British Nutrition Foundation Healthy Eating Week – find your healthier you!
Few people are comfortable making drastic changes to their diets. However, with the aid of healthy food swaps, it is possible to adapt your diet, a little at a time, while keeping to the kinds of foods that you are used to.
One of the most common swaps is going from table sugar to sweeteners: in your hot drinks and baking. This is a very good start and the safer sweeteners might be stevia, xylitol or erythritol (a combination of stevia and erythritol is easily available as Truvia or Natvia.) By cutting down on your sugar intake you are already reducing your risks for heart disease, diabetes, dementia and cancer. If you can manage it, try to then wean off the sweeteners and drink mostly unsweetened tea, coffee or water. The above sweeteners are relatively natural but they may drive your ‘sweet tooth’ (and there could possibly be side effects of which we are not yet aware).
Another simple swap is from white bread, flour, pasta and rice to wholegrain alternatives. Even bagels, rice cakes and many crackers count as ‘white carbs’, but wholemeal pita and oatcakes are delicious and much higher in fibre and B vitamins, contributing to healthier gut bacteria and improved immunity, and even helping your mental health. If you are one of those people who struggle to maintain a healthy weight or if you have pre-diabetes or diabetes try to reduce your portions of even these healthier wholegrain foods to have no more than about 30g carbs per meal.
Moving to spreads and cooking oils, the most natural choices are the healthiest. So, you might reasonably abandon margarine and refined cooking oils, both of which might even contain minute traces of petrochemicals or provide oxidised damaged fats. Instead, choose extra virgin olive oil, produced in the old-fashioned way of pressing the olives, cold pressed rapeseed oil or virgin coconut oil (the latter used only for occasional high temperature cooking e.g. stir fries or sautees.) For most people, even butter might be enjoyed in moderation without increasing the risk of heart disease. Healthy fats, provided by omega- 3 oil from fatty fish, olives, olive oil, nuts, whole or ground seeds and avocados help to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
If you have been told that you have raised cholesterol and wonder what you might safely use as a spread, options include houmous, unsweetened nut butters or mashed avocado. Some people like to dip wholemeal toast into a little extra virgin olive oil rather than using butter. Or better still, go for a Scandinavian style multi-seeded cracker with one of these spreads.
Fruit and vegetables are generally healthy, but some have the upper hand. The cabbage family, which includes cauliflower, kale, broccoli, pak choi, rocket and watercress helps to reduce inflammation and has a role in the prevention of cancer. A simple swap is to choose a rocket and watercress salad in place of lettuce (lettuce is good but these slightly bitter salad leaves are even better.) Try adding pak choi to a stir fry. It is delicious with a little garlic and chilli.
For desert might you replace a baked dessert with a fresh fruit salad? Ideally, base this around apples, oranges and berries and add plain natural yoghurt (not fruit yoghurt, which tends to contain about 4 tsp of sugar per carton). Tropical fruits such as mango, pineapple and also grapes and dried fruits are higher in natural sugars. However, you don’t need to be too strict as a fruit salad is nearly always preferable to puddings or cakes.
Some people recommend eating healthily for about 90% of the time. This is wise as long as the remaining 10% is not a mad sugar binge! Do what you need to in order to enable yourself to keep on eating healthily for the long term.
Authors Dr Jackie Rose, a Nutritional Therapist, and Nutritionist Eva Lasry, head up the Nutrition Clinic at Private GP Extra. Dr Rose has co-written a Healthy Eating Cook Book. Find out more here https://www.privategpextra.com/nutrition-private-gp-extra/