Your Feel-Fabulous Vitality Plan

Remember what good health feels like? Put the spring back into your step this season, the natural way, with nutritional advice from the experts. 

Whether you are hungover from the party season or just want to kick-start your way into the New Year feeling fabulous, here are nine easy steps to help you replenish, revive and recharge your batteries, so that you can function at your optimum level this summer. 

1. Portion control for dummies 

Portion control is important, because too much of a good thing can become bad for you, explains Jeske Wellmann, dietitian and co-author of Snacks and Treats for Sustained Energy (2008). “The key is moderation in all things,” she says. “All meals you consume should contain all the nutrients important for vitality.” Celynn Erasmus, registered dietitian and wellness professional presenter, explains that an easy way to measure portions is to use your hand as a guide. “A healthy, balanced meal should ideally consist of a fistful of slow-release, low-GI or high-fibre carbohydrate, a fistful of lean or low-fat protein, two fistfuls of vegetables or salad and a small portion of a healthy fat,” she says. “After the meal, wait for at least 15-minutes, before you go for a second helping, to give your brain the chance to register that you are satisfied and no longer hungry.”

2. Good mood food guaranteed 
Fruits such as berries, citrus and apples in a smoothie can give you an instant lift, says Lesley Scott, nutritionist and partner at Sound Bites Nutrition. “Eating well-balanced meals and snacks regularly throughout the day, helps to control blood sugar levels, so you’re less likely to feel mid-morning or afternoon slumps and have sugar cravings,” she says. According to Erasmus, lean proteins such as fat-free cottage cheese, tuna, legumes, lean biltong, a hard-boiled egg or a protein shake, can help to elevate the mood, as these digest slowly and also help to stabilise the sugar levels. Wellmann also suggests calcium- and magnesium-rich foods to instantly boost your vitality. Good sources of calcium include cheese, milk, yoghurt, spinach, sardines, salmon and pilchards. Foods that contain magnesium are dairy products, cocoa, nuts, pumpkin, sunflower and other seeds and grains. 

3. Eat 5-a-Day everyday
Jane Badham, registered dietitian and CEO of the 5-a-Day for Better Health Trust, emphasises that fresh fruit and vegetables are the portable power-packs for the season. “The summer season’s selection of vegetables and fruit is bountiful, so don’t sabotage your healthy eating habits by neglecting your 5-a-Day,” she says. “Most fresh produce is at its most delicious and nutritious when served raw with little adornment, so that the natural flavour and goodness isn’t lost in the cooking process,” she says. Badham further explains that fruit and vegetables consistently come out tops for disease prevention and better health. According to Wellmann, a daily intake of vegetables and fruit provides anti-oxidants, phyto-nutrients, vitamins, minerals, fibre and carbohydrates – all energy and health producing elements.  

4. Vitamins for vitality
“It is important to take a multi-vitamin supplement, as we do not always get all the micronutrients our body needs from the food we eat,” says Wellmann. “Speak to your dietitian about this to ascertain the correct multi-vitamin to suit your needs, although usually, any good multi-vitamin supplement will do.” If you are eating a balanced diet, you will inevitably consume most vitamins through the food; however without an adequate variation of foods in terms of colour, shape and texture, you might be lacking some important vitamins. “Try out one recipe every week that has one, or a few, new, tasty ingredients,” says Scott. “Food is not something that you need to eat and then burn off at the gym. It’s a wonderful, scrumptious fuel, filled with vitamins, which give you the energy you need to go out and do all the fabulous things you want to do, so enjoy it.”

5. Mad about minerals
Erasmus points out the importance of supplementation with minerals. “Many South Africans could be deficient in one or more minerals and the list of symptoms are long and varied,” she says. “A lack of magnesium, for example, results in food cravings, increased appetite, as well as tiredness, change in mood and a predisposition for muscle cramping.” Zinc, another important mineral for vitality is essential for a strong immune system and for maintaining the senses of smell, taste and sight in good working order. Iron is another important mineral not to have a deficiency of, says Wellmann, as it causes a lack of concentration, loss of appetite and shortness of breath. “Make the commitment to having a variety of foods and maintaining a regime of mineral supplementation, in order to live a healthy life,” she says. 

6. The skinny on good fats
Often we think that cutting all fats out of our diet is good for us; however, this could not be further from the truth. Says Scott; “Fat is necessary, especially for the uptake of certain vitamins.” Beneficial fats, that is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, help to cushion and protect the internal organs, as well as serve as a concentrated source of energy. “Consume less trans fatty acids and saturated fats by avoiding fried, fatty and pastry-based foods and rather opt for adding small amounts of fat sources to your balanced meals. You can use avocado, olives, nuts, seeds, plain yoghurt and cheese such as feta; these are flavourful and are not needed in large amounts,” says Scott. According to Wellmann, lean protein, rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, controls the saturated fat intake, which in turn helps to lower cholesterol levels. “A good idea is to supplement with Omega 3, because we often do not get enough of this through our diet,” she says. 

7. Choosy about carbs
Scott warns that you should not cut out on carbohydrates in an attempt to lose weight, as they are essential for providing energy. High-fibre versions also keep you feeling fuller for longer. As a staple part of most traditional meals, carbohydrates can be healthy as long as they aren’t smothered in cream, butter and oil. The best type of carbohydrate to eat must have a low to intermediate GI-value, says Wellmann. “Carbohydrate foods that break down quickly during digestion have the highest GI-value (> 70). The blood sugar response is fast and high, which means the glucose in the bloodstream increases rapidly. Lower GI foods are associated with lower insulin levels, which makes fat easier to burn and less likely to be stored,” she says. Good carbohydrate choices include low-GI breads, baby potatoes, sweet potato, Provitas, rice and durum wheat pasta. For a comprehensive list of all GI-tested South African foods, visit  

8. Feel fabulous fibre
Fibre helps to keep you feeling full by adding bulk to meals, which increases volume and encourages you to chew, says Erasmus. “Have high-fibre cereal for breakfast, with at least 4grams of fibre per serving,” she says. Explaining that fibre also helps to slow down digestion, Erasmus suggests starting every dinner with a mixed green salad or home-made vegetable soup. Where possible, she encourages the use of high-fibre products, such as a seed-loaf in place of white bread, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice or barley, as a starch accompaniment. Scott agrees; “Go for the brown, whole wheat, whole grain options. Don’t peel your fruit and vegetables otherwise you’ll lose some of the fibre, and remember to remove your vegetables from the pot or steamer while they’re still relatively firm, to obtain the maximum benefit.”

9. Gut-friendly bacteria
Good health and vitality also equals regular bowel movements, digestion of food and healthy intestinal flora. If there is irregularity or discomfort in any of these areas of digestion and elimination, such as cramps, constipation, diarrhoea and bloating, it might be a sign of ill-health – and a bacterial imbalance, explains Martie de Wet, registered dietitian. Equilibrium can be restored by boosting the number of good bacteria present in the gastro-intestinal tract. “This is where probiotics, like Lactobacillus acidophilus, are essential. These good guys thwart the overgrowth of toxic bacteria by competing for attachment sites and nutrients in the gastro-intestinal tract, change or improve the intestinal bacterial balance, and boost the health and feeling of ‘wellness’ of the person taking the probiotic,” she says. “To cope with signs and symptoms, due to daily stress and the bad eating habits and busy lifestyles that go along with it, take your daily dose of a high-strength, strain-specific probiotic – and you will feel good!”

10. BONUS step to vitality: Get active!
Eating healthy, balanced meals and getting the vitamins and minerals you need is only part of regaining your vitality. Regular exercise is also necessary and promotes cellular growth, helping to rejuvenate the organs of the body. “Exercise strengthens the heart, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels,  helps to prevent type II diabetes, strengthens muscles and bones, reduces fat, sharpens the mind, elevates the mood, decreases anxiety and stress, and also promotes sleep, amongst other benefits,” says Dr Susan Bassett, biokineticist  at the University of the Western Cape. “Enhance your longevity by incorporating a regular exercise programme into your life and make your health a top priority!”

It’s all about choice!
The old adage ‘all things in moderation’ is key to maintaining your vitality, but when treats become threats and start replacing nutritious foods, then it’s high time you re-evaluate your eating habits! To opt in or to opt out – that is the question…

  • Deep-fried vs. grilled, baked or steamed
    • Opt out: Deep-fried foods are full of bad-for-you trans fatty acids and saturated fat.
    • Opt in: Grilled, baked or steamed foods usually retain more of their nutritional value.
  • Processed and refined vs. high-fibre
    • Opt out: White bread, biscuits, pastries and cakes contain many hidden bad fats, are high in sugar and contain very little fibre, which could leave you feeling sluggish.
    • Opt in: High-fibre, brown and whole-wheat products, encourage healthy digestion and increased energy. 
  • Cold drinks, alcohol and caffeine vs. stimulant-free drinks
    • Opt out: Most fizzy drinks contain high amounts of sugar and preservatives. Alcoholic drinks are high in calories and also cause dehydration. Caffeine intake should also be limited, to avoid free radical damage to the skin.
    • Opt in: It’s easy to confuse hunger with thirst when you are probably dehydrated, so make sure you drink about eight glasses of water a day. Other healthy options include tomato juice, fresh fruit smoothies and 100% pure fruit juice.
  • Sugary, fatty baddies vs. natural goodies
    • Opt out: Sweets, chocolates and ice-cream might hit the spot temporarily, but will not leave you feeling satisfied. High in fat and sugar and low in fibre, these foods should be eaten in moderation. Consumed after a meal or a snack, the portions are usually easier to control. 
    • Opt in: Make your own frozen fruit ice-lollies from real fruit and enjoy the benefits of vitamins, antioxidants and fibre. 

Super protein-power snack ideas 
Protein is not only an important building block for each cell of your body; it is also beneficial for a healthy immune system and increased energy levels. Try out one of these five protein-packed snack ideas, as suggested by Lesley Scott, to improve your vitality.

  1. Cocktail-size pita breads topped with tuna, sweet chilli sauce, diced cucumber and tomato.
  2. Provitas with hummus (to make your own version; blend drained tinned chickpeas, plain low-fat yoghurt, a small amount of garlic and lemon juice.)
  3. Skewers with watermelon cubes and soft, low-fat feta cubes.
  4. Plain low-fat yoghurt and papaya. 
  5. Whole-wheat slice of toast with low-fat cottage cheese and balsamic vinegar

Top tips to help you meet your 5-a-Day quota

  • Get in at least two pieces of fresh fruit per day by starting your morning off with a smoothie.
  • Chop and add fruit to your salads. Apples, peaches, pineapple and paw-paw all work well!
  • Use soft fruits, such as banana, mango and paw-paw as sandwich fillers or toast toppers.
  • Make more vegetable-based meals, such as stir-fries, vegetable curries, soups and stews.
  • If you are eating on the run, take finger vegetables to work, such as baby tomatoes, snap peas, baby corn, baby cucumber, cucumber fingers, mushrooms, baby carrots, blanched broccoli florets, etc.  Use fat-free flavoured cottage cheese or hummus as a delicious dip! 

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Author: Charlene Yared-West. Published in Longevity Magazine, January 2010, p. 86.

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