We all have a vague concept of what constitutes healthy eating, but we may not have a good idea of how to do it in practice. To help you out, here are our top 10 tips on how you can simply and effectively change your diet for the better.
Eat more fruit and veg
You may have heard it a thousand times before, but eating more portions of fruit and veg a day really is the most valuable dietary habit you can develop. Fruits and vegetables contain a vast range of health-giving vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – including carotenoids, vitamin C, potassium, folate and zinc. Remember that the wider the variety of fruit and veg you eat, the wider the range of nutrients you will get. You should aim for as colourful a plate as possible – so think broccoli, bananas, green apples, or pumpkin. And you don’t have to eat these ‘straight’. Instead, try them in soups, sauces, salads, smoothies and desserts, or with dips.
Reduce your saturated fat intake
Saturated fats have been widely implicated in the development of heart disease because they increase levels of harmful cholesterol in the body while simultaneously reducing beneficial cholesterol. Saturated fats are predominantly animal fats. You can cut down on your intake of these by buying lean cuts of meat, trimming visible fat, and avoiding high-fat dairy products. Alternatively, avoid reliance on meat as the main constituent of your meals, and instead try pulses or other sources of vegetable protein.
Reduce your trans-fat intake
Trans-fats are chemically altered fats that are now thought to be as harmful to health – if not more so – than saturated fats. Fast food companies and mass food producers tend to use these – so if you avoid fast food and processed or pre-packaged foods such as cakes and cookies, you should go a long way to cutting these out. Trans-fats do not exist naturally.
Increase your unsaturated fat intake
Unsaturated fats reduce the levels of harmful cholesterol in the bloodstream. In fact, some even increase the amounts of protective cholesterol as well. You can find unsaturated fats in nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil.
Increase your omega-3 oil intake
Omega-3 oils are powerful anti-inflammatory agents which can help to protect the heart, lubricate the joints, and may even help to maintain good mental health. These can be found in seed oils (such as linseed) and oily fish (such as herring, mackerel and sardines). Those found in oily fish are more ‘bioavailable’ than those found in plant sources (that is, they are more available to use by the body). Aim to have two portions per week of food containing omega-3 oils.
Increase your fluid intake
Aim to drink around eight glasses of fluid per day. Water is vital for good health; after all, 60 per cent of body weight is attributed to water. Water is required for the majority of metabolic reactions in the body. Dehydration can cause fatigue and poor concentration, and can even affect your physical appearance. Reach your hydration target by re-filling a water bottle several times throughout the day, drinking herbal tea, and/or eating juicy fruits such as melon.
Eat breakfast every day
Studies have shown that those who eat breakfast tend to be slimmer than those who don’t. There is a huge variety of foods you can start your morning with: toast, porridge, cereals, fruit, eggs, fruit juice, black/green/herbal tea, pancakes, berries, tomatoes, rice cakes, peanut butter, the list goes on! Try to base your breakfast on starches, throw in some fruit, and avoid having a fried, sugary, or meat-heavy breakfast too often.
People with healthier hearts tend to eat more whole grains. Whether this is a reflection of a healthy lifestyle as a whole or whether it’s due in particular to whole grain properties is uncertain – but whole grains do contain more nutrients than refined grains due to the inclusion of bran and germ. Whole Grains include insoluble and soluble fiber, phytonutrients, B vitamins and vitamin E.
Watch your salt intake
An excessive salt intake can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn can cause further health complications such as blood clots. Most salt is not found in cooking or even at the table; instead, it is hidden in snacks and processed foods such as canned soups and ready meals. Cut down on your intake of these to lower your salt intake.
Increase your intake of fibre
Your fibre intake will naturally increase when you start eating more fruit, veg and whole grains, but if you add pulses and legumes as well you are sure to hit the ideal target of 18g of fiber per day. Fibre will help to protect against bowel cancer, diverticulosis and constipation. Just make sure you drink plenty of fluid alongside to keep things moving.
Getting a balanced diet
To improve your diet, what you should aim for is a varied, balanced food intake that is packed full of fruit and veg, is based on whole grains, and incorporates high-quality protein such as lean meat or legumes. Also, ‘good’ fats should be used in place of ‘bad’ fats, and sugary and salty snacks should be kept to a minimum. So, now you know what healthy eating really means after reading our top 10 tips, why not make the year ahead the year you put it into practice?