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A decalogue of good habits to eat better

The recommendations on how to maintain a healthy weight and prevent diseases related to an unbalanced diet are condensed in the decalogue drawn up by the French consumer association 60 Millions de Consommateurs. A collection of advice that is (more or less) simple to implement. (1)

1) Overweight and obesity

Overweight and obesity they are forms of malnutrition and increasingly affect adults and children.

Globally, more than one billion people – one in eight – live with obesity. From 1990 to 2022, the incidence is

– more than doubled among adults

– quadrupled among children and adolescents (from 5 to 19 years of age), warns WHO. (2)

The excess weight weight is not just an aesthetic issue. It is in fact the cause of an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, but also problems with the knees, mobility, etc.

1.1) Calories, a ruthless double batch

There's only one way to limit weight gain: consume all calories ingested through food and drinks.

A monitoring of one's consumption is useful for focusing on areas of excess and modifying them. It can be done by recording the calories consumed in your diet every day for a week. In addition to the nutritional table of packaged foods, the search engine of the Food and Nutrition Center (CREA) which reports the composition of foods can be useful for this purpose. (3)

The budget it must be completed with the activities carried out, to understand the calorie consumption (smartphone apps help). However, it is not difficult to discover the imbalance. If a sedentary woman consumes an average of 2200 calories a day instead of the useful 1800, for example, she inevitably accumulates weight year after year.

1.2) Small changes in front of the plate

Give up food It's very hard to lose weight. The decalogue for eating better suggests activating small changes:

– learn to recognize and monitor the sense of fullness,

– stop eating when you are no longer hungry, even if there is food left on your plate. In this case, in order not to waste resources, it is a good idea to keep and recycle leftovers in subsequent meals,

– reduce each portion slightly and gradually,

– stay away from industrial products such as pizza, burgers or ready meals.

2) Consult the Nutri-Score (in Italy, the Yuka app)

In France Nutri-Score summary nutritional labeling on the front of the package is widespread. As we have seen, this logo allows you to distinguish the nutritional profile of foods at a glance, allowing you to discard those that are too full of fat, sugar and salt. (4)

In Italy, the instrument is still boycotted. However, it is available through the free Yuka app, which we have reported extensively on. Simply scan the barcode on the food packaging with your smartphone to obtain a summary judgment drawn up according to the Nutri-Score criteria, with an indication of the possible presence of unrecommended additives and a better evaluation in the case of organic production. (5)

3) First step, optimize food purchases

Pushing a cart between the aisles of an aimless supermarket is the shortest way to buy fatty and sugary foods, promoted by clever and sometimes deceptive marketing.

Compulsive spending it contrasts with planning: deciding the meals to eat during the week and purchasing what is needed to cook them. They must never go bad in the pantry

– legumes (lentils, split peas, chickpeas);

– cereals (pasta and rice, possibly wholemeal);

– condiments: oil (rapeseed, olive, walnut), vinegar, spices, garlic and onion.

In stockFrozen or canned vegetables are also good, but 'natural', not cooked.

4) The best time to eat

Hours where we eat affects our health. Recent work carried out by the Nutritional Epidemiology (Eren) research group at Sorbonne University-Paris Nord has shown that the timing of our first and last food intake is important. (6)

At the end of the treatment they followed a cohort of 100.000 people for an average of seven years (without particular pathologies at the beginning of follow-up, average age 42 years). It turned out that

– having breakfast (even with just an apple) before 8 in the morning reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases by 7%, compared to those who start eating later,

– eating dinner before 20pm reduces the risk of stroke by 8%, compared to those who dine after.

Increasing the duration of overnight fastingFurthermore, it is correlated with a lower risk of stroke.

5) Remove excess sugar

Sugar it is naturally present in foods in sufficient quantities for human needs. Everything added (from the teaspoon of sugar in coffee to that in industrial foods) can be saved.

Excessive consumption of sugar results in fat accumulation in adipose tissue and liver. It also opens the door to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, as well as tooth decay, as highlighted by EFSA. (7)

Adults, and even more young people and children, they should learn to drastically limit sugary drinks, colas, soft drinks or fruit juices, but also biscuits and breakfast cereals. The advice is to choose a banana and natural yogurt for your snack (to which, obviously, do not add sugar).

6) Limit salt

The human organism requires 1-2 grams of salt per day. It would be interesting to weigh it and thus evaluate when it is added to meals prepared at home.

Between domestic consumption and industrial meals or consumed outside the home, however, it is very easy to exceed the maximum threshold indicated by the World Health Organization at 5 g/day for an adult (i.e. 1 teaspoon) and much less for a child. (8)

6.1) Sodium, an essential micronutrient

Sodium contained in salt is an essential micronutrient for the normal functioning of our cells. Without it there is no nerve transmission or muscle contraction (among other things). But, in excess, it has harmful consequences for health. It is, for example, a risk factor for hypertension and therefore for cardiovascular diseases. (9)

Consumption estimates of salt well exceed the limit thresholds recommended by WHO. How to fix it?

– when cooking, replace the salt with spices, aromatic herbs, or add garlic or onion,

– rinse canned vegetables before cooking,

– examine product labels. A lot of salt is hidden where you don't expect it: for example in sweet biscuits or in some breakfast cereals,

– moderate the consumption of foods traditionally rich in salt, such as some types of bread, cured meats and cheeses, stock cubes and meat broths, soy sauce.

7) Ultra-processed foods only as an exception

Consume occasionally a ready meal is not lethal. Abusing it with the idea of ​​not having time to cook is instead a condemnation.

Foods made with an extensive industrial manufacturing process - blowing, fractionation, cooking-extrusion, hydrogenation, etc. — or which contain at least one ingredient that does not exist in its natural state or in cooking (flavors, additives such as emulsifiers, flavor enhancers, sweeteners, etc.) can be harmful to your health.

In the scientific literature There is abundant evidence of the correlation between a diet based on ultra-processed foods and an increased risk of developing metabolic disorders (overweight and obesity, diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension), cardiovascular diseases or some cancers. (10)

8) Benefits of fibre

The fibers have multiple beneficial effects for human health:

– they are not digested in our intestines. Therefore they do not provide calories,

– improve intestinal transit and promote a sense of satiety, as well as proper operation of our intestinal bacteria (our microbiota).

In individuals who follow a diet rich in fiber shows a significant reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer.

The suggestion is to try to stick to the 'five portions of fruit and vegetables a day' (more vegetables than fruit) as often as possible, adding legumes, wholemeal products and dried fruit. And not just one or another of these foods, but all of them, because their benefits complement each other.

Beneficial it is also the choice to replace refined rice and pasta with semi-wholemeal versions, preferably organic. The taste is very similar but they contain much more fibre.

9) Less meat, but not less protein

Meat consumption of pork, beef, veal, mutton, lamb and offal (excluding chicken) must necessarily be limited to no more than 500 g of meat. And cured meats at no more than 150 g per week.

Proteins but they must not be missing. Especially as we age, to counteract sarcopenia and maintain the body's muscle mass, which decreases with age.

La chiave is to diversify protein sources: favor poultry (simple, not croquettes or cordon bleu), fish, eggs and dairy products. Alternate with plant-based proteins, with legumes at the top of the list.

10) Limit alcohol in all its forms

The alcohol it hurts at any dose, it is now established. In light of the scientific literature, we can only speak of a 'low risk' consumption threshold.

No more than two standard drinks per day, no more than 10 standard drinks per week and at least 1 day per week without drinking, is the recommendation.

Marta Strinati

Footnotes

(1) 60 Millions de Consumers. 10 good habits to adopt to eat mineux. 15.5.24 https://www.60millions-mag.com/2024/05/15/10-bonnes-habitudes-adopter-pour-manger-mieux-22802?utm_source=brevo&utm_campaign=lettre2024-05-16&utm_medium=email

(2) World Health Organization. One in eight people are now living with obesity. 1.3.24 https://www.who.int/news/item/01-03-2024-one-in-eight-people-are-now-living-with-obesity

(3) Food and Nutrition Center (CREA). Food composition tables. https://www.alimentinutrizione.it/sezioni/tabelle-nutrizionali

(4) Dario Dongo. NutriScore, the tools for calculating the nutritional profiles of food and beverages. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(5) Marta Strinati, Dario Dongo. Yuka, if you know it, you spread it. The app conquers 2 million Italians in just one year. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(6) See https://eren.univ-paris13.fr/index.php/fr/ 

(7) Marta Strinati. The harmful role of sugars in the diet, EFSA opinion. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(8) Marta Strinati. WHO report cards on national policies to reduce salt consumption. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(9) Dario Dongo, Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. Excess salt, chronic disease and premature mortality. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(10) Dario Dongo, Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. Ultraprocessed foods, disease and premature mortality. I study in Italy. 11.12.21

Marta Strinati

Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".

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