Small Changes, Big Benefits
How many of you would like to eat healthier, make some dietary changes, and steer yourself towards a healthier lifestyle? The majority of people would, I bet. But, there's always an excuse not to, right? I don't have time to prepare healthy meals, healthy eating is too expense, I don't like vegetables, and the list goes on. I get it, I really do, I used to make the same excuses all the time, but now I know better, and have learned that these excuses don't hold up. It really doesn't take any longer to prepare a healthy meal than an unhealthy one, a healthy diet can be just as affordable as an unhealthy diet (if not more affordable!), and vegetables and their tastes can be hidden, or even served to your liking. So, here are some of my simple tips for modifying your diet and becoming healthier with some surprisingly small changes that will have big health benefits.
Are you a coffee drinker? Do you add cream to your coffee? If so, try replacing it with milk. What about sugar? If you usually add 2 teaspoons of sugar, try gradually cutting back to 1 teaspoon, then 1/2 teaspoon, then maybe even no sugar at all. Eventually, you'll get used to these changes and possibly enjoy your coffee even more! If you are a heavy coffee drinker, these small changes can mean a huge decrease in your daily saturated fat and sugar intake.
Do you have a hard time getting your 8-10 glasses of water a day? Or do you prefer sugary drinks such as juice or pop? Staying hydrated throughout the day is so important. So, to start off on the right foot everyday, try drinking a large glass of water as soon as you wake up in the morning, before your coffee and before any food. There, one glass down, and only 7 more to go! Another trick I have learned is carrying a water bottle with me wherever I go, and filling it up as soon as it gets empty. Plain water not your thing, or do you prefer juice or pop? Try adding real lemon juice or sliced fruit to your water instead. This will give you all the flavour without the added refined sugars, and even proved you with some extra vitamin C.
Are you a pasta lover like me? If so, cutting back on calories and simple sugars in white pasta and adding in more fibre and nutrients can be quite simple. There are so many healthier pasta options out there right now - brown rice, quinoa, chickpea, lentil, vegetable noodles. Making the switch to a healthier pasta can be a difficult one for some, so instead of going all in all at once, try replacing just some of your white pasta with a healthier pasta making a mix of the two. I often do this with spiralled veggie noodles (zucchini, sweet potato), making my pasta meal less heavy and more nutrient and fibre-rich. Gradually add in more of the healthier pasta while reducing the white pasta, and before you know it, you'll be enjoying a plate full of healthier pasta.
Peanut butter is one of my weaknesses, I probably eat it everyday. So, if you're like me, making the switch to an all-natural peanut butter (or any other nut butter) is a wise one, and so simple! Most store-bought peanut butters are full of sugars, preservatives and other additives. Homemade peanut butter is just peanuts, that's it. Add a couple of cups of raw, unsalted peanuts to your food processor, blend for a few minutes until you get a smooth consistency, and you're done! Transfer the peanut butter to an air-tight container and store in the fridge. Store-bought all-natural peanut butters are also more readily available now, if making your own is just not your thing.
Most of us probably don't eat enough vegetables, or are not too fond of some vegetables and just tend to avoid them. My favourite way to add more veggies to my diet is to add them to smoothies. It is so easy to throw a handful of spinach or kale into your smoothie. Worried about the taste? If your smoothie already contains a mix of berries or banana, I promise you will hardly taste the spinach or kale. Honey, real maple syrup or nut butters are also a great way to sweeten your smoothie naturally or hide the taste of veggies. Cauliflower is another vegetable that can easily be hidden in a smoothie. Store some steamed cauliflower in your freezer and simply toss a handful in when you're putting your smoothie together.
Do you eat a lot of refined grains such as white bread or white rice? If so, you need to start becoming more familiar with whole grains. Anything labelled 100% whole grains is a much healthier and more nutrient-rich choice than refined, white grains. Try replacing your white bread with whole grain or even sprouted bread. I find these breads much more flavourful, easier to digest, and enjoyable to eat. Brown or whole grain rice is also a much healthier choice than white rice as it contains the bran and the germ (which are removed from white rice), the most nutritious parts of the grain. These provide fibre and several vitamins and minerals. Regularly eating whole grains also helps to lower blood sugar levels and can decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Some simple substitutions in baking can make a big difference in the nutritional value of your baked goods. Whole wheat flour is an easy substitute for white flour in many baked goods such as muffins and banana bread. Even just replacing half of the white flour with whole wheat flour is beneficial. This swap also works well in some breakfast favourites such as pancakes and waffles. Does your recipe call for a lot of oil? If so, try replacing some or all of it with applesauce or mashed over ripe banana. White refined sugar can also easily be replaced with a more natural, unrefined coconut sugar without compromising taste. Alternatively, you can also use honey or maple syrup as a sweetener. Do you want to add a bit more protein to your muffins, banana bread or pancakes? Try adding some Greek yogurt, which will also help keep you fuller longer.
When it comes to making healthier choices, substitutions, and additions or subtractions from your diet, the possibilities are endless. Small changes can have big benefits, and that's where you need to start - small. Small changes are much easier to make and much more achievable in the short term. Once you've conquered the small changes, the bigger changes won't seem so scary. So, don't be afraid to make some small changes, your body will reap the big benefits.