“How dare do you suggest we eat cereal!” “Red meat?!, Are you serious?” “Milk?! You’ve got to be joking right?”

These were just a few of the colourful remarks I recently heard from nutritionists, GPs, cardiologists and many other scientists in the medical/nutrition/wellbeing field directed at the representative for Public Health England at a food conference hosted by the College of Medicine.

This lady, in her capacity as Nutrition Advice Leader, was proudly sharing the Eatwell Guide, a colourful pictogram which depicts the government’s recommendations on eating healthy in order to achieve a balanced diet. As she was going through the different foods and beverages recommended for daily intake, I turned around to get a glimpse of people’s reactions to the recommendations she was putting forward. Shock, dismay and utter disconcert filled the entire auditorium. My own reaction to the crowd’s response was: really?

This disagreement was made evident when the audience was asked to cast their votes of approval or disapproval by using a smart voting technology that was fitted on every seat. After a few moments of tension, the number was shown on the screen: 83% disapproval of the Food Standards Agency’s “Eatwell Guide”!

What should I eat, what should I refrain from eating?
What food can boost my health? What eating habits are detrimental to my wellbeing?

The field of nutrition is still young, unformed with extensive expert disagreement on a variety of topics, from the consumption of dairy products to whether or not we should eat animal protein. The level of contentiousness in this field has lead to nutrition experts belittling each other, discrediting each other’s research and sometimes even questioning each other’s qualifications.

In spite of all the controversy and disagreement, this should not preclude us from following certain “smart eating” guiding principles that can help us to make the most appropriate choices when it comes to nourishing our body-mind for health and wellbeing.

These are just a few “smart eating” principles that you can follow to help you make better choices and to increase your capacity to get the most nutrients from the food you take in.

1) Favour a plant-based diet. Some people equate “plant-based” to “rabbit food” which is certainly not the case. Actually, plant-based diets include fruits, vegetables, tubers (sweet potatoes, beets, etc.), whole grains (quinoa, barley rice, oats, etc.) and legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas).

2) Eat mindfully. – When you are paying full attention to what you are eating and how you are eating, you will maximise your body’s capacity to extract the maximum amount of nutrients from the food you are consuming. Just by looking at the food you are about to eat, your brain will send a signal to your digestive system to start producing the chemicals (enzymes) needed to properly digest that kind of food (even before you put it in your mouth)!

3) Think of the Short-Term Effect.– Before you eat or drink something, ask yourself the following question “If I have this now, how will I feel in the next few hours?” This powerful self-reflection will increase the chances of you avoiding foods or beverages that will make you feel lethargic (e.g. desserts at 2 pm), exacerbated (e.g. caffeine) or dull (e.g. alcohol).

4) Plan, plan, plan.– Write down what kind of energising and healthy food you are going to have for breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner the night before. Don’t put yourself in a position where you need to make a decision on the spot because this might lead to you getting food from the nearest fast-food place.