The easiest way to start eating healthier and to be able to sustain it, is to make small changes to your diet. So I’ve put together my top 5 healthy food swaps that will help you on your journey.
Try to incorporate them into your diet whenever you can and remember that our diets should be balanced, so don’t feel guilty when you fancy a pizza night.
1. SWAP SUGARY BREAKFAST CEREALS FOR OATS OR EGGS
Breakfast helps set us up for the day, so its important to make sure you are having a good breakfast. Cereals often seem like the easy option in the morning but many of them are heavily processed and high in sugar. They are also often low in fibre and will spike your blood sugar levels, making you feel hungry a couple of hours later.
Instead of sugary cereals, try wholegrain cereals like malted wheat, wholewheat biscuits, or bran flakes, or oat-based cereals with no added sugar such as porridge and muesli. Oats are rich in fibre so will keep you fuller for longer and have been shown to help lower cholesterol levels. Add your own toppings such as fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts.
Eggs have been shown to be one of the best breakfasts as they contain a good amount of protein to keep you full till lunch, as well as some healthy fats and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Try poached eggs on rye bread with roasted tomatoes and mushrooms.
2. SWAP REFINED GRAINS FOR WHOLEGRAINS
Refined grains refers to foods such as white bread, pasta, rice and couscous. They have been milled to remove their germ and bran, which is where most of the nutrition is found.
Wholegrains can therefore contain up to 75% more nutrients than refined grains. They are an excellent source of fibre for a healthy digestion and help keep us full. They are a good source of protein, B vitamins and essential fatty acids, and contain a small amount of the antioxidant vitamin E and other micronutrients.
Instead of just swapping to wholegrains, try to alternate the grain you are eating to get the greatest variety of nutrients. You can now buy breads made from rye and spelt, which taste delicious. There are also many gluten-free grains you can buy such as quinoa, buckwheat, millet and amaranth. These grains often need a little bit of dressing to liven them up, so make sure you add some lemon, tahini, garlic and fresh herbs.
You could also try sourdough bread. It is easier for us to digest and we absorb more of the minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc.
3. SWAP SUGARY DRINKS FOR FLAVOURED WATER
Sugary drinks refers to soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and some fruit drinks. They are often referred to as ‘empty calories’, which means they provide calories but little or no nutrition.
When we drink sugary drinks, they pass through our stomachs quickly and cause a spike in our blood sugar. As a nation, we consume too much sugar, which is increasing our probability of becoming overweight and developing diabetes. Sugary drinks add a considerable amount of sugar to our diets, with one drink often containing more added sugar than we are recommended to have per day (30 grams or 7 teaspoons). When reading nutrition labels, make sure you look at the sugar content per portion (you might need to calculate) rather than per 100ml.
Drinks like this are absolutely fine every so often, as long as they are not part of your everyday diet. If you’re not a fan of plain water, then liven it up with flavourings such as fresh slices of lemon, lime and cucumber, or sprigs of fresh mint. If it’s a bit of fizz you’re after, add sparkling water to one of these flavours and you’ve got a really refreshing and tasty alternative to a sugary drink.
Many people are choosing sugar-free or diet drinks, but the verdict is still out on how healthy (or unhealthy) sweeteners are for us.
4. SWAP SUGARY YOGURTS FOR NATURAL OR GREEK YOGURT
Yogurt is a great source of protein and calcium, and supplies our gut with healthy bacteria. But many yogurts contain a large amount of sugar, with some containing around 15-20g per pot. Low-fat yogurts are often the worst culprits as extra sugar is added to compensate for removing the fat.
Yogurt naturally contains sugar (lactose) and fat. Try to avoid yogurts with added refined sugar and choose natural or Greek yogurt (strained and higher in protein). You can add your own flavourings such as berries, nut butters and honey. The fat content of yogurt can vary considerably so make sure you read nutrition labels. Avoid fat free yogurts as these are often high in sugar.
5. SWAP A CHOCOLATE BAR FOR A FRUIT AND NUT BAR OR 70% DARK CHOCOLATE
3pm is usually when we start to feel that mid-afternoon slump, and a chocolate bar seems like the go-to option. But chocolate bars are often high in saturated fat and contain more sugar than your total recommended intake for the day (30 grams or 7 teaspoons per day).
If you’re after something sweet, then a fruit and nut bar might help satisfy your cravings and will supply your body with a variety of nutrients. Make sure you read nutrition labels though, as some bars that are marketed as “healthy” or “natural”, contain lots of refined sugar and very little fibre. Look for bars that contains less than 22.5g of sugar per 100g and at least 6g of fibre, as this will help slow down the release of sugar into your blood and keep you satisfied for longer.
If it is chocolate that you are after, you could have a few squares of 70% dark chocolate or add a few dark chocolate pieces to a trail mix.