The summer season is often a time when many of us look to adopt a healthier lifestyle. However, many people often fall at the first hurdle by attempting a complete overhaul of their eating habits.
“Think marathon, not sprint, when it comes to this process of attaining a healthier lifestyle,” says Andrea Hill, a holistic nutrition educator. “As with any dietary or lifestyle change, it can take some practice before you perfect a new behavior.”
Instead of too many drastic changes, smaller changes can help achieve long-term benefits.
“Small changes in food selection are easier to accept and a far better approach to managing sustainable health goals and adopting that healthy lifestyle,” Andrea adds.
The cons of processed
Refined and heavily processed foods are generally stripped of much of their nutritional value. Swapping these for unrefined, unprocessed foods will supply your body with more nutrients.
“Chemically processed foods are usually loaded with sugar, sodium, and inflammatory fats,” says Andrea. “These types of calories offer no essential nutrients and come at a cost to our health and metabolism, increasing the risk of insulin resistance, high triglycerides, cholesterol, and non-alcoholic fatty liver, as well as heightening the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer.”
Some simple dietary changes will ensure less processed foods find their way onto your plate. For example, replace white pasta and bread with 100 percent wholegrain options to get more nutrients and satiating fiber. Replace high sugar and sodium snacks with fresh fruit and nuts, swap flavored yogurt for natural choices topped with fresh fruit, and swap highly processed lunch meats for uncured, fresh cuts which you can cook at home.
Swapping ready-meals for homemade will have a dramatic effect, as ready-meals and canned soups often contain high levels of salt and fat, as well as numerous preservatives which increase their shelf life. Swapping these for more homemade meals will inevitably decrease your intake of fat, sodium and sugar.
An apple a day… just choose organic
The Dirty Dozen list, released annually by the Environmental Working Group, lists produce with the highest pesticide contamination. Apples, nectarines, grapes, spinach and potatoes all feature in this year’s list. The EWG also releases a Clean 15 list of produce which is less likely to be contaminated by pesticides, with this year’s list featuring avocados, onions, sweet potatoes and sweet corn.
Andrea explains that making the change to organic will help to minimize your exposure to synthetic pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, artificial hormones, and genetically modified organisms associated with cancer risk and other health problems.
Keep it not so sweet
The World Health Organization advises added sugar levels of less than 50 grams per day, with below 25 grams being an even more beneficial level.
These “free” sugars are added to products or are naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. They do not include sugars naturally found in fruit, vegetables and milk.
“Sugar is everywhere,” says Andrea. “It is hidden in commercial breads, ‘healthy’ breakfast cereals, granola bars, salad dressings, juices, and sweetened drinks. Unless you avoid processed and packaged foods, you probably eat more sugar than you think,” she warns.
Shockingly, sodas can contain up to 40 grams, or 10 teaspoons, of free sugar. Swapping these drinks for carbonated water or water infused with fruit will dramatically reduce your sugar intake.
Condiments can also hide a multitude of sins. One tablespoon of ketchup, for example, contains about 4 grams, or 1 teaspoon, of free sugar.
Swapping ketchup for homemade salsa, or making your own mayonnaise or salad dressing will decrease your intake.
Many breakfast options conceal surprisingly high levels of sugar. Swap sugary breakfast cereals for non-sugary options. As well as providing satiating fiber and lowering cholesterol, oatmeal won’t give you a peak and mid-morning dip that sugary cereals provide. Wholegrain cereals are another good option.
Fiber is extremely important in the diet, helping to maintain weight, lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and reduce the risk of heart disease among other benefits.
“Unless you are eating whole fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, and whole grains regularly, you are likely falling short of your daily fiber needs,” warns Andrea. “Interestingly, your body cannot digest fiber, but that is what makes it such an important part in digestion.”
Cucumbers, blueberries, nuts and beans are good sources of soluble fiber, which dissolves into a gel-like texture, slowing down digestion and keeping you fuller for longer, while dark leafy-green vegetables, carrots, green beans and celery are good sources of gut-friendly insoluble fiber.
Say farewell to frying
As well as small food swaps, simply changing your cooking methods can also have a dramatic effect on your diet.
“Frying foods can add unnecessary fat and calories, while grilling, roasting, sautéing, stir-frying, baking, poaching, and steaming are healthier methods of cooking that add very little, if any, fat or salt,” says Andrea.
As well as reducing the fat and calories added during cooking, healthier cooking methods also reduce nutrient loss.
“Healthier cooking methods help retain the nutrients in foods and best capture their natural wholesome flavors,” Andrea says.