10 Foods I Couldn’t Live Without
Although I’m constantly going on about mixing up your diet and providing variety for it to be healthy, there are certain staple foods I buy every week and that I couldn’t live without. I thought I would share with you 10 of my favourite go-to foods. Some of them I swear by for their nutritional value and some of them are just because I enjoy them. One of them I really couldn’t live without, but I will let you work out which one that is
1. Natural Yogurt
For a long time I did not have milk at all in my diet and so I relied on yogurt as my main source of calcium. I would have it on cereal for breakfast, post training as a recovery snack and then again before bed. I could quite easily go through a 500g pot each day. Now that I do have some milk in my diet, my reliance on yogurt has diminished a little, but I still couldn’t live without it. There is literally nothing that yogurt won’t go with. Fruit, cereal, curry, as a salad dressing, in a smoothie, a healthier replacement for cream in a pasta sauce, added to batter for cakes or pancakes, eaten straight from the pot, used instead of soured cream in Mexican food. I literally could not live without it. Even though yogurt is simply fermented milk, it contains more nutrients per gram than milk, as it is richer and denser, as well as containing probiotics as a result of fermentation. I explain the importance of these in my post about looking after your gut. Yogurt is a good source of protein, which makes it a great recovery snack post training or pre bed. It also contains good levels of calcium and vitamin D, needed for maintaining strong bones, teeth and muscles. In its natural form it is low in calories, but flavoured and low fat varieties can contain a surprising amount of added sugar, which should be avoided. Personally I prefer the thicker Greek version of natural yogurt and my go-to brands are Arla or Total.
In On Bike Fuelling I talk about the importance of providing enough carbohydrate during training to fuel my muscles and my struggles with this. Bananas are one of the few foods I can easily eat and digest before or during a particularly hard session and so I rely on them a lot. Their sweetness means they are also a great substitute for sugar in things like pancakes, cakes or flapjacks. Although they are sweet and contain around 15-20g of carbohydrate per medium-large banana, their high fibre content means that this sugar is released more slowly and so helping to regulate blood glucose levels, keeping you fuelled more effectively and for longer. Other nutritional benefits of bananas include a high amount of potassium, which helps to keep the heart and cardiovascular system running smoothly, while also helping with the proper functioning of the kidneys to maintain the body’s hydration status. High levels of potassium in the blood can also help prevent muscles from cramping, thus allowing them to work more efficiently. Bananas can be used in savoury recipes as well, try this chicken creole recipe for something a little different.
As a child I was told that an apple a day will keep the doctor away and this has kind of stuck with me. Therefore I always try to have one a day. There is just something so pleasurable in biting in to a crisp, sweet apple I find. My favourites are either Braeburn or Granny Smiths. I get really sad if I bite in to one and it is powdery, it’s just so disappointing. However, It took me a while to realise, but I can’t actually eat an apple now before I train. This is because my stomach is not very good at dealing with fructose based sugars and prefers glucose. The sugars in apples are mainly fructose and so if I eat one before training I get stomach cramps and sometimes even am sick. Therefore I save my apple for a post training snack. Apples are incredibly rich in antioxidants which help fight off infection and disease. They are also high in fibre, which slows down digestion and keeps you feeling fuller for longer.
4. Nakd Cereal Bars
I swear by Nakd cereal bars to provide energy for me when I’m training. They are simply dried fruit, nuts and seeds mushed together to form a handy small bar that fits perfect in a cycling jersey pocket. They are great because one bar counts as a portion of fruit or vegetables and they all taste delicious. I find them really easy to chew and swallow while i’m cycling, while also being easy on my stomach and not making me feel sick when doing hard efforts. There is such a variety of flavours that even if you eat them all the time, like I do, then it is impossible to get bored of them. My favourite is possibly the lemon drizzle, but bakewell tart, coco-coconut or coffee and walnut are strong contenders. To be honest, there isn’t a flavour I don’t like. Each bar contains around 135 calories, with just under 20g of carbohydrate. They are made from all natural ingredients, which means there is no added sugar or sweeteners, making them a great nutritious snack. I can eat them in three or four bites, making them a quick source of energy, as well as a good one.
My breakfast regularly includes some form of oats, be it porridge, granola or overnight/bircher muesli. They are my breakfast of choice on race day and to guarantee I get them, I will take some form of them with me in my suitcase wherever I go, just in case. They provide plenty of slow release carbohydrate to keep my muscles adequately fuelled and they are tasty too. They also feature regularly in snacks I like, such as flapjacks or cereal bars, and can be added to cakes, breads and many other things to add extra nutrition, especially fibre. In their whole form, oats are a very good source of fibre, which helps to support our digestive system. This particular type of fibre is called beta-glucan and supports the digestive system in two ways. Firstly it slows down the rate of travel through the small intestine, maximising the amount of time the body has to take up nutrients from food eaten. Secondly it gets fermented in the large intestine, resulting in the production of healthy gut bacteria, which I highlight the importance of here. The energy provided by oats is a slow release carbohydrate, which means your muscles are provided with energy for longer.
Rice is a brilliant source of carbohydrate and helps to provide energy to my muscles to fuel them. There are many different types, including white, brown, basmati, wild, long grain and short grain. It is incredibly versatile and can be the star of a dish or simply a side. It can be savoury or sweet, and is found in most cuisines, most popularly Asian, where it is also grown. It is my go-to choice of carbohydrate with my evening meal and I particularly enjoy it with a curry, or in a risotto. We often use risotto rice to make sweet rice cakes that can be used as snacks on the bike when on a particularly long training ride, or as a snack pre race. On its own it is very bland and simple, which is what makes it so versatile and adaptable.
I explain about the important health benefits of garlic in my post about preparing it. I add garlic to to many of my recipes. It adds so much flavour to things, without adding calories and makes most savoury dishes taste nicer and more interesting. Without it I think everything tastes a lot more bland. I just wish it didn’t smell so bad and linger for so long.
Chilli is a bit like garlic in that it adds so much flavour to dishes, without the calories. It also helps to keep things interesting. The more you eat chilli, the more used you get to the heat and you build up a tolerance. These days I can tolerate a lot of heat, although I don’t always enjoy it. There are countless health benefits to including chilli in your diet. One of these is that it helps to clear out your airways and prevent any build up or blockages. Further to this, they also contain good levels of vitamins A and C, which are both known for their antioxidant properties in protecting and fighting disease. For those trying to lose weight, there is evidence that chilli helps burn calories and increases your metabolism as a result of the heat they produce in the body when consumed. When I am away racing or training, I don’t eat anywhere near as much chilli or garlic as normal and I really miss it. By the end of a week away I really start to crave spicy food and will generally plan it in to my diet as one of the first meals to cook when I get home.
Chicken, especially the breast meat, is a very good source of protein, while also being low in fat. It is definitely the meat I eat and enjoy the most. We go through so much of it a week, be it for lunch in a wrap or salad, or dinner in a curry, pasta, risotto or stew. There is very little that doesn’t go with chicken and so your options are endless. It is my choice of meat in a roast dinner, in a curry, or sandwich but not at a BBQ as that is generally when it is served on the bone and I don’t like meat on the bone. Like rice, it is readily available throughout the world and I would struggle to live without it.
I love chocolate. It is the one food that is guaranteed to make me smile, no matter how i’m feeling. The more unhappy I’m feeling, the more I crave it. The knowledge that I will get to eat chocolate after, can get me through the hardest of training sessions and planning it in to my diet regularly helps to keep me mentally happy. One of the perks of training so much, is that I can eat it whenever I need and not feel guilty. I often joke that the reason I train so much is so that I can eat so much chocolate and it not make me put weight on. I honestly believe that life would not be worth living if I couldn’t enjoy chocolate. Adding chocolate to anything has the power to make it seem instantly more appealing. I prefer milk or dark, but I’m really not picky. Most of my favourite days or experiences have revolved around chocolate. There was the trip to the chocolate factory in Switzerland, which also included a train journey and cheese tasting as well. There is my favourite place to eat in Manchester, Slattery’s, which does the best ever hot chocolate, amazing cakes and all round delicious chocolate, The things they can make out of the stuff is incredible. There’s one of my all time favourite meals, venison in a dark chocolate sauce, which I have had twice in two different restaurants and both have been as delicious. There’s my Mum’s home made brownies, and there’s my all time dream to go on holiday to St. Lucia and stay at Hotel Chocolat’s coco grove, where they have a luxury hotel.
So there you have it, my list of 9 health foods and one mental health food that I rely on to keep me fit, healthy and strong. They appear in some form in every weekly grocery shop I do and eating them makes me feel happy, safe and secure. If you have enjoyed this list then check out my Top 10 Nutrition Tips or my Top 5 Kitchen Gadgets. If there are any other lists you would like me to make, then leave a comment in the box below.
Thank you for reading and speak soon.