Eating for health and wellbeing


Our theme this month in our newsletter is The Whole You. The approach at the retreat in Spain is holistic, so all the parts of the La Crisalida programme dovetail together, to create and maintain a life of health and wellbeing. Nutrition and hydration is one of the eight elements and it is this which I am going to focus on here: eating for health and wellbeing. This article also encompasses education and mindset, whilst acknowledging that you need to also incorporate the others elements, like exercise and rest.

Hippocrates, the guy who is said to have changed the accepted medical approach to health and disease back in the fifth and fourth centuries BC, apparently said:

“Everyone has a doctor in him or her; we just have to help it with its work. The natural healing force within each of us is the greatest force in getting us well.  Our food should be our medicine. Our medicine should be our food…”

I love this quote and here at the retreat we like to follow this approach.

Healthy cells = healthy body

The human body is made up of millions and millions of cells. All cells need energy – to grow, reproduce, make new parts, maintain a stable environment and move molecules (and more) around the body. Energy can come (in part) from the food that we eat. Plants take in energy from the sun and store it (a process called photosynthesis). When we eat plants, this energy can be made available for our body. Animals or humans cannot store energy in this way.

Each cell in our body has a function. To do this function efficiently and completely, the cell also needs nutrients. These nutrients come from the food that we eat. For example, cells need magnesium for brain health, calcium for bone health and so on.

Our body is an amazing structure that has in-built mechanisms, which work hard to return us to a place of balance at all times. We can support these in-built mechanisms by eating food that is naturally produced and contains lots of vitamins and minerals.

Eating for health

Here are our top 15 points to ensure you are eating for health:

  • Eat a variety of fruit and vegetables – if you can, aim to eat more than “five per day”. The World Health Organisation, in their global strategy for diet, physical activity and health (external link) says insufficient fruit and vegetables in the diet is one of the major risk factors for excess death in the world.
  • Choose wholegrains rather than processed foods (wholemeal or brown rice rather than white rice).
  • Eat enough fibre in your diet.
  • Ensure you have a good intake of omega 3 – flaxseed and chia seeds are great.
  • Include healthy sources of fats, like those found in avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil.
  • Include a sustainable source of energy in your diet, some carbohydrates, like wholegrains or sweet potato. Legumes and pulses are also great sources of sustainable energy.
  • Eat varied sources of protein. Legumes and pulses like beans, chickpeas, nuts and seeds, tofu are all good to include.
  • Eat a varied diet – variation means you are more likely to obtain the nutrients that you need from your food. (Eating too much of one thing is unbalanced, even if that one thing is apples or celery!).
  • Reduce saturated fats (typically found in meat and dairy).
  • Cut out trans fats (typically found in processed foods, takeaways and cakes, biscuits and snacks).
  • Reduce (or cut out) sugary foods.
  • Minimise processed foods. Choose products as close to natural as possible, to minimise chemical preservatives and optimise the amount of nutrients (processing and manufacturing food tends to degrade the available nutrients).
  • Minimise your intake of toxins, like caffeine, alcohol and tobacco.
  • Use lots of herbs and spices in your cooking to bring flavour.
  • Reduce the amount of added-salt. Use natural fruit and vegetable sources to deliver the body’s requirements for sodium. If you must add salt, get a natural, minimally processed version and add it just before eating.

Eat a plant-based diet

A plant-based diet means eating lots of:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Wholegrains
  • Pulses and legumes (like chickpeas, lentils and beans)
  • Healthy fats and oils
  • Nuts and seeds

I am not here to convert you into becoming 100% vegan, however increasing the amount of the above items in your diet can help to increase the variety and quantity of vitamins and minerals available to support your bodily processes. Enjoying a diet rich in nutrients supports the cells in your body to do their job.

I strongly recommend against simply cutting out key food groups (like meat or dairy), without understanding how you will replace these food groups from plant-based sources. You can read more about our plant-based food pyramid and how to apply this in your everyday life here: the meat and dairy-free food pyramid for health and optimum weight. This article includes suggestions on portions and an indication of the amount of each item to include. You can also seek support from a qualified nutritionist or dietician.

Sugar is one of the most challenging substances for the body to deal with. It is addictive and can quickly throw the functions of the body off. There are some natural alternatives if you have a “sweet tooth”, like fruit or dried fruit. If you want to learn more read: sugar – the highs, the lows and alternatives.

If you are looking for ways to reduce the amount of caffeine you are drinking, you might find our article say no to caffeine, natural ways to boost your energy helpful.  We also share some ideas on what you can do instead of drinking alcohol in: what are the health effects of alcohol.

Balance: take the 80-20 approach to food

Following a plant-based diet, whilst also excluding or reducing the items like sugar, alcohol etc listed above, can be challenging and it can feel restrictive, particularly when you first start eating this way. So, one of the suggestions we make at the retreat is to follow the 80-20 rule – eat this way 80% of the time. For the other 20% of the time, you can allow yourself to consume meat, dairy etc. if you feel like it. However, the more you follow a natural plant-based diet, the more your taste buds will change and you might naturally find yourself not wanting some of the items you currently crave.

Holistic approach to health and wellbeing

Remember, what we eat is just one element in living a life of health and wellbeing. It is also important to exercise regularly, get sufficient quality sleep, drink water, and live a life you love. Having a healthy immune system can help with this – take a look at our recent e-book, how to boost your immune system for more details on actions you can take right now.

Eating for health articles on our blog

If you wish to explore this topic in more detail, you might like to take a look at some of these many articles that I have written about exploring how nutrition and hydration can influence your health on our blog.

We also publish food and juice recipes every month, which are also available on the blog.

Come on retreat

Nutrition forms an important part of what we offer here at the retreat. During their retreat most guests will experience first-hand changes in their body, as a result of changing their diet. Skin clears up, eyes become brighter, moods smooth out, cravings lessen or disappear, energy levels start to stabilise and more. We believe that eating a balanced diet, full of vitamins and minerals supports the body in finding and maintaining balance, and good health. You can read more about the plant-based food that we serve on our food page here.

Eating a varied diet, based upon natural foods really can mean you are eating for health.

About the author

Lisa is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. She is an Epidemiologist, therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa has studied NLP and hypnosis, as well as nutrition (she designs the menus).