Anna Jones
Anna Jones

Food honestly

What does eating well actually mean?

The Pool's food columnist, Anna Jones, on how to balance eating well with living healthily

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By Anna Jones on

We demand so much of our food nowadays that the idea of meat and two veg every night for dinner seems prehistoric. We want food to be super-delicious, healthy, local, fast, cheap and good for the planet.

Making vegetables the focus of our diet is widely considered to be the single most important thing we can do for our own health and for the health of the planet. I want standout, delicious food that leaves me feeling energised, light, bright and satisfied. It’s this intersection between wellness and deliciousness that I strive for with every plate of food I make and eat. And, with all the talk of health and wellness in the food industry, I think this sweet spot is becoming ever more important. Wellness shouldn’t come at the expense of deliciousness.

I am all about eating food that makes me feel good, and while I’ll sometimes reach for a trashy chocolate bar or a stodgy pub (nut) roast (which I think is all part of being human and nothing to be ashamed of), I know that’s not the food that I feel good eating.

It sometimes feels to me as though all this over-the-top focus on nutrition and 'clean eating' has almost become the new, more acceptable way to be on a diet

I welcome with open arms the new breadth of information and attention around eating well, and I’m so thrilled that we are all putting more focus on what we put into our bodies and on the connection between the food we eat and how vibrantly we live. But I also think it’s important to remember that we are all individuals, each with our own completely separate nutritional needs. I can tell you what works for my body, but I honestly can’t tell you exactly what’s going to work for yours. Nor, in my opinion, can any chef or, really, any nutritionist. While nutritionists can absolutely be a guide, you need to have a relationship with your body and you have a responsibility to listen to it and work out what feels good and bad.

There are lots of people out there ready to name superfoods that can help us lose weight, cure illness and make us more attractive and amazing. It sometimes feels to me as though all this over-the-top focus on nutrition and “clean eating” has almost become the new, more acceptable way to be on a diet. And, in a weird way, that isn’t promoting a healthy attitude to food at all.

It’s important to make a commitment to eating well, but it’s also important to be realistic. Cooking goodness-packed meals from scratch a few nights a week is going to have a huge impact on your health, and simply getting more vegetables into your diet is a great first step. You can worry about the matcha powder and chia seeds later on.

It’s important to make a commitment to eating well, but it’s also important to be realistic

To me, eating well is far more simple than it is often made out to be. Buy good ingredients, cook at home, make the majority of what you eat plants and vegetables, and listen and react to your body. I don’t think it’s much more complicated than that. Right now, too many sweeping generalisations are being made in the world of food. Foods like bread are being vilified, and healthy-eating chefs and nutritionists are making blanket statements about how certain staple, cheap, useful and nutritious foods are unduly bad for our bodies. I think this is damaging, as it means our psychology around these foods changes. We attach guilt and a “forbidden” label to food, increasing our anxiety around it and causing us to crave it even more.

Let’s stop looking at food in its respective parts, and making some bad and some disproportionately good. Let’s get back to the whole picture – the whole food. Choosing a balanced way of eating and sticking as close to nature as we possibly can is the most realistic plan for eating long-term. Going to extremes is not a sustainable way of eating or living, but let’s all be talking about a sensible, flexible way of eating that we can incorporate into our lives successfully and joyfully, day-to-day, and over a lifetime.

I’ll be sharing lots of recipes with you in my next few blogs, but this week I wanted to start off with something more flexible, which reflects how I like to look at food and cooking. Sure, recipes are helpful, but I want to share more than that – I want to help us all be more empowered in the kitchen and to not be tied to a recipe every night of the week. I want to share what goes on in my head when I cook something and, as it’s summer, I am starting off with salads. This chart is a kind of mind map, a choose-your-own-adventure way of putting together a salad, be it for work, for dinner or for a quick lunch; pick one or two things from each column, add some dressing (mix one of the suggested dressing flavours with a tablespoon of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and some salt and pepper) and you can’t go wrong:

Anna Jones' Choose Your Own Adventure Guide to Salads

Read more from Anna on The Pool or follow her on Twitter @we_are_food.

Anna Jones
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