Is there always some food or food group that you’re cutting out of your diet?

How often do we hear announcements such as ‘I’m not eating carbs this week’.

We are surrounded by a culture of food demonisation. What could be more anxiety inducing than a message in our heads alternately forbidding us from eating certain foods and berating us when we cave in and do?

Our mental health takes a hit, compounded by the loss of nutrients that those avoided foods provide.

Take the much-maligned bread, for example. It provides 16-20% of our fibre intake (assuming we’re not eating white bread). So, cut out bread without replacing it with a suitable fibre-filled alternative, and you’ve just removed a large chunk of one of the most health-giving components of our food.  To find out just how important fibre is, take a look at the information from the British Dietetic Association here: Fibre (

The truth is, if you suspect that your diet isn’t giving you the va va voom you aspire to, it is more likely to be something you’re missing than an intolerance to something you are eating.

Cutting out groups of foods on the advice of a blogger, vlogger, random unqualified neighbour or gym buddy who changes their diet more frequently than their lycra shorts may effect more than just dietary balance. Restrictive diets can take up so much headspace, curb our social life and, so importantly, create a sense of deprivation.

What better way to cause a craving for something than putting it on the list entitled ‘Do not eat under any circumstances. And if you do, you’re a weak-willed person who has no idea how to feed themselves’?

Ok. So, what is the alternative if you suspect that your diet is failing to feed that va va voom?

Well, can you identify what is missing?.

The Eatwell Guide is not my favourite of tools but it does a great visual job of helping us identify what we’re not having quite enough of in our diet. Here’s a link if you aren’t familiar with it yet The Eatwell Guide – NHS ( There are links below to the South Asian and African and Caribbean versions.

Would you be surprised to hear that less than 1% of adults in UK meet all the criteria of these Eatwell guidelines? And yet a far greater percentage take dietary supplements and follow miracle diets in their quest for health.

In my experience of supporting those looking to optimise their diet, the key missing feature is – and this will come as no surprise – the fruit, vegetables and other plant foods such as nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, chickpeas, soya proteins etc.

So, as well as not meeting the fibre mark and starving our gut microbes, the majority of us are missing out on all those wonderful vitamins and polyphenols that plant foods contain.  (In case you need a reminder, polyphenols are largely responsible for how a fruit or vegetable smells, tastes or what colour it is. They often have antioxidant properties which means they protect our cells from the bombardment we expose them to in everyday life.)

There are multiple reasons why many of us struggle to meet the guidelines, with finances featuring heavily. The Food Foundation estimates that those in the lowest income brackets would need to spend 50% of their income on fruit and veg to meet these guidelines vs 11% for the wealthiest citizens. And, who has time to prepare and cook fresh vegetables when they get home from a 12 hour shift?

I love this piece written by someone who recognises her privileged position and the obstacles standing in the way of those less fortunate financially.

So, perhaps your choice of a shop bought pizza has nothing to do with being lazy or weak-willed. We go for the easy option foodwise because that is what makes sense. Marketeers have known and made the most of this for years!

I am sure that there are a million changes that you couldn’t make. For example, leaving work earlier might not be an option and a new fridge freezer to store all those 2 for 1 deals and homemade soups might be outside your budget.

So, what could you do?

Is there a time in the past when you managed to squeeze vegetables in more often? How did you do it then?

Do you know someone who makes eating healthily look easy? Ask them how they do it and copy them. People love to share their successes.

How could you make the healthier option an easy and affordable option? Here are some ideas that work for other people.

Set the bar really low. Take one small step at a time and keep doing it until it becomes a habit. That might be:

  • Adding some tinned beans (kidney, haricot, cannellini, black beans ……) to a packet soup for a fibre and iron boost. Did you know that half a tin of beans (generally available for under a pound per tin) provides at least 7g of protein and over 7g of fibre – that chips away nicely at the 30g recommended daily fibre intake.
  • Replacing a proportion of your meat mince with tinned lentils.
  • A handful of frozen berries or, if you don’t have a freezer, tinned fruit (preferably in juice not syrup) added to your morning cereal or for dessert.
  • Unsalted peanuts as a snack or added to a salad or stirfry.
  • I’m all for scrumping for fruit. If you live outside the city, I bet there are apple trees or blackberry bushes hanging heavy with uneaten fruit at certain times of the year.
  • If breakfast is a low fibre cereal or toast and jam, how about tinned tomatoes or baked beans on toast instead.
  • Is there a local app where people offer foods they have in excess, such as Olio

Do you find you’re wasting fresh food and that the veg just goes off before you use it. It wastes your money too. Love Food Hate Waste is a fantastic organisation and will answer all your questions about how to avoid throwing away fresh food. This is their advice on beetroot They have recipes too.

What is the one thing you COULD do to ensure you aren’t missing out on a daily dose of plant goodness?

Disclaimer: It goes without saying that those with a known allergy or intolerance do need to avoid certain foods. I recognise that our reasons for eating vary widely and for those suffering from an eating disorder, the re-introduction of foods is not a simple process.

The South Asian Eat Well Guide

African & Caribbean Eatwell Guide

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