eating simply, simply eating


Food is essential to life, but what we chose to eat makes a huge difference to our physical and mental health, both in the short and long term. What’s more, the benefits from eating real food are cumulative – with smart choices being rewarded in a virtuous circle of positive effects.

A new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported in Medical News Today offers further support, finding that people who improve the quality of their diets over time, eating more whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and fish and less red and processed meats and sugary beverages, may significantly reduce their risk of premature death. It is also the first study to show that improving diet quality over at least a dozen years is associated with lower total and cardiovascular mortality. Due to be published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the report further underscores the importance of maintaining healthy eating patterns over the long term, indicating even modest improvements in diet quality could meaningfully influence mortality risk. Conversely, worsening diet quality may increase the risk.

This comprehensive study analysed the association between changes in diet quality among nearly 74,000 adults over a 12-year period (1986-1998) and their risk of dying over the subsequent 12 years (1998-2010). Food groups that contributed most to an improvement in diet quality were whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and fish or n-3 fatty acids.

Emphasising how even small changes can bring tremendous cumulative benefits, it found a 20-percentile increase in healthy diet-quality scores – the kind of increase that can be achieved by swapping out just one serving of red or processed meat for one daily serving of nuts or legumes – was linked with an 8%-17% reduction in the risk of death, depending on the diet score. In contrast, worsening diet quality was associated with a 6%-12% increase in the risk.

Among those who maintained healthier scores there was a 9%-14% reduction in mortality from any cause. Among those who had relatively unhealthy diets at the beginning of the study but whose diet scores improved the most, the risk of death in subsequent years was also significantly reduced.

A particularly important point that was reported was made by Frank Hu, professor and chair of the Harvard Chan School Department of Nutrition and senior author of the study; “Our results highlight the long-term health benefits of improving diet quality with an emphasis on overall dietary patterns rather than on individual foods or nutrients. A healthy eating pattern can be adopted according to individuals’ food and cultural preferences and health conditions. There is no one-size-fits-all diet.”

eating simply, simply eating

Getting into the habit of making the better food choices is the trick, and this can be a lot easier than you might expect, with some of the most important adaptions simple and straightforward. These can include:

  • Supersizing on fruit and vegetables
  • The inclusion of a generous amount of fibre, legumes and healthy fats
  • A daily probiotic
  • Switching to 100% whole grain carbohydrates
  • Keeping protein lean and red meat consumption moderate
  • Eating real foods, avoiding highly processed food when you can
  • Cooking and trying to make it part of your daily routine.

This doesn’t mean we should become afraid to allow ourselves a small amount of processed foods we may crave – “treats & cheats” within Just Routine. More than a taste, but less than a portion is my rule of thumb, but it’s important to recognise that addiction to such tastes can lead to poor long term nutritional choices. All too often we can find the ‘occasional treat’ can become a part of our regular food consumption.

Just Routine

Just Routine is a real food App we at No Targets have been developing over the past number of years to help make it as easy as possible for people make the adjustment from processed to real food. A foodbook, it’s a simple guide to preparing and eating real food, enabling planning and preparation of delicious recipes, while sharing ideas with others, as well as recording consumption in an easily updated food diary.

The foundation of Just Routine is its commitment to delivering the wider benefits from good food. Achieving the cumulative impact of combining variety and balance in the consumption of real foods is the goal and six key food groups lie at the core:

  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates
  • Legumes
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Fats

Designed to be inclusive, to avoid cutting out any of the macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) this approach is to ensure important nutrients are not excluded. By cutting out the large we also cut out the little: micronutrients

Little is important

Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, trace elements and phytonutrients, which are found alongside macronutrients. These are the key building blocks in the foundation of good health. They boost the immune system, aid metabolism, remove free radicals, aid in repairing damaged cells, slow down aging, even determine the quality of skin, hair and nails – indeed their impact on our bodies, health and quality of life is almost impossible to quantify. Significant cumulative positive benefits accrue from even very small changes in an individual’s nutritional composition that comes from the adoption and inclusion of a wide variety of macro + micro nutrients in weekly food consumption.

The importance of Real Foods

Real Food is food with minimal processing and refining, so maximising nutrition from natural ingredients rather than artificial substances. Placing Real Food at the core of our diet is the foundation of healthy eating. By adopting a nutritional balance across the six food groups we have the best chance of achieving the great results. And remember; every small change in our eating routine can, over time, have a big impact on our health.

Just Routine: an easy-to-understand guide to eating simply, simply eating

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Iris is the founder of No Targets Just Routine. She has researched food since 2009 and believes “Happiness is real food shared with loved ones.”

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