Often, when people find out I’m a nutritionist, as well as a yoga teacher, I get asked the question, “What should I eat for yoga”?
I must admit there’s no simple answer. A lot of people think that to be a true yogi or yogini, you need to be vegetarian or vegan; drink green smoothies and juices; and/or eat only raw foods.
To me, yoga is all about balance, in all aspects of life. Do what makes you feel good. Be healthy, but be healthily bad from time to time too.
A healthy diet should consist of fruits and vegetables for the body to attain all the vitamins and minerals it should. Personally, I consume around 1-2 servings of fruit per day (eg 1 nectarine and a handful of grapes) and around 5-8 servings of vegetables (eg two large handfuls).
Should you juice all your fruits and vegetables to get maximum vitamins and minerals? No! All you end up doing is concentrating the sugars, stripping out the fibre (which is just as important for gut health as those vitamins and minerals are for the entire body) and quite possibly giving yourself an overdose of at least some of the vitamins and minerals you’re consuming, which will simply be expelled again.
Does that mean you should never drink juice? No! A small amount (say 2-4 small glasses of juice a week) from time to time is perfectly healthy.
Are you starting to understand my message of “balance”?
A healthy diet should also consist of some proteins, although there is protein in everything (read the nutrition information on your next loaf of bread). Some meat, fish, eggs or plant-based proteins are important to include. Whilst you don’t HAVE to be vegetarian, the human body doesn’t require meat, poultry or fish every day either.
Personally, I eat a vegetarian diet most of the time, including eggs, beans, lentils and corn. You can get all your eight essential amino acids from beans and corn alone (hats off to the Mexican diet). I occasionally eat meat, fish and chicken, usually if I’m out for dinner or at a friend’s place, or I will very infrequently cook it at home. I eat a small portion of salmon once per week. Mostly because my salmon salad with herbed potatoes is my husband’s favourite meal and I can make it during the day for one of the evenings I teach late.
Amino acids are protein building blocks. There are 8 essential ones that the body cannot make itself; they must be consumed in food. The human body can make all the rest itself, from those 8 essential amino acids after consumption.
Carbohydrates are important but, like everything, should be moderated. When I talk “carbohydrates” I mean, rice / pasta / potato / bread / cereals, etc. I try to keep carbohydrates as unrefined or “brown” as possible and my general rule of thumb is not more per day than a serving the size of my fist at each breakfast, lunch and dinner meal (you should make it the size of your own fist, as then it’s relative to your energy requirement). Note: at each of those meals you can add to that based on my recommendations above, ie for breakfast you might add yoghurt and fruit to cereal or eggs to toast.
Speaking of cereal, most cereals on the market today aren’t ideal. They are often fortified with semi-healthy supplements, so that all sorts of health claims can be made, making you think they are healthy, when the base cereal itself is not. It is important to take care in choosing the right cereal for health. The best advice I can give you for that is, the least processed a cereal is the better, if it looks unnatural you’re probably better to avoid it.
There are two types of fibre, insoluble and soluble. Both are important for the health of your gut. However, soluble fibre not only helps keep your gut healthy, but also inhibits the uptake of cholesterol in the body and aids in the control of blood sugar levels. Including fruits and vegetables as well as nuts, legumes such as beans and lentils and avocados (as a nutritionist I consider this to be a fat as opposed to a “fruit”, but a really good fat) will ensure a healthy soluble fibre intake.
It is also important to consume some fat. Four of the vitamins essential to health are fat soluble, they cannot absorbed into the body without fat. Of course balance comes into play again when it comes to fat. Not just the balance between the so called “good” (unsaturated) fats and “bad” (saturated) fats. But also balance of good fats is important. There is an ideal omega 6 : omega 3 ratio, to help avoid inflammation in the body and aid in keeping the immune and cardiovascular systems healthy.
I could go into much further detail, but I’m afraid that may become boring. Instead, what I will say is this. When cooking at home, trim as much visible fat off meat and remove the skin from chicken before cooking. Use a little bit of butter, as a spread or in cooking from time to time, but use olive oil too as well as other good oils, such as flaxseed, pumpkin seed, avocado, sesame, etc. Eat avocado regularly. Include a healthy amount of omega 3 unsaturated fats in your diet, ie salmon (and other oily fish such as mackerel, trout, sardines, swordfish, etc.), linseeds aka flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds. But when infrequently eating out, eat what you enjoy.
To me, food is a pleasure in life. It should be enjoyed along with life itself. Your diet should be like your yoga practice. Be good most of the time, to allow yourself to be a little bit bad when the mood takes you.