Updated: Sep 17, 2018
Written by Cynthia Sim
Trying to eat healthy can be tough to keep up. We have had our cheat day turned into a cheat week and suddenly it is cheat year. Trying to eat a wholesome meal can feel overwhelming and complicated but if we take the time to understand every element of our food, we would be able to make better choices and explore other alternatives to the food that we already love.
Food Nutritional Elements
Protein gives you the energy to get up and go—and keep going—while also supporting mood and cognitive function. Too much protein can be harmful to people with kidney disease, but the latest research suggests that many of us need more high-quality protein, especially as we age. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to eat more animal products—a variety of plant-based sources of protein each day can ensure your body gets all the essential protein it needs.
Fat. Not all fats are the same. While bad fats can ruin your diet and increase your risk of certain diseases, good fats protect your brain and heart. In fact, healthy fats—such as omega-3s—are vital to your physical and emotional health. Including more healthy fat in your diet can help improve your mood, boost your well-being, and even trim your waistline.
Fiber. Eating foods high in dietary fiber (grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and beans) will help you lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It can also improve your skin and even help you to lose weight.
Calcium. Not getting enough calcium in your diet can also contribute to anxiety, depression, and sleep difficulties. Whatever your age or gender, it’s vital to include calcium-rich foods in your diet, limit those that deplete calcium, and get enough magnesium and vitamins D and K to help calcium do its job.
Carbohydrates are one of your body’s main sources of energy. But most should come from complex, unrefined carbs (vegetables, whole grains, fruit) rather than sugars and refined carbs. Cutting back on white bread, pastries, starches, and sugar can prevent rapid spikes in blood sugar, fluctuations in mood and energy, and a build-up of fat, especially around your waistline.
Possible Food Alternatives
Milk Chocolate to Dark Chocolate
Eating organic dark chocolate instead of milk or white chocolate is much better for you. Dark chocolate is actually very nutritious and contains fibre, iron, magnesium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium – all of which are good for you. It’s also full of antioxidants, which help keep you young.
Ice Cream to Frozen Yogurt
Ice cream is essentially churned, frozen fat and sugar. Frozen yogurt is a lot lower in both and contains probiotics to help our digestive system. However, it is still quite high in calories and you cut out any health benefits if you go and cover it in melted toffee. Try pairing it with fresh fruit or nuts as a sweet and tasty replacement for your dessert.
Sweets to Dried Fruit
Most of us have a sweet tooth, but high-sugar sweets have little to no nutritional value. Replace them with healthier dried fruits like mango, apple or cherry. For a super-healthy alternative, try dried goji berries, which are full of nutrients. Traditional dried fruit have a low to moderate Glycemic Index (GI) – a measure of how a food affects blood sugar levels.
Dairy milk to Almond Milk
Almond milk is so hot right now. Add it to your smoothie, froth it in your coffee, and make vegan hot chocolate. You’ll never miss that cow stuff. Almond milk is naturally lactose-free, is low in calories, and contains no saturated fat.
Salt to Garlic Powder
Just like fresh herbs, garlic powder can provide a flavorful punch without adding sodium. A word of warning, though: Don't mistake garlic powder for garlic salt. Garlic powder is simply a mellowed version of garlic, and offers similar aroma and flavor to that of garlic cloves. It is simply the intensity that is reduced slightly. On the other hand, Garlic salt is more like salt with the taste and smell of garlic.
Potato Chips to Popcorn
Lower in fat, natural popcorn without pre-flavored seasonings is a great snack alternative to replace those oily, super-salty potato chips. Try made-at-home flavors by adding cinnamon, chili powder, or Parmesan. Popcorn has more protein than any other cereal grain. It also has more iron than eggs or roast beef. It has more fiber than pretzels or potato chips.
White Rice to Brown Rice
Opt for brown rice for a fuller nutritional profile. Brown rice is a whole grain. That means it contains all parts of the grain — including the fibrous bran, the nutritious germ and the carb-rich endosperm. White rice, on the other hand, has had the bran and germ removed, which are the most nutritious parts of the grain. This leaves white rice with very few essential nutrients.
Rice to Grated Steamed Cauliflower
Lighten up a carb-heavy dinner by replacing white rice with grated cauliflower. The texture and the taste are virtually the same, and that's really all that matters. Cauliflower is one of the healthiest cruciferous vegetables you can get, so it’s loaded with nutrients including fiber, vitamins C, K and B6, and potassium. Cauliflower has 25 calories per cup vs. 218 for a cup of cooked brown rice.
Sports Drinks to Coconut Water
Coconut water is mother nature’s sports drink. A cup of coconut water boasts 600 mg of the electrolyte potassium, plus magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and naturally-occurring sodium, which are all electrolytes. Coconut water contains several other nutrients and only 6 grams of sugar. It’s naturally sweet and refreshing, so stock up on coconut water for a healthier way to hydrate and replenish electrolytes.
Setting Yourself up for Success
Prepare more of your own meals. Cooking meals at home can help you take charge of what you’re eating and better monitor exactly what goes into your food. You’ll eat fewer calories and avoid the chemical additives, added sugar, and unhealthy fats of packaged and takeout foods that can leave you feeling tired, bloated, and irritable, and exacerbate symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety.
Make the right changes. When cutting back on unhealthy foods in your diet, it’s important to replace them with healthy alternatives. Replacing dangerous trans fats with healthy fats (such as switching fried chicken for grilled salmon) will make a positive difference to your health. Switching animal fats for refined carbohydrates, though (such as switching your breakfast bacon for a donut), won’t lower your risk for heart disease or improve your mood.
Read the labels. It’s important to be aware of what’s in your food as manufacturers often hide large amounts of sugar or unhealthy fats in packaged food, even food claiming to be healthy.
Focus on how you feel after eating. This will help foster healthy new habits and tastes. The healthier the food you eat, the better you’ll feel after a meal. The more junk food you eat, the more likely you are to feel uncomfortable, nauseous, or drained of energy.
Drink plenty of water. Water helps flush our systems of waste products and toxins, yet many of us go through life dehydrated—causing tiredness, low energy, and headaches. It’s common to mistake thirst for hunger, so staying well hydrated will also help you make healthier food choices.
Making small changes like these can go a long way. Our generation has grown more aware and conscious of our health but a habit has a start somewhere. This month we hope to be able to help you get back on track with your healthier living plan. Maybe you want to give a Vegan Diet a try? Or intermittent fasting. Let us know in the comments below what your experience has been like.
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