With summer just round the corner most of us are thinking it’s time for radical changes to our lifestyle. Eating healthier, exercising more, reducing alcohol consumption and generally making positive changes to detox and prepare our bodies for the bikini season! The good news is that your perfect summer body isn’t impossible; of course it requires hard work and dedication, but let’s start with a few small changes to your eating habits that can really make a difference. In this week’s article read about the small first steps towards a healthier and fitter you!
Fresh fruit and vegetables are the key
Fruit and vegetables are in the centre of a healthy diet. Some of their numerous positive health effects are:
• They contain essential vitamins and minerals that are vital for good health and disease prevention.
• Their high fibre content helps control blood glucose levels, may reduce cholesterol and the risk for some cancers.
• They contain antioxidants and phytochemicals that may reduce the risk of heart disease and are essential for general well being.
To gain the maximum benefit from fruit, eat it fresh and if the skins are edible, eat them too. Dried fruits and fruit juices count towards your five a day. Use them in moderation, though, because fruit loses most of its natural fibre in the juicing process and dried fruits lose most of their vitamin C. Try to eat two or three portions of fruit and three portions of vegetables every day. Make sure you balance the more starchy vegetables like corn, butternut squash, pumpkin, peas, root vegetables and sweet potatoes with less starchy vegetables like courgettes, green beans, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower. One portion equates to 80g, which would be a cereal bowl of lettuce, but only three tablespoons or so of carrots. Overcook your vegetables, and they lose nutrients. For this reason, microwave or lightly steam vegetables rather than boiling. Salads are quick to make. Make them more appetising by adding items such as chopped nuts and cannellini beans, and a healthy dressing such as vinaigrette or a dash of olive oil.
More protein & less carbohydrates
Diets higher in protein and moderate in carbs along with regular exercise are thought by experts to aid weight loss and also help maintain lean tissue while burning fat for fuel. And this happens without dieters feeling constant hunger and depression. Protein is the major component of all cells, including muscle and bone. It’s needed for growth, development, immunity to fight off infections and protect the body. The Institute of Health’s Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) recommendations allow for a wide range of protein intake, anywhere from 10% to 35% of total calories for normal, healthy adults (men: 56 grams a day and women: 46 grams a day). However, not all protein has the same nutritional value. Be sure to look for protein sources that are nutrient-rich and lower in fat and calories, such as lean meats (chicken and turkey), low fat dairy products, beans and soy.
Reduce the refined carbohydrates and opt for wholegrain bread, rice and pasta instead. The benefit of wholegrain products is that they help you feel fuller for longer and therefore aid in weight management.
A healthy diet should include all food groups, and dairy products are essential for your health. Milk and dairy products, such as cheese and yoghurt, are great sources of protein and calcium. To make healthier choices, go for lower-fat milk and dairy foods. Our bodies need protein to work properly and to grow or repair themselves. Calcium helps to keep our bones strong. The calcium in dairy foods is particularly good for us because our bodies absorb it easily. If you’re trying to cut down on fat it’s a good idea to go for lower-fat milks. Semi-skimmed, 1% fat and skimmed milks contain all the important nutritional benefits of milk, but are lower in fat.
Don’t be afraid of sweeteners
Low calorie sweeteners have been available for more than a century and they’re used in a broad variety of foods and drinks. Their popularity lays in the fact that they are the low calorie alternative to sugar and therefore can help with weight management for consumers and efforts by manufacturers to offer a choice of calorie levels in their products. Over the past few decades, there have been sporadic claims that low calorie sweeteners are associated with a range of adverse health effects such as cancer. As a result, consumers are unsure about their safety. The truth is that concerns about sweeteners and their link with cancer are not supported by well-controlled studies. So, you could add a teaspoon of sweetener to your daily coffee or tea to reduce the calorie intake while still enjoying your hot drink.
Choose your snacks wisely
Choosing the right snacks is very important for a healthy lifestyle and weight loss as they help control cravings and reduce the need to overeat during your main meals. Aim to have at least 2-3 snacks per daybetween your main meals. The best snacks are fruit, fat free yogurt, fruit juices or smothies, especially if they are homemade. Leave out the cereal bars, biscuits, sweets, crackers etc as they are packed with fats and calories, release their energy too quickly and leave you feeling hungry after a while.
There is no doubt, in my mind, that cardio exercise is one of the best types of exercise for fat loss. Jogging, running, swimming and aerobics are ideal for burning calories. Physical activity can also improve your mood especially if it takes place in the morning. Aim to engage in some form of cardio at least 2-3 times per week and you will see the positive results very soon!
Think positive and be consistent. Your effort will pay off sooner than you think!
By Kleio Bathrellou
Associate Nutritionist & Certified Sports Nutritionist