Eating healthily should be easy. Except it is not. With conflicting advice, junk food advertising, rising ingredient costs and time pressure, it can be tough. But it is essential for both our short-term health – such as weight, energy levels, skin condition – along with our longer-term health and prevention of life-threatening diseases, that our diets are the best they can be. We are, literally, what we eat.
To help people eat healthily, we’d like to share a few simple, affordable tips you can adopt as part of your regular routine. Each idea will make a little difference; in total they could be game changers!
Drop the Nasties
There are two things everyone should avoid like the proverbial plague: the deadly duo of processed sugar and industrial oils. One of the most important ways to reduce both is to eat mainly home-cooked food, using simple, natural, unprocessed ingredients. Alarmingly, so called ‘ultra-processed’ foods make up 55% of the UK adult diet and are laced with addictive combinations of sugar, fats and salt. Diets which comprise zero processed foods have been shown to be amongst the healthiest of all, regardless of what is eaten.
Sugary products play common roles as treats. The problem is when they are consumed daily and in large amounts. That’s not a treat, that’s an addiction and sugar is highly addictive. The best approach is not to stop treating, but to change how you treat yourself and your loved ones. What other things do you like? A cup of tea, a piece of cheese, five minutes in the fresh air, a call to your best friend? It also helps if you remove temptation by not buying products containing sugar in the first place. Instead, stock up on healthier alternatives. One note of warning: some products sound healthy – such as honey, fruit juice, fruit yoghurts and muesli bars – but are also high in sugar.
Industrial oils, such as margarine and vegetable, sunflower, rapeseed and canola oils, are found in countless products. They are high in omega-6 fatty acids which are pro-inflammatory in large amounts. At home, stop buying these oils and replace with butter or ghee, olive oil, coconut oil or avocado oil. A little more expensive, but worth every penny. When eating out, cheap, processed oils are commonly used, so try to eat steamed or grilled dishes, and ask for butter or olive oil where possible.
Swap it Out
Making huge changes to your diet is difficult, but a few simple swaps can make a big difference. Simple carbohydrates add little value from a nutritional perspective and can even be harmful as they lead to blood sugar spikes. So, why not switch from rice to cauliflower rice, from starchy pasta to grated courgette or from bland white potatoes to sweet potatoes, pumpkin or carrots?
Similarly, stop buying flavoured yoghurts and ice cream, by substituting with plain yoghurt which you add berries to. Sliced apples with peanut butter are a great replacement for biscuits, salted nuts for crisps, 90% dark chocolate for milk chocolate. Instead of sugary drinks, try soda water with lemon wedges, homemade iced herbal tea or coconut water. You probably get the idea, so use your imagination.
Hit the Boost Button
Certain ingredients can add a great health boost, in the form of vital nutrients, to a wide variety of dishes or drinks. We like to keep them in little packets or jars right next to the cooking area or in the front of the fridge, so they can be quickly slipped into anything.
Nuts and seeds are a great example of useful dry goods, with walnuts, brazil nuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds especially rich in nutrients. Add them to vegetables while cooking, pasta or curry sauces, salads and omelettes. Spices are also healthy and commonly anti-inflammatory, so load up your dishes with turmeric, cumin, cinnamon and, if you can handle it, chilli powder or flakes.
In the fridge, it’s great to have jars of chopped garlic and ginger, which can be added to many dishes. Plain yoghurt is helpful to finish off many sweet and savoury dishes, while also containing probiotics and several vitamins. Kefir is even better. And few things are more versatile than nutrient-rich spinach, so keep a big bag handy – it goes in almost everything. Popeye was onto a good thing.
Research shows that sticking to new habits is easier if you tell your friends and family your goals - so do feel free to share this article with a loved one!