Please submit your facts to expand Healthy Life FAQs list
When it comes to living an informed, healthy lifestyle we know that making the right choices can be difficult. With such a wide range of information and products available today, finding scientifically proven advice can be an almost impossible task. In addition to providing a library of articles looking at individual subjects in detail in our forums, we have put together here a list of common healthy lifestyle FAQs, the answers to which you may find useful.
Should you think something is missing from this list, please do not hesitate to give us feedback, or to submit your own FAQ by clicking the ‘Submit’ button,.
What is the ‘key’ to a healthy lifestyle?
There is no magic secret or shortcut to getting and staying healthy. Rather than a single key, there is in fact a bunch of keys, consisting of diet, exercise and attitude. By arming yourself with the facts, and the latest thinking, you will be able to begin the journey to a truly healthy lifestyle, not just for you, but for your family and the environment at large.
What do you consider to be a ‘healthy mind’?
We would define this as the psychological state of being generally both happy and healthy, emotionally and intellectually. This can be achieved by taking control over your own health and your own life, making smart decisions that help protect you and your loved ones from exposure to unhealthy substances and influences.
What constitutes a ‘balanced’ diet?
A balanced diet is a healthy intake of foods that includes an appropriate amount of food from each food group and an adequate intake of essential minerals, vitamins and nutrients. Current thinking suggests this ultimately means a regular intake of natural unprocessed fibre, fruits and vegetables, and a moderated intake of unhealthy fatty or sugary foods and processed or red meats. It has been suggested that limiting the amount of refined carbohydrates and gluten in your diet is also advisable, even if you are not gluten intolerant. The latest research has now also shown that meat, particularly well-cooked, red, and processed varieties has been linked to an increased incidence of certain cancers, as it contains carcinogenic compounds such as heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. And it is not just meat that may pose a risk to our health, fruits and vegetables should too be approached with caution, as even organic produce may be contaminated with pesticides and herbicides that are hazardous to health. Essentially, it seems that natural and unprocessed food are generally the healthiest choice, as well as avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol and red/processed meat intake to recommended levels.
How many meals per day should I have?
There is no one universal answer to this question, but it is generally advisable to aim for three regular meals per day. It has long been recognised that breakfast is potentially the most important meal of the day, kickstarting your metabolism and improving concentration and energy levels throughout the day. It is thought that the size of your meals should ideally decrease throughout the day, starting with a large breakfast and ending with a light evening meal. Furthermore, eating during the night or late at night should be avoided if possible, as this can have a range of negative effects, from sleep disturbances to long-term weight gain. Some nutritionists now also believe that adding regular fast days to your diet (where you consume only 500-750 calories in the form of healthy cereals, salads and fruit) can have significant beneficial effects on your health.
I can’t stop eating! How to solve this problem?
Taking control of portion sizes can be an achievable first step towards maintaining a balanced diet. If you still have constant food cravings, it may mean that you are not nourishing your body with something it needs. Try including a mix of superfoods, fruits and vegetables in your diet to ensure an intake of essential nutrients, as well as lots of protein, which is what triggers your body into ‘feeling full’. Another handy tip is to try carrying some peppermint oil with you to smell when you feel hunger cravings, or drinking peppermint tea, as peppermint is a traditional method to reduce the appetite.
Is it possible to replace food with supplements and vitamins?
No. Although additional supplements may sometimes be required to help resolve a deficiency, they should not be used as a replacement for actual food. Your body cannot generally absorb vitamins and nutrients from supplements as easily as it can from natural food sources. For example omega-3 supplements are not as effective as naturally occurring omega oils, as to be absorbed effectively by our bodies they require the co-occurring nutrients found in oil-rich foods such as fish and avocados. Also, supplements and vitamins will not generally provide a lot of the essential nutrients, such as carbohydrates and proteins, that are required for a healthy, well-balanced diet. Furthermore, in addition to being insufficient for a healthy diet, an overuse of supplements and synthetic vitamins can actually be detrimental to your health.
Are vegetarian or raw food diets really healthy?
Yes, while it is very important to have a full and balanced diet, various studies have shown that eating meat, especially red meat and processed meat, is associated with a range of cancers, high cholesterol and other disorders. However it is important that you have an adequate protein intake, which can be difficult when following a vegetarian diet, by including plenty of pulses, nuts and vegetable-derived protein sources.
Raw food diets aim to avoid cooking food wherever possible to retain as many of the nutrients as possible, which can be lost during some cooking processes. Raw foods are also more complex, and difficult to digest, which can actively burn calories and keep our digestive systems in food working order. When it comes to meat and fish, keeping them raw is also preferable (only where completely safe to do so), as studies have also found links between certain cooking processes, as well as the length of time that meat is cooked and the incidence of cancers such as bowel cancer.
Which foods should be avoided?
There are many foods that should be avoided for numerous reasons, which can vary from person to person depending on their particular dietary needs, health conditions or age. However as a general rule, foods high in saturated fats and processed sugars should be limited, as should processed food in general, foods high in salt, red and processed meat, and foods high in artificial additives and preservatives.
Should calorie intake be controlled?
Whilst it can give an estimation of sugar content, the calorie content of food is not necessarily an indication of its healthiness. Sugar, salt, carbohydrates, gluten and fats are more important to measure and limit in order to maintain a healthy diet. But even then the issue is not necessarily a simple one, as there are relatively ‘good’ and ‘bad’ constituents of each group. Simple, processed carbohydrates such as added sugars should be limited, whereas complex carbohydrates such as fibre can contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Likewise, some fats, such as poly-unsaturated fatty acids, are essential to health but saturated fats and cholesterol can be damaging to health. It is important to know these differences and to maintain a healthy, balanced diet.
Is organic food healthier than non-organic?
It is generally agreed that this is the case, as organic food has been grown without the addition of harmful artificial substances. However in reality it can be difficult to truly identify organic from non-organic food, as there are no official tests to prove it, meaning one can only rely on the product origin paper trail when identifying ‘organic’ food. Furthermore, inspections are pre-announced, allowing for temporary measures to be put in place for the duration of the inspection, and any producers failing to meet ‘organic’ status standards can immediately re-apply for organic status. These ‘loopholes’ in organic food product are due to it’ initiation by trade, rather than regulatory or scientific, stakeholders. This means that so called ‘regulations’ regarding organic food production are not as stringent as one might hope or expect. Furthermore it can be difficult to truly ensure that products are 100% organic, as they are often grown in close vicinity to non-organic products and thus can potentially inadvertently come into contact with non-organic pesticides and fertilisers.
I have heard products of genetically modified origin (GMO) are dangerous, is this correct?
This is a very complex issue. The perceived danger around GMO products comes from a potential lack of scientific safety evidence, however humans have been selectively breeding animals and crops since we began farming. In some cases, genetic modifications are allowing plants to be grown where the local conditions previously prevented it (such as in African deserts), or to produce a higher yield where there are currently food shortages. In these situations, these modifications can potentially improve the lives of many. The real issues depend on what type of modifications are being made to the product, and whether evidence exists for their long-term safety. More recent studies have found that modified DNA from GMO food can actually be found within the blood after the food is digested, suggesting that perhaps we don’t yet fully understand the effects that these products may be having on your health.
Microwaving saves me lot of time, but does it really reduce the healthiness of foods?
It is now know that microwaves do actually deplete the nutritional value of your food, as well as incorporating a very low level into it. However, much more worryingly, food that is microwaved in plastic packaging has been shown to contain a high number of harmful substances that transfer from the plastic to your food during the extreme high temperatures reached in the microwaving process. This process depends on the type of plastic contained within the container used, and thus can be avoided by smart plastic choices.
Why is it important to maintain an adequate water intake?
Water is vital to almost all of your body’s processes, and adequate water intake is needed to maintain your health at its best. Dehydration can have a range of consequences on the body, from increased thirst and a dry mouth to confusion and even death if severe enough. By maintaining an adequate water intake this can help to keep you healthy in both body and mind, as well as minimising wrinkles and improving skin tone.
Is coffee consumption a problem today?
Yes, more and more people are drinking large amounts of coffee on a regular basis. This high caffeine intake has been linked with a number of health problems including fluid loss, increased heart rate and blood pressure, stroke, anxiety disorders, insomnia amongst many others. Limiting coffee intake, by reducing consumption or switching to decaffeinated options, is a good way to maintain your health.
What are the health benefits associated with increased physical activity?
There are numerous illnesses, both physical and mental, that can be prevented or improved by regular physical activity. Exercise has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including improved metabolism and cardiovascular health, weight loss, improved mood, decreased stress, a strengthened immune system and increased energy levels.
Is it essential to join a gym in order to maintain the healthy lifestyle?
Leisure centres and gyms provide a range of equipment, classes and guidance that can prove invaluable when trying to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle. However they are not essential in achieving fitness targets. There are many activities that do not require these facilities, such as running swimming, outdoor team sports and exercises done at home such as yoga or fitness DVDs. To ensure the maximum benefit and long-term motivation it is important to find a routine that suits you, is easy to stick to, and is enjoyable.
How many hours sleep do I need?
Regular sleep is essential to our health, however when and how we get this sleep can depend on your working hours, your lifestyle and your natural sleeping patterns. It is traditionally suggested that we require 8 hours sleep per night, however evidence is increasingly showing that the amount of sleep we need depends on our body’s internal biorhythms. It has also been suggested that humans are designed to have 2 shorter sleep periods (one in the afternoon and one late at night) rather than one long overnight one. This may explain why some people are real ‘night-owls’, not able to sleep until very late at night, and why many experience a slump in energy during the afternoon. Why not go ahead and discuss your sleeping patterns, or any evidence regarding ways to improve your sleep in the forum.
How do I stop smoking or drinking alcohol?
Reducing or stopping tobacco or alcohol usage can drastically improve your health. There are numerous products and behavioural and motivational techniques available to aid you in quitting or cutting down. However the most successful approach normally depends on your own personal circumstances and usage history. A best place to start if often your primary healthcare provider, who can provide information regarding the options available to you.
Are antibiotics safe?
The discovery of antibiotics is considered one of the greatest medical revolutions of all time. These simple medications turned some previously fatal widespread infections into easily treatable conditions. Aside from allergic reaction, antibiotics are generally well-tolerated and highly effective. However these drugs are often used in cases where they will have no benefit, particularly in the case of viral infections, where antibiotics are futile. Such overuse is increasing the amount of antibiotic-resistant bacteria within the population. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria are more difficult, sometimes even impossible to treat, and in a ‘worst case scenario’, we could be left in a situation similar to that seen before the invention of antibiotics, where simple bacterial infections become untreatable and potentially deadly. We can help to slow the development of this resistance in bacteria by, as patients, not demanding antibiotics and, as doctors, reducing our usage of them, particularly in cases where a viral cause of illness is most probable.
Is body mass index (BMI) a trustworthy index?
Body mass index is a way of calculating whether your current weight is ‘healthy’ for your height. It is generally thought that a BMI <18.5 is considered underweight, 18.5-25 is a normal weight, 20-30 is overweight, >30 is obese and >40 is morbidly obese. Although a helpful guide, BMI is not necessarily accurate, as it does not take into account muscle mass (which can increase someone’s weight, whilst not being unhealthy), or waist circumference (which is thought to be a better indicator of a person’s risk of weight-related diseases).