With the ‘New Year New You’ motivation now well behind us (hurrah for February!), now is a good time to reflect on any positive changes you’ve made so far this year. Or if, like many, your resolutions have fallen to the wayside, this month offers the opportunity to make some gradual tweaks to better yourself and improve your health, lifestyle and eating habits…
Water is the easiest, cheapest and the most effective method to improve your health. It is a scientific fact that drinking plenty of water has positive effects on your well-being. Optimal hydration increases energy levels, improves memory function and physical performance. It helps maintain normal bowel function, supports kidney function and detoxification. Studies have shown, drinking plenty of water increases metabolic rate and satiety and thus it can help control overeating and aid with weight loss. Finally, drinking plenty of water reduces bloating, and improves skin complexion and appearance.
Dehydration on the other hand can trigger headaches, cause insomnia and impair your brain function, including mood and concentration. Challenge yourself to drink 1.5-2 litres of water everyday and I promise you will see the results – you will feel better, lighter, your sleep will improve and your energy levels will increase. If you feel this is too difficult, try increasing your water intake by 1-2 glasses a day, then after a month, increase it further.
Plan your meals – planning and preparation is the key to success when it comes to a healthier lifestyle, waste-free eating and saving your time and money.
Start off planning your full menu for the next day, and then increase to planning your meals for the next few days ahead. Then spare some time on Sunday to plan for the whole week. Note all your favourite meals and food combinations and use it later for your meal planner.
Make a protein-rich breakfast a priority every day. Regular breakfast consumption has been associated with healthier dietary habits. Many studies have shown that a nutritious breakfast is linked to many health benefits, including better concentration and performance. It also provides increased strength and endurance to engage in physical activity. A protein-rich morning meal will boost your metabolism and reduce your calorie intake and cravings throughout the day.
Consume high-protein foods in your breakfast to give you that extra boost and keep you satiated longer. Add some complex carbohydrates (oats, brown bread, wheat/oat bran) for the slow and consistent release of energy throughout the day.
Prepare and cook your meals using local, seasonal ingredients. Cook from scratch – this is the only way you know for sure what goes into your dish.
It is a well-known fact that excess sugar intake promotes weight gain, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. According to some new studies, it is considered as the new alcohol-like addictive substance. So make sure reducing your sugar intake is on your top priority list for the remainder of the year. Don’t be drastic with the change – set up a challenge to decrease sugar intake little by little each month. Small changes can make a big difference. Read labels, pay attention to hidden sugars in sauces, breakfast cereals, ready meals, granola and protein bars, instant oatmeal and soups, canned fruit and fruit juices. Opt for healthy snacks and cut down on sweets. Note, ready baked goods, sugary fizzy drinks, most of ready meals, and flavoured yoghurts are loaded with sugar.
Try making your own homemade granola, adding fruit to Greek/plain yogurt and preparing your own sauces. When baking, reduce sugar in recipes by third or half even (most likely you won’t even notice the difference). Use spices, they enhance the flavour, so you will need less sugar.
Season your food and home cooked dishes. Use a variety of spices – they lift the flavours of the dish. This applies to both savoury dishes and desserts. Choose bold flavours and adventurous food combinations instead of rich, buttery options, loaded with salt and sugar.
Gut health is somewhat of a trend in health and nutrition right now. More and more studies suggest that our gut microbiota plays important role in many health conditions. Imbalances in intestinal microflora are associated with inflammatory bowel diseases, IBS, obesity and diabetes. Having diverse diet rich in fibre, polyphenols, prebiotics and probiotics can drastically improve your gut health, boost your immunity and overall metabolic health.
Try adding fermented foods (kimchi, sauerkraut) or drinks (kombucha, kefir) and yoghurts to your diet to increase beneficial bacteria in your gut. Ensure you consume plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and pulses for extra fibre. Aim for half of your plate to be non-starchy vegetables and/or leafy greens. Increase your intake of polyphenol rich foods (cocoa, berries, spices, rye and wheat bran, green tea).
Enjoy your food and cook with your heart. Be mindful – eat slowly, chew your food and savour every bite of it. By eating slowly, you consume fewer calories and improve digestion, while avoiding bloating and heartburn.
Practice self-care… get at least at least 7/8 hours sleep a night. A healthy sleep routine is a key element of conducting successful day and maintaining our overall health. Sleep deprivation is linked to increased risk of weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. There is also a strong connection between the sleep and appetite hormone profile, which means lack of sleep can lead to increased appetite, overeating and weight gain.
Be more active or try to make time for at least some kind of physical activity each day. Exercise improves both mental and physical health, while being one of the best preventative measures from most chronic diseases. Aim to find at least 20 minute of physical activity that you enjoy and can stick with (walk, jog, cycle, swim, walk your dog, dance) and make it an integral part of your life.
- Don’t try to change all your habits at once, this can become overwhelming. Start with one key change and move on to the next as soon the first once becomes a habit.
- Set up reminders in your phone to help you stick with your plan and new routine.
- Buddy up with a friend or a colleague. Support and push each other each other to reach your targets.
- Be adventurous and embrace the change!
Jelena Iljuhhina, MSc Pharm, MSc Clin Nutr