Tip 7: Regularly add legumes to your meals
Legumes are one of the best sources of plant protein and are also high in fibre and minerals (e.g. magnesium, zinc). Examples for legumes are lentils, red or black beans and chickpeas. However, a significant drawback of plant protein is that their quality varies and is usually lower than that of meat and dairy (animal) products. They contain specific components called anti-nutrients, which can interfere with their protein absorption. Not all plant protein sources provide sufficient amounts of all the essential amino acids our bodies can’t produce and we need to get from our diet. By including a variety of protein sources throughout the day, you can consume and complement the different amino acids in the right balance.
Recommended daily portion: 3 portions of 1 cup (240 ml) weekly.
Tip 8: Limit sugar and salt consumption
Salt consists of Sodium (Na) and Chloride (Cl). Sodium can be found in many food products other than salt, which is added in order to enhance taste, increase shelf life, as well as for industrial manufacturing purposes. Sodium is an electrolyte that contributes to optimal muscle and nervous system function and regulation of body fluid balance and blood pressure. However, our body only needs a small quantity, as increased salt consumption has also been linked to a higher risk of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. Unfortunately, salt consumption per person is much higher than the recommended amount, which is why we've listed some helpful and practical tips to reduce your salt consumption right here.
- Reduce consumption of processed, canned and cured meat and fish products.
- Choose unsalted nuts.
- Always read the nutrition labels. You can usually find alternatives, e.g. cheeses or baked products, that have a lower salt content (less than 0,3 g of salt per 100 g of food product).
- Choosing home-made food products can make a difference, as the quantity of added salt can be better controlled. When cooking yourself, try to reduce added salt to minimum.
- Instead of adding a high quantity of salt, in order to enhance flavour, try using herbs, spices, lemon, vinegar, onion and garlic.
Added sugars are mostly found in simple sugar consisting of sucrose, a disaccharide of glucose and fructose. Simple sugars can also come in the shape of a honey or other sweeteners such as fructose, maltodextrins, maltose and starch-syrup. Added sugars provide "empty" calories, have low satiating power and do not supply our body with any essential nutrient. Increased sugar consumption has been linked to a gradual increase in body weight, which as a result can lead to obesity and obesity related chronic diseases. Also, in most cases sugar rich products are consumed not in addition to, but instead of healthier and more nutritious options.
Sweets should be consumed in moderation and occasionally. Here are some practical tips:
- Try to consume only 1 sweet item per week.
- If you can, choose home-made sweets, made for example with olive oil, whole grain flour and only a small amount of sugar.
- Avoid ready-to-eat packaged food products (croissants, muffins, cakes, tarts), as they have a high sugar content.
- Try to reduce added sugars in your tea and coffee.
- As with salt, it is important to read nutrition labels and chose products with lower sugar content.
Recommended daily consumption: Try to reduce salt consumption to 5 g, which equals to 1 tea spoon daily – added salt in various food products is also included in this daily recommendation. There is no specific recommendation regarding added sugar, but ideally it should be reduced to the absolute minimum. It is also advised to reduce consumption of beverages, juices and alcoholic drinks rich in added sugars.
Disclaimer: A dietician’s perspective
In nutrition, above all else, it’s important to have a balanced diet and try to include a variety of food groups in moderation on a daily basis. There are no “forbidden” foods – everything can be a part of one’s diet. However, there are of course food products that are more nutritious, such as fruits, vegetables and legumes, which should be included in one’s diet more often. On the other side there are foods rich in saturated fat and/or added sugars and processed meat (e.g. slices of ham), that should only be consumed occasionally, and in smaller quantities. It’s crucial to mention that each individual has specific and unique dietary requirements, so it’s often better to seek advice or even get a personalised dietary plan from a registered dietician or nutritionist.
This is the fourth of 5 weekly articles – each containing 2 tips around healthier eating habits – in TAKINOA's Healthier Eating Habits series. Stay tuned to discover more of the basic principles of a balanced diet and to learn how you can improve your eating habits.