“You are what you eat, and sooner or later it will be reflected in your health,” said nutritional consultant and founder of Food-Life.cz Iva Veselá. A cliché…? Yes. But the reason these sayings become so popular is, well, because they’re usually true.
After a particularly binge-ful Saturday evening of homemade nachos, beer, and Milka chocolate, I must admit that the next day I did feel fatty, greasy, and carbonated, just like the food I had consumed.
I was in the throes of the winter blues, and my coping strategy involved eating a lot of comfort food (a.k.a. junk food) and watching mindless TV shows streamed via computer. My interview with nutritional expert Iva Veselá couldn’t have come at a better time.
Here is what I learned.
Renouncing your Junkie Ways
Junk food habits, while giving an instant jolt of gratification, actually prove self-destructive in the long run, much like a drug. In Iva’s article “Sugar: the Drug of Civilization” , she compares the development of that infamous white powder heroin to another well-known white substance: refined sugar.
Poppies >> opium >> morphine >> heroin
Sugarcane >> molasses >> brown sugar >> refined (white) sugar
According to Iva, refined sugar contributes to fatigue, moodiness and depression. Hmm…I wondered if my winter blues could be subdued by a simple change in diet.
If you have an iron will, the obvious solution is to eliminate these subpar foods from one day to the next. In my case, going from nachos to carrot sticks overnight just wouldn’t cut it. Iva suggests a gradual change rather than going cold turkey—a strategy she calls healthy replacements—for people like me.
Let’s take a look at a common dietary “sin” in the Czech Republic: fried cheese and beer. A good first step is switching to a non-alcoholic beer and a non-fried cheese, and then slowly reducing your intake. It might not be possible to give it up altogether, but indulging in moderation is the key.
Six Commandments for Weight Loss
I don’t know about you, but it always helps my mood when I look at the scale and see the needle point a few kilos lower than the previous week.
Iva gave me six basic commandments for weight loss:
1) thou shall not overeat
2) thou shall not eat late at night
3) thou shall watch your carbohydrate and fat intake
4) thou shall exercise regularly
5) thou shall stay well-hydrated
6) thou shall get enough rest
It’s nothing revolutionary, but with our modern lives we tend to stray from these simple principles, especially getting enough sleep at night. Regarding specific kinds of food and exercise conducive to weight loss, Iva said it’s difficult to generalize because everyone’s body is different. “Food for one person could be poison for another. For example, garlic acts as a natural antibiotic and has antiseptic properties, but for some, it causes stomach irritation and heartburn.” If you want a specific regimen tailored to your body, of course, it’s best to speak with a nutritional consultant.
Supplements can help fill in the nutritional cracks in your diet and improve your mood and energy levels. Especially in winter, when the quality of fruits and vegetables are lower, Iva recommended supplementing our daily diet from natural sources. Some superfoods which are trending at the moment include:
- Wheat and barley grass, which are cereal grasses closely related to dark green leafy vegetables, contain concentrated amounts of vitamins and minerals, in particular, chlorophyll, and are useful during body detox. Though extremely similar, barley grass has the added benefit of being a free radical collector (which is said to decrease your risk of cancer).
- Chlorella is freshwater algae that can be added to your diet in pill or powder form. In addition to a dense amount of vitamins and minerals, an extremely high amount of protein can be found in chlorella, making it a staple supplement for many vegetarians. Another main usage is for body detoxification because it’s been shown to remove heavy metals from your body. (*It contains a high amount of vitamin K, so if you are taking blood-thinning medication, this supplement is a no-no*)
- Chia seeds come from a plant native to Central America. They contain a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and dietary fiber. Many endurance athletes swear by them as an extreme energy source. Health food shops often market chia seeds as a weight loss aid, but current studies are inconclusive.
- Quinoa is a pseudo-grain indigenous to the Andean region in South America. It’s special because it’s a complete protein (a rarity for plant-based food) and is a good source of dietary fiber and other vitamins and minerals. It can be used in place of rice, barley, couscous…etc. It has a mild, nutty flavor and tastes good just on its own.
Superfoods can be found in bio and health shops around the city, but it’s cheaper to buy them online (try a search on www.heureka.cz).
Disclaimer: the benefits of taking dietary supplements are still being widely debated in the scientific world, so I suggest doing your own research before using them.
Getting It Right from the Beginning
Perhaps the most sensible solution to our modern junk food habits is to simply get it right from the beginning. For you parents out there, Iva has some tips on how to encourage and nurture healthy eating habits in our children. Here are some of my favorites (to read Iva’s full article click here):
- Expose your child to a wide variety of tastes. Maybe they won’t like it the first time, but keep offering it in small amounts—sometimes the third time is the charm. (Never force them to eat something they don’t like, though, as it will just build up their resistance to that food.)
- Give your child some control over what he/she eats—let them choose which vegetables and fruits they’d like for that day.
- Set a good example—kids are clever and if they see you eating junk food instead of veggies, they will pick-up on it.
- Kids love to help so if you involve them in the preparation—peeling, cutting…etc.—they will be more likely to eat it.
So, to sum it all up, I would have to get rid of the refined sugar in my diet, replace my red wine intake with grape juice, and go to bed earlier instead of watching TV. I guess I have my work cut out for me. Oh well, at least there is still hope for my daughter.