Keeping in top form is not only essential to look good, but also to feel and stay healthy and for both, it is to nutrition we have to pay attention to. For years now, doctors and nutritionists have told us how essential food is not only for keeping in shape, but also to keep our health at its best. What we eat can protect us from diseases –even the most frightening, reduce cardiovascular risks and cholesterol, and yes, make us slimmer.
As a rule of thumb, we should always choose natural, non-processed foods: whole grain cereals, vegetables and fruits, fresh fish, legumes and vegetables fats are a must. Dairy, red meat, eggs and anything highly processed, on the other hand, should enter our diets only once in a while. For many, this could represent an enormous change, but there are plenty of examples in the world of diets based on such foods –think Mediterranean and Japanese– which propose delicious, yet healthy alternatives to fat-laden and processed meals.
Here is a short list of the 7 most essential foods you need to make part of your diet to keep healthy and trim.
It may seem superfluous to say, but keeping hydrated is essential to our health and beauty: even if there is not a real, minimum amount of water to be consumed daily to keep healthy, it is fundamental to drink fluids (but not sodas!) throughout the day. One should never wait for thirst to set in, as that is our body's alarm to let us know we are dangerously dehydrated. Keep drinking regularly, either mineral water or herbal teas, and your organism will thank you: toxins will be expelled, your bowels will move regularly, your skin will glow. Water is your number one secret to a healthier and more beautiful self.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The Mediterraneans are among the healthiest people in the world thanks to their diets, which are balanced and rich in fresh, whole foods. At its basis, never mind if you choose Italian, Greek, Spanish or North-African dishes, is olive oil: this precious liquid was already known for its beneficial characteristics in Ancient Greece and Rome and it is not only delicious, but extremely healthy. Olive oil is rich in antioxidants and monounsaturated fats, which have been linked to a series of health benefits: olive oil can help reduce cholesterol and keep heart healthy, as well as provide protection from cancer. It is also a true beauty elixir: warm olive oil masks are great for the hair, a tablespoon of it added to your usual shower gel can help sooth dry skin and it is also amazing as a base for sugar, oatmeal or salt body scrubs.
Honey has been considered a “power food” for quite sometimes, and it has been used both as a aliment and in external medicine since the earliest centuries. It can be an amazing anti-inflammatory, it boosts metabolism and provides an amazingly healthy source of energy. Honey has anti-carcinogenic characteristics, too, which means it can help to protect you from certain forms of the disease. If all this wasn't enough, honey is a great beautifier, too: it is a fantastic cleanser for the face, it can be used as a hair mask and for the preparation of natural body scrubs and moisturizers.
- Green leafy and cruciferous vegetables
Don't get scared by the names: we are talking spinach, collard greens, chard, lettuce, rocket and all those other deep-green, wide-leaved veggies we usually only eat as a side dish and the ubiquitous broccolis, cauliflowers, kale and cabbage. Both types have been, for years, considered “super-vegetables”, with incredible health and diet benefit. Cruciferous vegetables are high in vitamins, contain a lot of fibre to keep you regular and phytochemicals. They have been associated with reducing the risk of cancer in 70% or more of scientific studies carried out on the topic. They are also full of minerals and anti-oxidants, hence they can help keeping us younger. If you are watching your waistline, cruciferous and leafy green veggies are perfect: they have a very little amount of calories and basically no carbs. They are delicious steamed and served with olive oil and seasoning, or roasted and even raw.
- Oily Fish
Again, the Mediterranean and Japanese diets can teach us something about health: most of the protein intake in these equally tasty and healthy ways of eating comes from fish. Fish in general, but oily fish in particular (tuna, salmon, sardines, anchovies, swordfish and many others) is the best way to get the right amount of protein in your diet healthily. This fish is low in calories and high in healthy fats, vitamins and minerals and it has been associated to reduction of cardiovascular disease and cholesterol. Oily fish can help also to fight cancer, keep bones healthy and enhance our memory.
For many, lentils are associated to vegetarian diets, but they are in fact a versatile and delicious ingredients for many dishes, even when you eat meat. Lentils -green, brown or red- are perfect for stews and soups, but can also be served in cold salads, dressed with olive oil and lemon, for instance, and a side of goat cheese. Beside being one of the best comfort food of both Mediterranean and Indian cuisine, lentils can be extremely beneficial for health and waistline. They are rich in protein, but they have low calories, therefore they won't ruin your diet. They are full of fibre and they can help lower cholesterol, keep the heart healthy and increase your energy level.
- Emmer and Spelt
For centuries, the Romans have used emmer as their main source of carbohydrates. Spelt, especially its Mediterranean variety, triticum dicoccum (whose proper name is, in fact, emmer) originated more than 9000 years ago and represents one of the healthiest carbs sources we have around. First of all, spelt is full of healthy fiber and minerals, but still remains lower in calories than ordinary wheat, a fact which makes it perfect for those who wants to loose weight. Spelt is delicious in soups and stews, and can be used instead of rice for risottos and salads. Spelt flour can be used to make lovely, healthy bread, pastas and pizzas. It helps lower cholesterol, fight migraines and it has been linked to the prevention of certain types of cancer, gallstones and type two diabetes.
Consider to introduce all, or at least some, of these foods in your diet for at least a couple of weeks and see the difference for yourself: you'll notice that, after a few days of cravings for highly processed and sugary products, your body'll begin to feel fresher and lighter. You'll probably loose a few pounds and that'll certainly make you feel fantastic!
The most important benefits of all these natural and delicious products, though, are long term, as they can truly help you being a healthier person. Stick with them, find out some nice recipes and you won't look back to your old diet – and self– once.
Author's bio: Alice McLean is a writer at bestessays.com with background in medicine and sociology.