Friday, 1 November 2013

The Ten Point Plan to Simple Healthy Eating

We live in very interesting times. Even eating has become confusing. Health scares, coupled with increasingly complicated food production, have all lead to a situation where not only do we know what to put in our mouths, we are hardly sure what do once it is in there!

One day complex carbohydrates are king and the next day it is protein. There are fats that heal and fats that kill. It can feel like you need a degree in Nutritional Science just to understand the labels on some of the foods we commonly buy.

Yet, it doesn’t actually have to be that complicated. There are a few simple rules that if you follow will mean that you can eat healthy, not appear like a freak to your friends and actually go back to enjoying what after all should be one of life’s simple pleasures.


1.      Only what your grandmother would recognize:
There are many foods out there nowadays that have absolutely no nutritional value (read, fructose corn syrup). I regularly get asked in my daily practice ‘How do I know what is healthy?’A simple rule of thumb is would your grandmother recognize it? Our grandparents would not recognize half of the packages that food comes in today.  This question should make you leave behind most of the shelves in your local supermarket and head for the fresh produce department.

2.      Whole foods (then you can eat the whole food):
In this category I include locally produced organic foods.  There is still a huge misconception in Kenya that most of our food is organic – if it is not specifically labeled as organic then it is not organic. We have had serious commercial farmers in Kenya for over half a century now, and the use of pesticides and fertilizers are commonplace. If in doubt, refer to Kenya Organic Agricultural Network or the international Soil Association that regulate organic standards. Whole foods are foods where nothing does to waste. An organic locally grown pumpkin can be turned into soup, the leaves sautéed and the seeds dried to be munched as a healthy high protein snack.

Pumpkin soup with pumpkin seed mint pesto: image courtesy of

3.      Nothing white:
If a food is white, then it has usually had all the goodness stripped out of it. This includes bread, sugar and rice. If you must use sugar (and we all know that there are times we must) then use brown sugar or better still molasses, which is full of minerals such as calcium, magnesium and iron. Nothing tastes sweeter than if it is good for you too!

image courtesy of

4.      20-30 different foods a day:
If there is only one tip that you take from this article, then let this be the one. Many of us end up eating a small number of same foods a day, which leads us to undiagnosed nutritional deficiencies. Are you feeling tired and run down and yet you think you eat well? Try counting the different foods that you eat in one day. Excluding water, every spice or food counts on its own.

Here’s an example:
Uji with molasses sprinkled with pumpkin seeds, mango, pineapple and passion fruit salad, hibiscus herbal tea will already give you 7 different foods for breakfast (up to 10 if more than one type of flour is used to make the uji). Diversifying the food that you eat and consuming a large variety rather than a large quantity of a smaller group of foods enables you to meet all your nutritional needs without having to get out a food pyramid chart.

55.      A largely plant based diet
Many studies have proved that vegetarians live on average 7 years longer than meat eaters. You don’t have to go the whole way but plant based diets mean that your diet is naturally low in cholesterol, healthy and full of variety. It need not all be salads and mbogas either; a traditional kienyegi or mokimo dish with mashed peas, leafy greens and beans can make a tasty, filling and nutritious meal.

image courtesy of

6.      Small frequent meals
Eating regularly throughout the day increases your metabolism, keeping you not only more energetic but slimmer too. If it is a challenge to prepare many small meals, then you can break up your three main meals into two or three smaller portions and consume those throughout the day.

7.      Slowly
Digestion begins in the mouth and many digestive problems and obesity are all associated with eating too quickly. Try to get in a minimum of 20 chews per fork or spoonful and actually enjoy and savour the tastes and texture of your meal. Eating slower means that you get fuller quicker too.

8.      With someone else
Recent studies amongst traditional Japanese and Japanese diaspora have found that it is not just about what who eat but also how and with whom you eat. People who eat alone tend to eat quicker, enjoy their food less, put on more weight and suffer more health problems. Now there’s an immediate excuse to have long lost friends round for a meal if there ever was one.

9.      Only after having taken 5 – 10 deep breaths
Linked to point 7, this is a great way to savour your meal but also ensure that you eat better and digest more. Breathing slowly immediately changes your metabolism, allowing your body to process your food better and thus get the best out of it. It is also a handy weight loss tip!

10.  Healthy fats
Fats have had a bad rep over the last decade or so but thankfully, this is starting to change. Our brain cannot function without fats and every single cell in our body needs them. It is more about the choices of fats that we take, rather than stopping fats altogether. Out with the blueband and in with the coconut oil. Other healthy fats include cold pressed sunflower oil, sesame oil, macadamia nut oil and avocado oil. Incase you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned the ubiquitous olive oil – refresh yourself with point 2. All of the oils I just mentioned are local to Kenya.

image courtesy of