Ready to kick-start a few new healthy eating habits? It’s never easier than during the summer season. That’s when farmers’ markets come to life, daylight lasts longer and we, generally, have more energy. Start by analysing what you’re already doing, then see if your diet needs a tweak, strive for small changes every day.
Here are 10 easy ways to clean-up your diet this summer:
1. Eat a Healthy Breakfast
You know that first meal of the day called breakfast? Cleaning up your diet means never skipping it. Here’s why: a 2013 Harvard School of Public Health study found that men who regularly skipped breakfast, had a 27% higher risk of heart attack or death from coronary heart disease compared to those who ate it. According to Leah Cahill, postdoctoral research fellow and lead author, forgoing breakfast ‘may lead to one or more risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which in turn lead to a heart attack over time.’ Want a few ideas you can prepare the night before? Try mini cheese and vegetable frittatas in muffin trays, bake the night before and just reheat in the morning. Or, how about a comforting bowl of warm quinoa with nuts, berries, and a splash of coconut milk (or milk of your choice)? Check out this quinoa recipe
2. Take Inventory
Sift through your kitchen cupboards, refrigerator, freezer, even desk drawers and toss anything that’s packaged, processed or high in sugar. Replace with incredibly yummy, yet nutrient dense foods. Feeling hungry mid-afternoon? Nibble on a few almonds along with a small apple, or a pear and a piece of cheese. Try plain Greek yogurt (instead of the flavoured variety) with a handful of berries and a drizzle of unpasteurized honey or maple syrup – incredibly satisfying! Or, try this fresh blueberry smoothie
3. Bring Your Lunch to Work
What’s great about bringing your own lunch is that you’re in control. You decide what to bring and how much. Get creative with last night’s left-overs. Toss shreds of Sunday’s roasted chicken over a handful or two of leafy greens, add a few slices of tomatoe, olives, a few slivers of red pepper, maybe a bit of feta and lunch is prepped. Think beyond meat for proteins. Why not pair your favourite vegetable with a cheesy egg scramble or frittata? Spicy or lemony chickpeas, edamame and quinoa are nice alternatives. Keep a small container of olive oil, a lemon or apple-cider vinegar and salt and pepper at your desk, and you’re all set.
4. Eat Mindfully
Instead of eating in front of your computer or the TV, try this: set aside 20 minutes to eat at a table without distraction. hat means, not checking your email or browsing using your smartphone. Not only will you derive huge enjoyment from simply eating, but Berkeley Wellness (an online resource by UC Berkeley) states that ‘slow eating may affect satiety hormones (such as leptin) and insulin levels, as well as slow gastric emptying. In effect, it allows more time for satiety signals to reach the brain (this generally takes about 20 minutes.)’ So give it a try. Use your senses. Somewhere in our crazy busy lives, we’ve forgotten how pleasurable the act of eating can be. Start by focusing on the aroma coming from your green curry, the colour and texture of your vegetable stir-fry, and the subtle flavours in your homemade vinaigrette.
5. Never Shop When Hungry
Set off to the grocery store only after you’ve had something to eat. If you don’t, there’s a greater likelihood that you’ll return with foods that are less than healthy. Think this is a myth? A 2013 JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association) report entitled Fattening Fasting: Hungry Grocery Shoppers Buy More Calories, Not More Food, advised against shopping for groceries when hungry. It concluded that going shopping when hungry can lead to making ‘unhealthy food choices, picking higher quantity of high-calorie, relative to low-calorie, foods’. So have a healthy snack before you leave for the store.
6. Shop the Perimeter of your Store
Start by shopping along the walls of your supermarket to get to the real food. Usually, that’s where fruits and vegetables live. Fill your cart with leafy greens, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, cauliflower, green beans, fennel, rapini, cabbage, squash, colourful peppers, carrots, cucumber – you get the colourful picture.
7. Read Food Labels
Now that you’ve covered the perimeter of your grocery store, you’ll probably head to the middle section of the store where most items are in boxes, cans or jars. This is where you’ll need to read the ingredients list carefully. If a food product has more than 7 or 8 ingredients, you may want to rethink putting it into your cart. Take note of how much sugar is lurking in that package of cured meat, your favourite brand of tomato sauce, ready-to-eat ‘organic’ soup, or jar of peanut butter. Be aware of the serving size too. Often a bottle of pure fruit juice, sometimes labelled as a smoothie, is disguised to look like it’s a single serving, but it may actually contain 3 or more servings.
8. Cook More, Eat-Out Less
Strive to cook most of your meals, instead of ordering in, stopping by your local burger joint, or reaching for the pre-packaged lasagna in your freezer. To save time, plan a few meals that can stretch over the week, and do the majority of your prep work on a weekend afternoon. Need a few ideas to get started? A few dishes to try:
9. Eat Less Meat
Go meatless one or two days a week. Or, at least, eat less red meat each week. Not only may this reduce your grocery bill, but it can contribute to a healthy heart. According to Harvard School of Public Health, there is ‘growing evidence that high-protein food choices do play a role in health – and that eating healthy protein sources like fish, chicken, beans or nuts in place of red meat (including processed red meat) can lower the risk of several diseases and premature death.’ There are many awesome plant based-protein sources to choose from: quinoa, edamame, beans and nuts. Fish sources can be scrumptious as well. Think of blackened grilled salmon, or even a humble can of plain sardines with a liberal squeeze of lemon and a dusting of fine sea salt – so simple, yet flavourful.
10. Keep Hydrated
Water is the most under-rated health beverage. In our hurried lifestyle, we often don’t get enough. We desperately need to drink water every day to replenish what we lose through breathing, perspiration, urine and other bodily functions. Punch up the taste with a squeeze of lemon or lime, or adding an orange slice or two to your glass.
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Eleni Tzotzis is a Toronto-based food writer.