Need to improve your diet, but don’t know where to start?!
The prospect of a diet overhaul can feel daunting and unobtainable, and in reality, too much change all at once is likely to end with inevitable failure. In fact, 95% of diets fail. Why? Because they are synonymous with suffering. Adherents to diets feel that they either need to endure hunger or take an all-or-nothing approach and eliminate entire food groups in a quest for optimal health and longevity.
The good news is that contrary to common belief, complying with a new health regime does NOT need to be about calorie restriction or rumbling stomachs (sigh of relief!) Rather, it’s about making simple but smart switches to your existing diet. The secret is not to focus on all the “can’t haves” (it will just make you want them more!) but instead focus on packing your diet with wonderful nutrient-dense foods. Feed; don’t famish, with the following diet upgrades:
1) Substitute pasta for courgette spaghetti “courgetti”
One of the main pitfalls of the modern-day diet is that it is very carbohydrate heavy and particularly rich in refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta. These foods have been processed and largely stripped of their nutrients and fibre, and in excess can lead to weight gain. “Courgetti” is a brilliant way to lower your carb intake without feeling like you’re making too much of a sacrifice. Quick and easy to make, all you need is a basic julienne peeler to ribbon your courgette into spaghetti strands, then pan-fry in a dash of olive oil until just tender. It makes a delicious accompaniment to dishes such as Bolognese and Chilli Con Carne, and as an added bonus, courgettes are a fantastic source of vitamin C, a powerful immune boosting antioxidant!
2) Swap margarine for butter
That’s right, you need to dust off your butter dish and ditch the margarine because butter is back! Having long been painted as a dietary villain that makes us fat and clogs up our arteries, recent studies now suggest that butter isn’t the bad guy it’s long been painted as. In fact, it’s now believed that it is our switch from saturated fat to a diet high in refined carbohydrates and vegetable oils (found in processed margarines) that has, paradoxically, increased our risk of heart disease. Good-quality butter contains vitamins A, D, & K, and is rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has been shown to help lower body fat percentage. As with everything, moderation still applies of course.
3) Make vegetables the centrepiece of your meal
We tend to think of vegetables as an accompaniment to our main meal, but there is no reason why they can’t be the main event! Aim to fill at least half your plate with vegetables, and remember the more colour the better, with each colour representing a different disease-fighting antioxidant. A large bowl of sweet potatoes, red pepper, green beans, red onion, tomatoes and mushrooms drizzled in pesto, and topped with toasted pine nuts and crumbled feta, make a delicious and satisfying dinner. Quite simply, your general health can greatly benefit from eating more plants.
don’t stop at 5-a-day, aim for 10!
4) Maximize the nutrient content of your vegetables
The way you cook and prepare your vegetables can impact on the nutrients you’re retaining when they hit your fork. Get the best bang for your buck by following these golden rules:
- Rinse fresh vegetables well just before using to remove any dirt and pesticide residues (to avoid further, choose organic whenever you can). Never soak your vegetables, as this can remove key nutrients such as vitamin C.
- To retain water-soluble vitamins, cut your vegetables into large pieces or even better, cook them whole.
- Keep cooking time and temperature to a minimum. Ideally, steam rather than boil to retain maximal nutrient content.
- Add a squeeze of lemon juice to iron-rich vegetables such as broccoli, kale or spinach, as the vitamin C it contains helps your body absorb the iron.
- Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to your veggies after cooking to aid the absorption of the fat-soluble nutrients they contain.
- Include some raw vegetables into your diet too!
5) Choose grass-fed organic meat
When it comes to meat, your mantra should be “quality not quantity”. Organic, grass-fed meat contains less saturated fat, fewer calories, higher levels of brain-boosting and heart-healthy omega-3 fats (between 2- 5 times more than grain-fed meat), and is richer in nutrients including vitamin E, vitamin A, iron and zinc. Try to avoid processed meats such as sausages, deli meats and bacon, which contain preservatives, are high in salt, and have been linked to a significantly higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
6) Switch fruit juice for whole fruit
Fruit juices have been getting a bit of a bad rap in the media recently, and not without reason. Most shop bought fruit juices are pasteurised (essentially boiled!) which destroys a lot of the valuable nutrients, vitamins & antioxidants, whilst concentrating the sugars. The juice is also extracted from the whole fruit, leaving behind the fibrous part of the fruit that helps to slow sugar absorption into the blood. Shop bought fruit juices can contain up to 8 teaspoons of sugar in a glass. And even though it’s “fruit sugar’, it’s still sugar; too much of which is not only bad for the waistline but has been linked with increased risk of chronic diseases including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. To put it into context, a large glass of orange juice contains the juice of over 10 oranges (and you wouldn’t eat 10 oranges in one sitting would you?!) Rather than a glass of juice with your breakfast, opt for a piece of whole fruit instead. Even better, choose domestic, seasonal fruits such as apples, pears and berries which have the lowest sugar content.