Ask an expert: The essentials for a healthy diet

Jo Oates has been teaching and practicing nutrition for over ten years. She’s no pretender; her studies include a teaching Diploma and a BSc (Hons) in Nutritional Therapy from Westminster.

Jo, what do you do for your clients?
I show them how to use the principles of healthy eating. Breakfasts are often quite a challenge. That’s probably the meal that has the worst set of habits attached to it.

Why is breakfast so important?
It kick-starts the metabolism. There are tons of studies that show it helps with weight control. If people don’t eat breakfast, they are likely to be tempted by sugary stuff and to have a bigger lunch or dinner. If you haven’t eaten breakfast, your blood glucose will be jumping high and low. That’s bad for your stress levels.

So what should we all be having every morning to be nice to ourselves?
Protein, essential fats, slow-release carbohydrates and fibre. Also, water because you lose hydration while you sleep.

Why is protein first on that list?
All your body systems need protein – it’s so important.
We start to lose muscle as we get older, so we have to stay active, do weight bearing exercise and feed our bodies plenty of protein. We also need protein for skin collagen elasticity, mental health, and digestion, because your gut lining is made of protein.

What about omega 3 DHA? Is that an essential fat?
People don’t realise that your brain is about 60% fat of which 10% is omega 3. A way to think of it is that it helps calm the brain down. Imagine your brain getting inflamed – omega 3 helps soothe it.

Like a moisturiser for the brain?
Yes. I guess so. It nourishes the brain cells. But you also need water for that. Lots of water.

What’s the DHA bit all about?
The DHA is a structural part of the brain. We know that babies need it for neurodevelopment, but it also helps with memory later on in life.

What about Vitamin D? It isn’t very sunny here – does it compensate for the Great British weather? 
It’s important for your bones, it can help prevent heart disease, lower blood pressure, prevent various cancers, and regulate the immune system. It can even help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s. We need it for more or less everything.

What do your clients tell you about how they feel after following your advice?
They usually say that they notice a huge increase in energy, they’re feeling less stressed, have fewer headaches and sleep better.

That must be music to your ears. You’re essentially helping people to age well. What’s key to that? 
It’s really about taking care of yourself. Your metabolism slows down, so you should eat nutrient dense food. It’s also about having a positive mental outlook. That’s really important.

Who encapsulates ageing well for you?
My dad.

Lovely. Most people say Mick Jagger. What’s your dad’s story?
He’s 86, and he’s still a practicing artist, despite having various conditions. He’s incredibly focused on enjoying life. He gets up early every morning and gets on with it. His diet is healthy Mediterranean style. He doesn’t eat big portions, but he eats lots of fish, whole grains, vegetables and rice.

If you were stranded on a desert island for a month, what food type would you have a plentiful supply of?
Chickens. They’d lay eggs, so I’d have two types of good protein.

Very clever. That’s the academic in you. What about a non-food item?
A mask and snorkel.

So you could enjoy yourself and go fishing at the same time?