad for you. Unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, almonds, avocado, walnuts and oily fish, are a healthier choice.

Drink water instead of other drinks

As Jamie Oliver puts it, “Water is an essential part of your diet. Drink plenty of water and avoid empty calories from things such as fizzy drinks, energy drinks or juices with added sugar. Eat your calories, don’t drink them.” A 340ml serving of unsweetened apple juice can have as many as 175 calories in it, while a glass of water has none.

Always have a plan

If you haven’t planned what you’re going to eat in advance, it’s easy to give in to a takeaway or a quick fix at the last minute instead of shopping for healthy ingredients. Set aside some time at the weekend to plan and buy healthy food for the week ahead to prevent this. Leslie Bonic, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh, says, “If you’ve got fruit, veg, dairy, lean meat and grains in there, the crisps, biscuits and fizzy drinks become the top-off instead of the major component. There just isn’t room for the bad stuff.”

Watch your salt intake

Too much salt is associated with an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, which in turn puts you at a greater risk of developing heart disease. The British Nutrition Foundation advises that adults should eat no more than six grams of salt a day. Check food labels for salt content and remember that a high salt content is over 1.5g per 100g, and a low salt content is 0.3g per 100g. Good alternatives to adding salt to your cooking are herbs, spices, lemon, mustard or vinegar.

Make the most of your freezer

Studies have shown that frozen vegetables often contain higher levels of vitamin C than fresh vegetables. “Frozen sweetcorn and peas are a great standby,” says nutritionist Fiona Hunter. “Add a handful to dishes like spaghetti bolognaise or shepherd’s pie. Frozen spinach is also great for soup or curries.”

Tuck in to some alternative foods

There’s often too much choice in supermarkets these days, and it’s easy to stick with the familiar, which isn’t always the healthiest option. Try some of the following less common foods – all of which offer a host of health benefits:

  • Chia seeds
  • Unsalted nut butter
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Legumes
  • Dark chocolate
  • Fresh salmon or tuna steaks
  • Kale, Brussels sprouts or cauliflower
  • Sriracha hot sauce
  • Portobello mushrooms
  • Avocado
  • Lentils