I have become a lot more conscious about my nutrition and what I eat as I have got older. I want to stay healthy as I age, and am aware that the NHS is not as good as it used to be, and it is harder to get an ambulance and treatment, now adays. This has scared me into eating better as I know how important nutrition, and what we eat is to our health and wellbeing. I like to be independent as well, and enjoy life, and so I want to be as fit, energetic, and healthy as I can be in my 60s. More importantly, I have noticed that when I eat properly, my motivation and mindset are better and also my mental health. I am lucky as I was taught about nutrition when I was at school, but I find that men who didn’t do domestic science at school, and a lot of people that are younger than me, lack the knowledge needed to make sure that they and their family are eating a balanced diet. Just before I left work I did a diploma in nutrition so that I would be sure that I had the knowledge to eat well, as years of making poor food choices had impacted on my health.
A balanced diet should consist of 7 things; vitamins, protein, carbohydrates, fat, minerals, fibre and water, and we can get these things easily from eating a variety of ‘real food’. I will quickly summarise these as a reminder to myself, and for anyone who is not sure about nutrition.
Protein. This is important for growth and the maintenance of our body tissue, and is also a good source of fuel. I get my protein from things like eggs, soya, meat, fish, beans, pulses, and nuts. Children, pregnant women and very active people need more protein than I would need.
Fat. It has been drummed into us not to eat fat for years, but we need some fat for energy, energy storage, and hormone production. Some fats are bad for you like trans fats found in processed food as they increase your cholesterol, but other fats like olive oil and fish oil have actually shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. I get my fat from oily fish, nuts, dairy products, olive oil and seeds.
Carbohydrates are another thing that we are often told to avoid, especially those with diabetes, but we still need some for energy. It is a good idea to reduce or avoid refined carbohydrates like sweets and cakes, but I eat things in moderation like brown rice, oats, whole meal pasta, sweet potatoes and potatoes, grains like barley, and fruit that has natural sugar in it. I have greatly reduced the amount of bread and baked goods that I eat over the last couple of years but I must admit that I do still eat chocolate. I do try to eat more dark chocolate than milk, though, as it has less sugar in it.
Vitamins and minerals These are needed for cell growth, regulating metabolism, our nervous system, our immune system, and for tasks such as converting the food we eat into energy. The food I eat to get them are vegetables , fruit, nuts, seeds, dairy product, whole grains and lean meat. A varied diet is needed
Fibre regulates blood sugar and bowel health, and I eat it in my complex carbohydrates (whole wheat pasta, brown rice and whole meal bread), peas, beans, other vegetables, pulses, fruit, and nuts and seeds. Home made pop corn with spices on is my favourite way to get some fibre!
Water is needed so that our cells can function properly. It also aids digestion and gets rid of toxins in the body, and keeps muscles and joints lubricated. This is the thing I am worse at as I know that I do not drink enough, and I just forget. Sometimes I have to put alarms on my phone to remind myself. Normally, 20% of our water intake comes from food like soups, sauces, salad, vegetables and fruit and the rest comes from drinking water and other beverages. Women are supposed to have 11.5 cups a day (men 15,5 cups) and I bet I only have about 4 or 5, and that is improved from what it used to be. Apparently as you get older it is harder for the body to conserve water and you lose your sense of thirst and so it is important that drinking becomes a habit.
Most people buy their food from supermarkets now as it is easy in these days when time is of the essence, and it feels like there is a lot of choice. Most of the small independent shops have closed in my area and so unless we travel there is little alternative. With rising prices this can make it expensive and hard to get all the nutrition that we need, and so I only buy odd things there. They are full of processed, tempting food that has little nutrition in it, too, and even vegetables that you buy in supermarkets now are weeks old, and kept fresh with preservatives, and so their vitamin contents is greatly reduced. Vegetables have lost 30% of their nutrients 3 days after harvest. According to a study done in 2004 the nutritional value has also dropped since the 1950s due to intensive farming.
As you can see we need a varied diet to keep our bodies healthy but this can be expensive. These are therefore the ways that I add nutrition and goodness to my food to ensure that we have a healthy and varied diet, on a very small food budget.
Grow a garden
I have a garden and grow in containers, but do not have an allotment, and yet I supply a lot of our fruit and vegetables. Even when I lived in a flat without a garden, I still supplemented our diet by growing lettuces, tomatoes, micro greens and spring onions on my window sills. I now grow what we eat a lot of, plant successional crops to make the season longer, and grow a lot of perennial fruit that grows each year with little maintenance. I don’t plant winter crops as I am a fair weather gardener, though spinach and potatoes often look after themselves in the green house with an odd water. The fact that from April to November I can pick something fresh from my garden that is full of vitamins, and preserve other items for winter use, means that I do not have to take supplements.
I am not a confident forager but am learning to forage new plants by adding a few things to my repertoire each year after careful study. However, even if you just forage well know things that are easy to identify such as apples, brambles (black berries), wild garlic and plums you can preserve these for winter goodness by bottling or freezing. Brambles are full of omega 3 in the seeds as well as all the vitamins, and the bilberries, that I picked the other day, are a superfood that have 4 times the anti-oxidants of blue berries. You might not think that there is any wild food in your area, as I didn’t, but in fact there were trees in carparks, along the canal and footpaths that I had walked a millions times and never noticed. As well as adding nutrition, foraged fruit also adds joy and variety to our food. A lot of foraged food has medicinal use as well, eg. Cleavers cleans your lymphatic system.
Make as much from scratch as I can.
Even things like bread that we buy from the supermarket are filled with preservatives, and so I make most of our bread myself. To add extra nutrition, I will add nettle seeds, sunflower seeds and other grains, fruit and seeds. I have even made beetroot bread. I also make things like wraps, my own pastry, cakes and biscuits, yoghurt, pizzas, and I never buy ready made meals, quiches or pies, even if they are on offer. They all contain too much sugar, fat, salt and preservatives which can lead to health issues. When we make meals ourselves it is easy to increase the nutrition. When my children were young they would not eat vegetables and so I would puree carrot and garlic and put it in the bolognaise, or I would make gravy with water that I had boiled vegetables in so that they would get some goodness. I would also make ice lollies from berries.
Make smoothies with water for breakfast
Through out the winter we make a smoothie 3 times a week to eat with breakfast. I put raw fruit and vegetables into these, often from food defrosted that has been grown in the garden. I also add things like ginger that are good for our health.
Adding pulses to bulk out food, and use instead of meat
I have always added a couple of handfuls of red lentils when cooking mince to stretch it and make it go further (the children never noticed), but this last year I have used pulses more to make curries and bolognaise each week to save buying meat which is expensive. Luckily they are cheaper and they provide the protein that I would have got from meat. Our favourite is lentil and sweet potato curry We now only eat meat of fish 3 or 4 times a week and don’t miss it. If I didn’t eat meat at all I would probably take a supplement like B12.
Adding vegetables to bulk out food
I always add vegetables to meals when cooking as well as serving them as a side dish. This bulks the meals out but also add nutrition. Examples are that I will add peas or broccoli to a fish pie, I will grate carrot and add peas and sweetcorn to a bolognaise, and I will add carrots and peas to a chicken pie.
Eating a variety of colours
When I buy, grow or cook food, I always try to insure that I have a variety of colours in the meal. This not only makes it look more appealing, but it also means that I will be getting a variety of nutrients and vitamins in the food. It is said that you should eat the rainbow ever day. I have purple beans and peppers growing, yellow and green courgettes, lots of red, orange and purple fruit to add vibrance to my meals.
Eating wholemeal carbohydrates means that I can still get the fibre and the carbohydrates without them impacting on my sugar levels too much. They also contain more nutrients, especially fibre and protein and they keep you fuller for longer.
Using up waste
We have very little waste in our house as many of these waste products can add nutrition to our diet. Examples are we make snacks with peelings, we cook with the green tops from carrots and beetroot, we make apple cider vinegar with the peelings from apples. This year I am hoping to dehydrate and make a powder with some of the waste green leaves and then I can add this when making wraps and savoury pancakes.
Foraging and growing a garden, especially save me money, but more importantly they increase my nutrition substantially. However, even if you do not have a garden and do not have the confidence to forage, you can still increase your nutrition using some of the other methods mentioned. How do you make sure that you are eating a healthy diet on a low income?