By May Habachi
Healthy eating is often synonymous with strict dietary limitations or even deprivation. But it shouldn’t be. Rather, healthy eating is about feeling good, having more energy and stabilizing your mood (often making you feel happier). Sometimes, however, it’s difficult to know what to eat with all the conflicting nutritional advice out there, and all the fad diets that keep on popping up. You’re not alone.
Cairo West Magazine speaks with Dana Dinnawi, Holistic Health Coach expert and Angy Aboud, Nutritional Therapist; to get to the bottom of healthy eating, and to learn how to eat in a way that is as good for your body as it is for your mind and wellbeing.
The Food Mood Connection
Eating a healthy diet is not only good for our health, weight and overall wellbeing, but it can also affect our mood.
“The mental and emotional effects of eating right are usually not mentioned when wanting to make a switch to healthy eating. People want to eat healthy to lose weight, but what they get afterwards is so much more,” says Aboud.
Being on a healthy lifestyle means that we are in control of what we eat and when we eat. By planning meals, it forces us to prioritize our needs and put ourselves first, which ticks a big box for mental wellbeing, according to Aboud. “This ultimately affects our mood and overall happiness levels.”
Although the relationship between food and mood is complex, studies have shown a correlation between what we eat and how we feel. According to a 2014 study, being on a long-term, unhealthy diet – one that is high in sugar and processed foods – is a risk factor for depression.
“Food is fuel. It can either make you feel your most vibrant and alive self, or it can deplete you, making you the worst version of yourself,” says Dannawi. To be the best version of yourself, Dannawi advises taking care of your digestive system.
The digestive system is responsible for about 80% of your immunity and 80% of your serotonin levels, which keeps your mood high and stable. “If your digestive system is imbalanced, it can’t produce serotonin properly or in adequate amounts to keep you happy,” she says.
It seems that this little known fact about our digestive system is key to not only our health, but to our mood as well. So, how should we take care of our digestive system? The simple answer is to eat right.
What is a Healthy Diet?
Most of us know that a healthy diet consists of eating enough fruits and vegetables, and limiting sugar and refined carbohydrates. But is it really that easy?
According to Dinnawi, it is if you have a plan and the right support to transition to a healthy lifestyle. But even if you don’t, it’s still crucial to limit sugar and refined carbohydrates from your diet.
“Refined sugars and carbohydrates are not only toxic, but addictive. All refined carbohydrates turn into sugar and sugar is significantly more addictive than some of the most harmful drug substances,” says Dinnawi.
Despite the obvious hardship of giving up these foods, it must be done as they wreak havoc on our health. “Sugar and refined carbs are at the root cause of all chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, fibromyalgia, infertility, cancer, and even much less serious ailments such as migraines, acid reflux, bloating and constipation,” explains Dinnawi.
Echoing Dinnawi’s concern for sugar and refined carbohydrates, Aboud advises to limit our sugar intake and replace it with healthier alternatives. For example, she suggests replacing sugary cereals with healthy oats, fruits and vegetables and incorporating healthy sources of fat like fatty fish and nuts into our diets. “Also, pulses are so underrated! Beans, legumes, lentils and chickpeas are very nutritious and filling at the same time,” says Aboud.
The cornerstone of a healthy diet is eating across all healthy food groups, while staying away from processed foods and foods that are high in sugar according to Aboud. “It’s also important to remember that what works for one person, may not work for another. You must always consult your doctor before going on any food plan,” she says.
Making the Shift to Healthy Eating
Change can be difficult, but it is well worth it.
“The reason most people have a hard time imagining shifting to healthy eating is because they have never done it before and the idea of change is harder than the change itself,” says Dinnawi. “But once they wrap their minds around the fact that their food choices result in unintentional addiction, then change becomes much easier.”
Some easy ways to incorporate healthy eating habits into our daily lives is to drink more water. In fact, most people don’t drink enough water throughout the day. Water helps combat low energy, constipation, and the constant feeling of hunger. Another tip, according to Dinnawi, is to add fruits and greens to every meal. “Even if someone can’t make the shift to clean eating yet, by simply adding in the natural greens they can help ‘flush’ out the ‘bad stuff’.”
Also, replacing staple foods like rice and bread with healthier alternatives is another way to eat right. Aboud suggests replacing white rice with brown rice or freekeh, a popular super grain in the Middle East, and white bread with healthy multigrain bread. “White bread, especially baguette is very high in sugar. Our bodies don’t need much sugar because everything we eat already turns into sugar,” says Aboud.
However, one of the most important habits of healthy eating is moderation not deprivation. “I always teach my clients the 80/20 rule. 80 percent of the time eat foods that feed your body, and 20 percent of the time give yourself wiggle room to indulge with family and friends,” says Dinnawi.
There are no short cuts to adopting a healthy lifestyle. It is a change that we must undertake if we want to live the optimal version of ourselves. Along the way, we will probably falter, but we need to bounce back quickly. “It’s ok if you slip, just try again,” says Aboud. “It might take someone a few years to get on the bandwagon of healthy eating, while it might take someone else a few months. Remember, the winner is not the fastest, it’s the one with the most stamina.”
For more information about health coach Dana Dinnawi, you can follow her on Facebook @Dana Dinnawi Empowered Wellness and Living, and you can follow nutritional therapist Angy Aboud on Instagram @angyaboud.