The early part of a New Year is often the time that people decide to overhaul their diet and try and make some healthier choices when it comes to themselves or their family. This change usually starts at the supermarket, which can suddenly become a minefield when all of sudden you are faced with selecting foods that have not previously been on the usual shopping list. We are after all creatures of habit and with so many people living such busy lives, we can all be guilty of not having much variety and change in our diet from one week to the next. Most people are not granted the luxury of time to browse the aisles leisurely, so a trip to the supermarket can often end up being a quick ‘grab and dash’ experience, grabbing only those things that are familiar to us and which are usual residents of our kitchen cupboards. Therefore, when people decide to make some changes in their diet, the supermarket shopping experience therefore has to change too, so it’s best not to overwhelm yourself and make too many changes all at once, or you may find yourself having a meltdown in the middle of the pasta aisle.
So where is a good place to start when making changes to your diet?
Analysing your own eating patterns and behaviours is a good starting point, because before you make any changes you have to work out what NEEDS to change. This can only be done if you look at yourself, your diet and your eating patterns with a very honest and critical eye. For example are you snacker? If so what snacks do you eat, why do you eat them (out of hunger or from emotions?), are your snack choices healthy? How much fruit and vegetables do you eat daily, is this enough, is their enough variety of these in your diet or are you missing out on green/purple/yellow fruit and veg? Are your portion sizes too big, are you adding salt to your meals, is your diet too high in sugar?…..the questions are endless, but these are examples of things you can ask yourself to help you analyse your own diet and eating patterns. Remember the answers to these questions will be different for everyone and once you have your own individual answers you can then decide which one or two changes you want to focus on first. Remember only pick one or two changes to start off with, or it will be easy to get overwhelmed and stumble at the first hurdle.
For many people, one thing that can often be identified as needing to change in their diet is the type of snacks they are eating between meals. Everyone can be guilty of reaching for a quick fix such as a chocolate bar or piece of cake, but high sugar snacks will not only have a negative impact on your waistline, but will also negatively affect your mood, skin and energy levels. Choosing a healthy snack should not mean compromising on taste or enjoyment either. Why not try the snack suggestions below to get you started:
- NUTS are high in protein and fibre, which make a perfect snack combination for keeping you full, so this is a good snack to have if those hunger pangs have set in! Each different variety of nut provides different health benefits so be sure you eat a selection. All nuts are rich in monounsaturated fats and Omega 3 fatty acids so are great for heart health! Just 13g a day has shown to reduce your heart attack risk by 30% so get nibbling!
- POPCORN should not just be saved for the cinema!! This surprising snack is a good source of whole grains and antioxidants and due to its high fibre content will keep you fuller for longer so good at sustaining blood sugar levels. Unfortunately it’s the plain variety only, no salted or toffee covered allowed, although you can add a small dash of maple syrup for a sweet hit or grate a little cheese on it for a more savory option.
- VEGETABLE STICKS, such as carrots, celery, cucumber and peppers are high in fibre and rich in a great range of nutrients. Vegetables keep you much fuller than fruit and contain far less sugar too, so if you tend to lean towards fruit as your snack of choice try to alternate this a little by choosing vegetable sticks. Use a dip such as hummus, peanut butter, or salsa to make them more exciting. Great for kids lunch boxes too!
- CRACKERS are another snack choice where you can combine protein and fibre together so a good choice. Cheese is a good calcium source, so spread some Delamere Dairy spreadable goats’ cheese or for a slight sweetness use the delicious honey goats’ cheese log. Use rye, corn or rice crackers as a good source of whole grain instead of wheat. Top tip though is to only assemble at time of eating or you will be left with a soggy cracker. Urghhhh!!
- FLAPJACK — This only applies in the cases of homemade flapjack though, as most shop bought flapjacks are very high in sugar. Making your own ensures you can sweeten it using Medjool dates instead of sugar and add a little bit of honey to ensure it sticks together and doesn’t crumble. Pack it full with a whole variety of seeds, oats, sultanas and chopped prunes and it provides a great snack for a sweet, but healthy fix. It’s also high in fibre and omega 3 fatty acids, all of which make it a good snack choice to help improve bowel regularity too.
- PORRIDGE does not necessarily have to be just for breakfast, but can be eaten at anytime of the day to squash those hunger pangs! Oats and milk (goats’ milk!) are both filling foods, and oats contain a fibre called Beta Glucan, which is great for immunity & lowering Don’t use instant porridge mixes though, as they are often packed full of sugar. Sweeten it yourself using honey, maple syrup, or any berries such as strawberries, raspberries or blueberries or use dates or prunes.
Assessing portion sizes
Over the past twenty years our diets and eating habits have changed considerably in terms of both the quality of foods we eat and the quantity we consume. On average we are now eating 20-25% more calories than we did in 1970. Portion sizes in restaurants and fast food chains have grown massively, with many popular meals doubling in calorie content compared to twenty years ago because of the current portion sizes that we now consider to be ‘normal size’. Many people have the ethos ‘the bigger the better’ but unfortunately this is not the case when it comes to food. Portion sizes are out of control, which is one of the big factors fuelling weight gain and the global obesity epidemic. So how can we eat less without feeling hungry?
One tactic commonly heard about now is to eat your meal off a smaller side plate and not a large dinner plate. The mind is an amazing thing and having a full plate of food, albeit a smaller side plate, will still psychologically result in you thinking you have had a big meal, yet your portion sizes will be far more controlled. Just don’t create a food tower instead!
Drinking a large glass of water about twenty minutes before a meal can be very helpful for weight loss and making you eat less. Much research has shown that drinking water in this way, results in less calories being consumed at a meal, as we will reach the point of fullness far sooner. This strategy will also help increase your daily fluid intake, which many of us fall short on and as dehydration is one of the main reasons why people suffer low energy, it is a win win situation.
One easy rule is to make sure that most of your plate, around 50% of the plate size, should contain vegetables. Try think out of the box here, don’t just stick with eating the same vegetables week in and week out, be adventurous and make a goal of eating one new vegetable a week as part of your daily diet. Some vegetables that are not eaten regularly in most UK households are aubergines, cabbage, cauliflower, courgette and leeks and filling up on these will certainly decrease the amount of room you have for other foods that are not quite so good for you.
One of the biggest things that is often lacking in variety in peoples diet is fruit and vegetables. People tend to stick to buying the same ones week in and week out, which is fine if you eat a great range of them, but not so great if you stick to buying the same three of four each time. The different colours of fruit and vegetables all provide different nutrients, so if you are not eating a certain colour range you are missing out from a health perspective. Go through the colours of the rainbow and makes sure you are eating fruit and vegetables from each of the colours regularly (by regularly this means ideally 3-4 times a week). If you find you are missing out on a colour, or a few colours, identify fruits and vegetables that are that colour and when you next take that trip to the supermarket make sure they are added to your trolley.
Change is never easy in any aspect of life. When we are used to things being a certain way it becomes normal, so anything outside of that can feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar. This is likely how you will feel when you first start implementing your dietary changes, but after a while it will become your ‘new normal’ and that new normal will also have bought with it a great deal of health benefits that you are the beneficiary of.