Food plays an essential role in our lives; after all, the saying ‘you are what you eat’ exists for a reason. Our diet impacts our health and wellbeing, not just physically but mentally too, and is extremely important when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Travel Tomorrow spoke to Sylvie Dejardin, a nutrition specialist who works to raise awareness among both employers and employees on the many benefits of a healthy and healing diet. She explains how eating healthily doesn’t have to be expensive, and gives some useful tips on how to do it on a budget.
Why is food an important part of a healthy lifestyle?
Food is very important because it influences many things in your body. Food changes how you think, how you behave, how you fight against infections and bad bacteria. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted how food also has a dramatic influence on our immune system, as people suffering with obesity and diabetes, for example, were shown to be more at risk of becoming seriously ill from the virus.
The benefits are uncountable, you can’t be healthy if you do not eat proper food
What are the benefits of a healthy diet?
Food can help us sleep much better, to have more energy, and it affects our metabolism as well as our intestinal ecosystem. Like Hypocrates said more than 2000 years ago, health starts in our gut. Health problems start with a gut imbalance. Food is at the base of health. There are three pillars – food, exercise and stress management – I believe that if you can meet all these three pillars you will be very healthy because you will be able to sleep better and therefore recover better, and you can think better.
How can you eat healthily but inexpensively?
There are certain foods which will keep you satisfied for longer, or which should be avoided at certain times of day to stop you having to eat more (and therefore buy more) throughout the day. For example, in the morning it is better to avoid sugars as these will not keep you satisfied for long and you will become tired soon after because your body will want more sugar, so you will have to eat more. A healthy and filling breakfast will keep you going for many hours, for example buckwheat soaked overnight with a bit of water combined with banana, cinnamon, almond butter (just a teaspoon), lime juice (for taste) and some fruit, such as blueberries. Buckwheat can be bought cheaply and will keep you full for a good amount of time. Alternatively, a less expensive breakfast could be a small piece of good quality bread (40/50g) with a bit of hummus or a soft boiled egg, some fruit or maybe a bit of good quality ham. Although brown/whole grain bread is more expensive, it is best to buy organic to avoid pesticides used on top of the grains, and it is much richer in fibre so it is more filling. Also organic eggs do not cost much more than other eggs but are healthier.
What advice would you give someone looking to improve their diet on a budget?
It is possible to buy cheaper options of important food groups so that you still get the healthy parts of a diet but for less money. For example, a small quantity of protein each day is important, but this food group is the most expensive. Certain fish, such as salmon or tuna, cost a lot, however fish like sardines and anchovies are much cheaper but are also very healthy as they are oily fish. Additionally, salmon and tuna are predator fish so they have a huge amount of heavy metals, so it is actually better not to eat more than one per week of these types, whereas the smaller fish have smaller amounts of heavy metals and can be eaten more often. Although some vitamins and minerals are easier for the body to absorb when it comes from animal origin (zinc, iron, vitamin B12,..), even if we shouldn’t eat too much of it, which many people nowadays do.
Can you tell us about some other healthy foods which can be bought on a budget?
Omega 3 which is found in fish can also be obtained from vegetables, for example rapeseed oil and flaxseed, so these are good sources of Omega 3 which are less expensive than fish. With flaxseed oil, only 1 teaspoon per day is enough, rapeseed oil: 2 or 3 tablespoons per day, only after cooking. Don’t cook with these oils and store them in the fridge. Price varies, but if possible it is best to buy oil that come in a glass container and store them in the fridge (except olive oil, that is better so store it in a cupboard), as it is vulnerable to light and loses its goodness quickly. Also some products, like good quality butter, do not cost much more than alternative margarines when compared to the difference in quality, and ‘light’ dairy products are more expensive that normal ones so should be avoided. It is best to buy a good quality basic dairy product if possible, such as a plain yoghurt, to which you can add your own fruit or grains, instead of the premade flavours which have little nutritional value. Nuts and oily seeds are also part of a balanced diet and something like an apple with a just a handful of seeds or nuts is a great nutritional snack. You only need to eat a small amount and can get healthy proteins, fats and fibre at once, meaning you’ll be full for longer because of this combination.
Another easy and important way to save money but still eat healthily is to buy seasonal and local fruit and vegetables. You can get very good prices on these even if it is organic, whilst out of season products grown elsewhere, for example strawberries during winter, are very expensive. They also don’t have much nutritional value because they are grown inside in artificial conditions. Proteins like quinoa, buckwheat, lentils, beans etc. are also very cheap, especially when bought dry and soaked. Ensure that you cook them properly and you can add spices and herbs to boost flavour. Pasta and flour are also affordable products and do not cost much more to buy organic.
How can you eat healthily when you have a busy schedule?
Eating healthy doesn’t have to mean spending hours cooking. Ready made meals and soft drinks etc. are not cheap, and cooking your own food will save money meaning you can buy better quality products for cooking. Industrial products also contain a lot of sugar and additives as well as huge amounts of salt, which promote problems like diabetes and unbalance your intestinal flora. There are lots of recipes online nowadays which are healthy but very simple and easy to follow. Try to cook your own meals most of the time if you can, and if you are in a rush you can use frozen vegetables. Although they are not as tasty as fresh ones, this is still better than a ready meal. Frozen peas or French beans are easy and quick to cook from frozen and a good way to add nutritional value to your meal. Ideally, ½ of your meal should be vegetables (of many colours, and seasonal and local is best), ¼ should be carbohydrates like pasta, potatoes, lentils etc, and the rest should be protein, like egg, fish, poultry etc. You can also add a bit of good quality oil to your food after cooking to increase its goodness.
You work with Edenred on the FOOD programme (Fighting Obesity through Offer and Demand), can you tell us more about this?
The FOOD programme was launched in 2009 as a pilot project in 6 countries thanks to EU funds (DG SANTE) and turned into a long term programme in 2012 thanks to its very good results and the motivation of the partners. Today there are 10 participating countries and more are expected to join very soon. Edenred is one of the driving forces of this programme. We try to raise awareness among both employers and restaurants about the importance of healthy eating. For employers we raise awareness of the link between food and the health of employees, whilst for restaurants we promote the importance of having healthy options available. In the framework of the programme, FOOD Barometers are launched every year in order to analyse and understand the needs of both employees and restaurants. We also give training to employees, such as cooking workshops, and the companies we work with have developed tools to help their employees to eat healthily, for example apps and flyers. One example is a shopping list which is divided into groups like vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, oils,.. which is useful in helping employees to ensure that they buy what is needed for a balanced diet. It also shows what is in season and when, so they know what food to buy throughout the year and can eat healthily but also save money.