10 Easy Ways to Add Healthy Upgrades to Your Meals
Eating healthy does not have to be time-consuming or complicated. You don't have to give up your favourite meals and snacks to adopt healthier eating habits, you simply need to add a few ingredients and/or make a few ingredient swaps that will up the nutritional value of your meals. There are unlimited ways to do this, but I've rounded up a few of my favourites to help you get started towards adding healthy upgrades to your meals.
Add nuts and seeds
One of the easiest ways to add extra healthy fats, protein, fibre and numerous other nutrients to your meals and snacks is to simply add nuts and seeds such as walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, hemp hearts, chia seeds, sesame seeds, and flax meal. Nuts and seeds can be enjoyed on their own or easily added to cereals, granola, yogurt, smoothies, salads, baked goods, and trail mix. Just sprinkle them on everything!
Add veggies to your smoothies
Not only does adding veggies to your smoothie upgrade its nutrient content, but most of the time , you can't even taste them! Try adding fresh spinach, kale or celery, or frozen zucchini or cauliflower that has been lightly steamed prior to freezing, which will add creaminess to your smoothie.
Make your own salad dressings
Store bought salad dressings are often filled with added sugars, unhealthy oils, and other additives and preservatives. So, next time you think of making a salad, also consider making your own dressing. It's as simple as mixing together 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp honey, and 1 tsp chopped garlic, and tastes so much better!
Add herbs and spices
Not only do herbs and spices add beautiful flavours to your meals, but they also contain numerous health benefits and can up the nutritional content of your meals. For example, cinnamon can help lower blood sugar levels and has antioxidant properties, ginger and turmeric are anti-inflammatory, peppermint helps reduce abdominal bloating, cumin is naturally rich in iron, rosemary is rich in antioxidants - the list goes on! So, instead of adding store-bought dressings and sauces to your meals, try flavouring them with fresh herbs and spices instead.
Swap half of your pasta noodles for veggie noodles
Get yourself a spiralizer and start making vegetable noodles - zucchini and sweet potato work particularly well. If this is new to you, there's no need to replace all of your pasta noodles with vegetable noodles at once to reap the benefits. Start with 1/3 to 1/2 zucchini noodles to add extra potassium, magnesium and manganese, and vitamins A, B6, C, and K. Or, try sweet potato noodles to up your intake of fibre, potassium, manganese, and vitamins A, B5, B6, and E. Zucchini noodles work very well with a marinara or meat sauce, while sweet potato noodles are a great addition to a Thai-inspired noodle dish.
Increase your fibre intake
Getting enough fibre is so important for our health, but unfortunately, the majority of us do not get the recommended daily amount (25g /day for women, 38g/day for men). Increasing your fibre intake is as simple as choosing whole-food carbs (fruits, starchy vegetables, legumes, and whole grains), enjoying a snack of air-popped popcorn or nuts and seeds, adding chia seeds to your smoothies and baked goods, baking with high fibre flours (whole wheat, coconut, almond, chickpea), or leaving the peel/skin on apples, sweet potatoes and cucumbers,
Add healthy fats
Your body needs healthy fats for many reasons - as a source of energy, to support cell growth, to protect your organs and promote brain health, to help you absorb certain nutrients and produce certain hormones, and to keep you warm. Adding monounsaturated fats (olive/canola/peanut/sesame oils, avocados, olives, almonds, cashews, peanuts, nut butters) and polyunsaturated fats (sunflower/sesame/pumpkin/flax seeds, walnuts, fatty fish, soybean/safflower oil, tofu, soy milk) to your diet is good for your overall health and will help you feel more satisfied after a meal by reducing hunger. Incorporating them into your diet is simple - use oils for salad dressings and stir-fries, add avocados to toast or smoothies, snack on nuts and seeds, and enjoy fish for dinner once or twice a week.
Eat a variety of prebiotics and probiotics
The health of your gut relies on your consumption of both probiotics and prebiotics, and affects your entire body and overall wellness. Having the right gut bacteria is linked to numerous health benefits such as weight loss, improved digestion, healthier skin, stronger immune function, and a reduced risk of many diseases. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in certain foods or supplements, while prebiotics are types of fibre that feed the probiotics in the digestive system. Consumption of both are necessary for a healthy gut. Probiotics include fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, tempeh, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, pickles and some types of cheeses, while prebiotics include foods such as garlic, onions, bananas, apples, asparagus, dandelion greens, tomatoes, whole grains, and flax seeds.
Choose whole grains not refined grains
Whole grains have three parts - the bran (hard outer shell containing the fibre, minerals and antioxidants), the endosperm (middle layer made up mostly of carbs), and the germ (inner layer containing vitamins, minerals, protein and plant compounds). Refined grains have had the bran and germ removed, and contain only the endosperm, leaving them void of many nutrients including protein, fibre, and numerous vitamins and minerals. Common whole grains include quinoa, brown rice, popcorn, millet, buckwheat, barley, bulgur, oatmeal, freekah, and wheat berry. Many types of pastas, breads, and breakfast cereals are made from whole grains - just make sure to read the ingredient list to make sure they are made entirely from whole grains.
Switch from iceberg lettuce to more nutrient dense greens
Iceberg lettuce is about 95% water with only very small amounts of fibre and vitamins A and K. It definitely lacks in comparison to more nutrient dense greens such as spinach, kale, romaine, collard greens, and red leaf lettuces, which are all rich in fibre, vitamins A, B6, C, K, folate, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and/or manganese. As well, the darker the greens, the more phytonutrients they contain. So, the next time you prepare a salad, aim to include a variety of darker greens (as well as a variety of other colourful vegetables) to get the most nutritional benefits.