By: Gabbi Sawyer
The peas ‘n’ rice and stuffed turkey have been downed, the macaroni and fried plantains have digested and the fruit cake has been devoured and washed down with eggnog…now what?
It is after all of the holiday indulgences that guilt typically sets in. The annual trend is to suddenly become health conscious and desire to make a change. Good dietary practices should be a priority year-round, but I suppose starting after the holidays is better late than never.
The challenge however, doesn’t seem to be in starting the process to implement these changes, but in remaining consistent. A diet is just a not a reduced food list that you follow for two weeks and then fall back into old habits. A diet is all of the foods and drinks that you consume on a daily basis. Your dietary choices are your lifestyle choices.
The key to any newly established habit is to set the goal, start implementing subtle changes and focus on consistency before you implement more radical changes.
Here are ten healthy dietary changes to implement daily that will build a lasting foundation to better health:
1. Replace Cooking Oils
The most commonly used oil in the Bahamas is vegetable oil. This includes oils such as soybean, canola, corn, sunflower and sesame oil. While the packaging on these products boast that they are ‘heart healthy’, these oils only offer minimal health benefits if consumed in small amounts. This however, is not the case. The volume at which these oils are consumed is leading to severe health challenges in many.
Most vegetable oils are hydrogenated and are high in omega-6, trans fats and polyunsaturated fats. Excessive consumption of these ingredients leads to common diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and arthritis.
Healthier oil alternatives are virgin coconut oil, grapeseed oil and of course extra virgin olive oil. These oils are free from hydrogenation, they are high in monosaturated fats and are rich in omega-3. They contain anti-oxidants, are anti-inflammatory and help to prevent strokes and heart disease.
These oils are all great for sautéing and shallow frying, but coconut is the best for deep frying as it is very resistant to heat and has a high smoking point (although deep frying should be avoided all together).
Butter is also the healthier alternative to margarine, which possesses the same qualities as most vegetable oils.
2. Make the Switch from White Sugar
White sugar is arguably one of the most detrimental substances that the food industry produces. It is highly refined and stripped of the nutrients that our bodies need, leaving behind concentrated sucrose. Sucrose acts like a drug in our system and creates an unhealthy craving to the substance. This extensive processing also causes higher spikes in blood sugar and hormones, which leads to an energy “crash” shortly after it is consumed. White sugar even alters our perception of sweetness. Over consumption of it leads to type two diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
White sugar is more readily consumed than its healthier, less refined counterparts, demerara brown sugar and natural cane sugar. These alternative sugars naturally contain a small amount of molasses, and contains the vitamins and minerals that are present in the sugar cane that it was extracted from. Other alternative sweeteners are raw honey, dates, coconut sugar. These substitutes can be used just as white sugar is in teas, lemonades and baking.
It will be an adjustment to your taste buds but it is far healthier.
3. Incorporate More Fruits and Vegetables in Your Diet
These grocery items may add a few extra dollars onto the grocery bill, but they go a long way in improving your health.
Fruits and vegetables contribute to a well-balanced diet. They are great sources of vitamins and minerals and fiber which aids the digestive system. Your choice of fruits and vegetables can range according to your preference, but should include a variety of colours as each colour has a different benefit to the body.
Certain fruits and vegetables can be eaten both cooked and raw. Strive to purchase these products in an organic form which ensures that your food was grown with the best health practices.
4. Eliminate Processed Foods
Canned, frozen and fast foods are filled with added sugars and preservatives. Overall, they lack nutritional value. It is a well-known fact that the quicker a food spoils, the healthier it is for your body. This is simply because it does not contain chemical preservatives. Strive to eat fresh foods.
5. Prepare Your Own Meals!
When you prepare your own meals, you know exactly what is in it and you can use healthier ingredients and methods of preparation.
Having to prepare a meal at the end of a really long day can prove to be an inconvenience, but this is where meal planning can come in handy. Sacrifice one day of the week to plan and prepare your meals or even outsource an individual to meal prep. This ensures that you never run out of home-cooked food and turn to takeout as a last resort.
If one does resort to takeout, opt for healthy meal options.
6. Consider Detoxing
Every now and then our systems need a break from all of the junk that we feed it. Cleanses are proven to purge toxins from the body, rid the digestive tract of waste, reduce bloating, boost your immune system, and even clear up acne.
There are various types of detoxes–colon cleanses, juice detoxes, elimination of certain foods etc. Each individual ought to conduct careful research and consult with a health physician to determine which method is best.
7. Cut Out Late Night Eating
Eating a meal late at night has proven to cause weight gain, slow down metabolism and disrupt sleep patterns among many other ill effects. Your last heavy meal should be consumed by 7:30 p.m. This gives the body time to properly digest the meal before you settle down for the night.
If you are truly hungry and need something to eat before bedtime, it is suggested that a snack under 200 calories can be consumed. Some examples of snacks of this nature includes dried fruits and nuts, boiled eggs, a cup of tea without sugar, tart fruits and a few crackers with cheese.
8. Increase Water Intake
Water is the building block of life, especially in the human body. It is recommended that children should consume 6-8 cups of water per day, women about 9 cups and men about 13 cups of water per day.
Some of water’s benefits to the body include keeping cells and organs hydrated, aiding in blood flow and weight loss, boosting the brain’s memory, helping with bowel movements, rejuvenating the skin and the list goes on and on.
Most people tend to skip a glass of water, instead opting for juice, other sugary liquids or alcohol. While these other liquids can be consumed in moderation, water is essential to good health and consumption of it should be a daily practice.
9. Allow Yourself a Cheat Meal
Indulging in a cheat meal once per week is actually quite beneficial and can eliminate unhealthy cravings. Cheat meals do not adversely affect your diet or exercise routine when consumed in moderation.
In fact, it can help to boost your metabolism, which can decline if there are foods that you have eliminated from your diet and it boosts energy levels, which helps both your mind and your muscles. It also gives you something to look forward to, lessening the odds of you consuming foods that you shouldn’t outside of your cheat meal.
You can make many dietary changes, but unless coupled with exercise, those changes can prove to be ineffective.
Exercise contributes to your overall health. It keeps your weight controlled, aids in muscle development, helps to fight off diseases and has great impact on your mental well-being–often reducing stress and producing sharper focus.
Exercise does not have to be complicated and it does not have to take place in a gym. Simple exercises at home, a game of baseball or even a brisk walk can constitute as exercise.
Adapting good health practices is not an overnight process. It takes time and consistency to alter your palate and to stick with it. Have a positive approach toward the changes you are making and keep your goal at the forefront of your mind. This will help to get you through the challenges you will face along the way.
If you are able to, have an accountability partner that encourage you throughout the process and even scolds you when you are not following through with your commitment. Start to implement these simple changes to prepare you for more drastic changes that you may want to make in the future.
Remember: Healthy eating is a lifestyle. Make conscious decisions one day and one meal at a time.