How do you make healthy eating choices? I don’t claim to be some health expert but by studying wine, the biochemistry of which which is intricately connected to the molecular structure of food and human biology, I might be a little more qualified than most. Cooking is and has always been one of my greatest pastimes and ongoing passions, so I am constantly wanting to create meals that are both satisfying but also promote healthy eating choices. This is especially difficult when we face constraints with time or money, something that I discuss more in this article. 

A Food Lover’s Worst Nightmare 

My own personal experience with illness has played a large part with this fascination. In 2012 I was diagnosed with Grave’s Disease also known as Hyperthyroidsim. A condition where, the thyroid produces too much of the thyroid hormone(s), increasing your metabolism but can also altering many other hormones that affect everything from digestion to mood. An auto-immune response is generated, and hence the issues with IBS and gluten allergies ensued.

 

It’s a food lovers worst nightmare: thanks to these new found allergies, I can no longer fully enjoy my favourite cuisines of Authentic Chinese and Italian pasta. But the silver lining is that I learnt so much at that time about health, about eating clean, about balance and self control. I am lucky (although its also mildly concerning) that due to our ongoing increase in allergies nation wide, there is now a much larger plethora of gluten-free options available to me now than five years ago. I also learnt a great deal about myself: for example that I can have a little bread, a little cheese, and a little wine, but never all three at the same time. 

Enjoying a picnic with cheese, balanced by good fats (olives, nuts), accompanied by fresh strawberries and basil pesto act as a contrast to the richer flavours. Even a simple rocket salad dressed with lemon and capers would suffice.

Enjoying a picnic with cheese, with some ‘good’ fats (olives, nuts), accompanied by fresh strawberries and basil pesto which act as a contrast to the richer flavours. Even a simple rocket salad dressed with lemon and capers would suffice.


To Diet or Not To Diet 

It is unrealistic to say that we must “always eat healthy” and “need to diet to lose weight”, but we all do it. The issue with this way of thinking is that subconciously we deem it a negative thing or a short term solution. Eating healthy is about a lifestyle change, and it does not have to be perfect. Besides, what works for me, might not work for you, because our bodies and daily needs are all very different. A positive statement such as, “I would like to make more healthy eating choices,” is going to motivate you more than any talk of a diet or fad will. Once we have this in our minds, its all about overcoming any other obstacles that might prevent us from making healthy eating choices. 

 

Eating healthy is a challenge for several reasons, but I think that there is a whole range of myths that we can debunk here. For me healthy eating should be about making food from scratch, incorporating more whole foods and plants into your diet. In 2015 there was a study into the Blue Zones around the world (areas where people live longer) and a common denominator was also that they eat less meat. But, that does not mean you have to cut meat out. Simply choosing vegetables with more colours not only adds vibrancy to your plate but give you the antioxidants necessary to boost immunity and fight early onset of Alzheimer’s. Eating “whole foods” that are less processed, provide vitamins and minerals to have sustained energy levels, healthy skin, improve digestion and weight management. 

I love this dish of Salmon, asparagus, vegetables and bocconcini. Ask what seaonsal fare a restaurant has on the menu, be rewarded with simple and inspiring dishes.

I love this dish of Salmon, asparagus, beetroot and bocconcini. Ask what seaonsal fare a restaurant has on the menu, be rewarded with simple and inspiring dishes.

My rendition at home of seasonal and budget fare at home; but with bacon, grilled asparagus on a bed of rocket, goat’s cheese, mint & dijon.


Step One: Balance // Feeling versus thinking

First of all, it can be really hard to come up with a healthy meal everyday for dinner, especially when your tired, or it’s winter and you just crave something full of comfort (which usually means full of cheese for me). What I think is that if you planned to have a chicken salad, but you come home and crave something rich and full of red meat, then there is every possibility you need to give in and give yourself what you need at that point in time. For every night I have something a little more fatty, I try and have something super healthy at another point that week. Sometimes we need to give in to the urges, and then own it!  Don’t feel guilty about that extra helping of ice cream, because guilt in my opinion only leads to eating more guilty pleasure foods. Doing what you feel like sometimes is really important, because we need balance in order to make a more sustainable and long lasting change towards healthy eating choices. 

Crayfish Eggs Benedict at Hardware Cafe, Melbourne.

Crayfish Eggs Benedict at Hardware Cafe, Melbourne, fuel for a long day working a wine event.

The key thing I think is to be in tune with what your body wants and needs. I read an article in Viva today about Kelly Gibney, author of the highly successful Bonnie Delicious Blog. She says: “Slow down, chew your food and pay attention to how you feel afterwards…. It’s common sense when it comes to nutrition. Play around and notice if what you eat makes you feel delicious or rubbish.” She also stresses the importance of variety, cooking from scratch, but maintains balance is key, “not stressing if the diet [which I’d like to replace with the words ‘lifestyle change’] goes off the rails.” Eating out can make this tricky; but its all about balance. 

A healthy breakfast of Chia Pudding, freeze dried apple, mango puree and raspberries, at Operator25 in Melbourne.

Chia pudding, freeze dried apple, mango puree, pineapple and raspberries, pure sustenance at Operator25, Melbourne.


Step Two: Budget // Planning your meals

Another reason eating healthy is often hard is this idea that healthy food is always expensive. Yes, quinoa and buckwheat cost more than white bread, but integrating oats for breakfast and brown rice are options too. A lot of people put emphasis on eating organic, I agree with this but personally find it unrealistic in my budget to buy everything organic. If you make things from scratch rather than buying pre-packaged or ready made meals in-store, you are already eliminating a whole alphabet of chemicals and additives from your diet. Yes, its probably more costly to buy vegetables than 2 minute noodles, but we are so blessed in New Zealand to have such amazing produce available to us year round so we should learn to embrace that privilege as much as possible. 

Nothing more wholesome and satisfying than harvesting produce from my own garden.

Nothing more wholesome and satisfying than harvesting fresh produce from my own garden.

The most important part to making healthy food affordable is planning, which I also wrote about here. If I allocate just half an hour before grocery shopping to deciding on our meals for the week, then I have a much higher chance of eating right and not giving into take-aways or pre-dinner snacks. Maybe it is offsetting more costly meat meals with something like tofu curry or basic but hearty soup. Whatever it is, try at least one new thing every week. Then in the same diary that you plan your meals and shopping lists, you could make a note of what meals really worked for you so that you can use the same meal ideas or recipes again. 

Lentil and Quinoa Curry, with all the trimmings to add flavour.

Creamy lentil and mushroom soup, with all the trimmings to add flavour. Find the recipe here.

When your Vegetarian friend remind you that even butternut pumpkin can be the star of a meal, stuffed with feta, grilled mushrooms, capsicum, breadcrumbs, herbs and spices.

When your Vegetarian friend reminds you that even butternut pumpkin can be the star of a meal, stuffed with feta, grilled mushrooms, capsicum, breadcrumbs, herbs and spices. Try this recipe. 


Step 3: Baby Steps // Making it sustainable 

The other reason it can be difficult, because who really has the time to create epic healthy dishes every day? Sure, I can make rice, salmon and brocoli in less than 20 minutes but this dish would neither inspire me to be healthy nor satiate my need for complex flavours. Due to time constraints, the real challenge is also making healthy food that is consistently exciting. Experiment with some easy healthy meals that are easy to make and that you have the ingredients on hand for at any given time so you don’t get caught out. For example I always have gluten free pasta in the pantry for my cheat days when I really cannot be bothered thinking. I can whip up pasta with just cherry tomatoes, basil pesto and feta, or I could just have a fancy rendition of avocado on toast. 

Avocado, feta, basi, spring onion and apricot relish on grain toast. Because sometimes simple is better.

Avocado, feta, basil, spring onion and mango chutney on gluten free grain toast. Because sometimes simple is better.

So what then is key to integrating healthy eating choices in your day to day life and making it a long term lifestyle change? First of all do not radically change everything. Start with small steps “this week I will buy an olive oil spray to limit and control the amount of fat I cook with”. Or maybe it’s something like “I will get my vegetables from the local veggie store because I know they have less sprays when grown by local farmers.”

Because dining out does not have to be unhealthy: our family favourite for feasting is Tok Tok, Takapuna. Asian Fusion food that is largely gluten free and allergy friendly, big on flavour and celebrating all things green.

Because dining out does not have to be unhealthy: our family favourite for feasting is Tok Tok, Takapuna. Asian Fusion food that is largely gluten free and allergy friendly, big on flavour and celebrating all things green.

I wish I could tell you that there is a one-size-fits-all rule, but what works the best for you will be different for all of us. But I hope that integrating these positive mindsets and small steps will help you to make the right healthy eating choices for YOU. The take home message here I think is that if you can eat more plant based and whole foods, you will begin to feel more energized, combat illness and achieve a healthier you.

 

Finally I just want to leave you with this:

“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” ~Jim Rohn