Many of my previous posts have focused on highly technical topics. However, working with clients and athletes has helped me to understand that going back to the basics is sometimes the best starting point. People eat food, not nutrients and sometimes the hardest task when working with new clients is helping them to make correct food choices. The purpose of this post is to help people make the correct choices.

Nutrition is a simple topic that has been made very complicated by a number of factors. Newspaper reports tell us one month that a particular food is good for us. Three months later another report tells us that this food is harmful to us. Supermarkets are full with shelves upon shelves of food promoting their virtues – low-fat; fortified with vitamins and iron; whole-grain etc. Sometimes it is difficult to make sense of this all and make the right choices when we are eating out or buying our weekly shop.

However, making the correct food choices is actually very easy. I always abide by the following quote when I visit the supermarket:

Real food comes from growing, living, green plants, not industrial processing plants.
Real food comes from a farm, not a factory.

Dr. Mark Lucan

What this tells me is that fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, poultry and dairy should make up the majority of my shopping basket. I will buy some processed foods, but not too much.

Processed foods are foods that come in a box, packet, tin or some form of packaging. They will generally contain an ingredients list and nutrition data (e.g. amount of carbohydrates, protein, fat etc). Some healthy foods come in processed form (e.g. milk, cheese, yoghurt, tinned fish etc). How do you know which processed foods to choose ad which to avoid? Here are some simple rules to follow:

  • The longer the list of ingredients, the more processed the foods are.
  • The more additives, flavourings and colourants in the list of ingredients, the more processed the food is.
  • Does the food contain added sugars in the ingredients list? If it does, the food is more processed.
  • Does the food contain trans-fats (hydrogenated), added vegetable oils etc? Avoid if it does.

As an example, look at the following two yoghurts:

Ingredients  Nutrition Data
Greek Style Yoghurt Low-fat Strawberry Yoghurt Greek Style Yoghurt Low-fat Strawberry Yoghurt
Organic natural yogurt (from milk)
Lactobacillus acidophilus & Bifidobacterium.
organic low fat milk,
organic skimmed milk powder,
organic strawberries (8.1%),
organic cane sugar,
organic lemon juice from concentrate,
organic tapioca starch,
stabiliser (organic carob gum),
natural flavouring,
organic concentrated aronia juice,
active cultures (Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus),
probiotic cultures (L.casei and Bifidus).
Typical values Per 100g:
Energy 109kcal
Fat 8.3g
of which saturates 5.2g
Carbohydrate 5.0g
of which sugars 5.0g
Protein 3.6g
Typical values Per 100g:
Energy: 85kCal
Fat: 1.7g
of which saturates 1.1g
Carbohydrate 13.1g
of which sugars 12.8
Protein 4.3g

Comparing the two yoghurts the first thing that stands out is that the Low-fat yoghurt has many more ingredients than the Greek Style yoghurt. The second thing is that the low-fat yoghurt has over twice the amount of sugar compared to the Greek style yoghurt. The over-consumption of sugar in the modern diet has been implicated in obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and a host of other diseases. As a rule of thumb, choose foods with the lower number of ingredients and the least amount of sugar.

This brings me to the next point, when you remove fat from foods it is replaced with sugar. Reducing fat intake and increasing sugar consumption is not a good idea for your waistline or health! Fat is a whole area of nutrition that is currently undergoing a radical re-think. Basically, the low-fat dogma that has persisted for the last 25-30 years may be harmful to our health and may be responsible for our increasing waist lines (due to fat being replaced with sugar). However, this is a topic for another day.

The last point when it comes to whole vs processed foods is that whole foods are more filling. They contain more fibre and water which are naturally filling and will help to curb your appetite. Processed foods aren’t as filling and as a result you are more likely to overeat. Finally, whole foods contain more vitamins, minerals and other natural substances that are beneficial for our health. Processed foods are often fortified with vitamins and minerals which leads me to think – how poor is the nutritional content of the original food that they need to add vitamins and minerals!

Hopefully this post will help you to choose more nutritious foods over less healthy options when eating out and shopping.

Thanks for reading,

Kevin Beasley