A reasonable guide to eating just a little bit healthier by changing our eating habits and not going broke in the process. That’s all we all want. When it comes to eating we just need to know what kind of food we can find in a local supermarket, that’s tasty and affordable but healthy at the same time.
Have a high protein breakfast. What you want at the beginning of the day is high protein food. Proteins are complex molecules that break down slowly during cell respiration (the ‘burning fuel’ process that helps keep you alive) keeping you full longer and give you energy while keeping your blood sugar low. When you eat sweet baked goods, like waffles, pancakes or cereals for example, you get a quick energy boost and a sugar rush, but the effects very soon wear off and you end up feeling hungry again much sooner and in some cases you may also start feeling psychologically down (the so-called sugar rush mood swing cycle). If you combine protein rich food with some complex carbohydrates you can set yourself up for the day. The slower conversion process of proteins and carbohydrates into sugars the body can use for energy make you feel energized and able to go about your day, longer.
Breakfast ideas: oatmeal with nuts, spinach and banana smoothie, homemade protein bars, eggs, low fat (not fat free!) Greek yogurt with honey
Pre-make your lunches and plan ahead. We only eat junk because it’s accessible; it’s an easy just-reach-for-it solution. If you make healthier lunches just as accessible you will eat a lot healthier, naturally. If you pre-make your lunches and take them to work with you and have easy-to-reach-for snacks on hand you are less likely to want to go and buy doughnuts or low quality ready-meals from a fast food joint.
If you have a fridge at work you can make lunches and take them with you in a tupperware. Sandwiches aren’t evil either, especially if you make them yourself and put some fresh vegetables in them like lettuce and tomatoes. You don’t need to spend a lot of time and money to put it together, especially if you do it beforehand and just grab it & go in the morning.
Lunch ideas: turkey or chicken + vegetable wraps, pasta with vegetables, light no-mayo Caesar salad, tuna or smoked salmon sandwiches, sweet potato with cottage cheese and broccoli, a variety of vegetables with ham
Make healthy dinners by basing them on vegetables. We slow down in the evening and so does our metabolism so we don’t need the extra calories after the sun goes down. Unfortunately, we often end up going through the entire day either feeling hungry or being too busy and simply forget to eat and when the evening comes we either overeat and/or we pick the kind of food that is fast and comforting, like pizza or several burgers and a beer. These would not be so bad as an exception but on a daily basis they will not help you stay healthy and fit. So, if it comes to it and you end up feeling really hungry in the evening do have a big meal, just make it 60-70% vegetables. Make a big salad and stick to lean protein as a main course, in the evening carbs are no longer your friends. Protein is broken down into amino acids that go into making other proteins (i.e. muscle) with excess amino acids deaminated and converted into glucose, ready to enter glycolysis which burns them up for fuel. The point is it takes a lot of meat to create that kind of scenario and when you mix protein with vegetables you are unlikely to overeat.
Most basic vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, green beans and lettuce – are easy to find and they are not expensive, especially if you buy them locally at a farmers’ market or/and buy seasonal fruit and vegetables – they are always cheaper.
Dinner ideas: large lettuce salad with grilled chicken, baked eggplant with tomatoes, pork steak with sliced tomatoes, pork meatballs with mushrooms and green beans, peppers stuffed with pork mince, crustless quiche in the oven, baked fish with broccoli.
General advice: get some fish or meat (preferably lean or at least cut the visible fat off it) grill or bake it in the oven and add some vegetables on the side, as many as you want.
Choose relatively unprocessed foods when you can, if you can. Practically everything you eat is processed in some way but not all of it is processed equally. Heavily processed food is often loaded on fat, sugars and salt, but is very low on vitamins, minerals and fiber. The stuff is designed to make you feel good because, due to the high amounts of fat, sugar and salt, it tastes delicious, at least until you retrain your taste buds to recognize what real food tastes like. The simpler the item you buy and the closer it is to its original form, the better, basically. You don’t have to buy everything this way, but the more natural foods you add to your menu the more likely you are to get the most out of what you eat beyond just getting the energy required to stay alive.
Pick a Treat Day. There is nothing wrong with chocolate and ice-cream as long as a) you don’t eat too much (we’re talking pounds) b) you don’t eat too often – like every day with every meal. You will actually value these more if you make them treats instead of a standard addition to every dinner. Denying yourself treats all together is not a great idea either, just choose them wisely, don’t add them to an already complete meal and don’t eat too much in one go. If you are watching your figure, the best way to manage sweets is to pick one day a week when you are allowed whatever sweets you want, in reasonable amounts, and that will help you not just manage your sweet tooth but also give you something to look forward to. It’s a lot easier to deny yourself something when you know exactly when you will be able to have it.
Also, if your diet is balanced and you eat plenty of protein rich foods you don’t crave sweets so much.
Stock up on healthy snacks. And keep them where you can see them in a ready to eat kind of way. If you buy healthy food it doesn’t mean you are going to eat it unless you make it easy for yourself to reach for it when you need it. If you buy fruit, wash it and put it in a bowl where you can see it and have raw nuts on hand as an easy pick-me-up or homemade nut or protein bars for a more serious snack. The same goes for quick-snack vegetable packs like peppers, baby tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers, if you slice them up for the day and keep them in the fridge at home or work it’ll be a lot easier for you to grab them. That extra step of not needing to prepare food when you are hungry can make all the difference.
Snack ideas: any kind of fruit and nuts, apple slices with peanut butter, cheese sticks, tomatoes with mozzarella, ham & cucumber rolls, Greek yogurt, deviled eggs with light cream cheese.
- Aim to stay away from fast food and make your own meals as often as you can.
- Try to avoid sweet sodas and energy drinks altogether. Most of them are just sugar in liquid form.
- Try not to get to the point when you are so hungry you no longer care what you eat, snack mindfully throughout the day and keep your main meal portions small. Anything your body doesn’t use up goes into storage.
- Pick unprocessed food or as less processed as possible when you can.
- Try to eat at least one type of fruit and one type of vegetable a day. If you can’t fit them in, make a quick smoothie: 2oz spinach, 1 ripe banana, 1 medium apple blended with 2 cups of water. If you don’t want to eat meat every day, consider swapping it for a plate of giant beans in red sauce once in a while or make a large salad with lettuce, eggs and nuts in it.
- If there are some vegetables like spinach or broccoli that you can’t eat in any form but you would like to, consider adding them into a smoothie with some fruit e.g. bananas and apples.
- Try to include sea food in your menu at least once a week. You can buy frozen salmon that can be baked from frozen in less than 30 minutes.
- If you feel hungry really late at night eat a small portion of low fat plain Greek yogurt with some cinnamon on top – it’s the perfect midnight snack that curbs hunger.
In general, it’s not so much about weight as much it is about feeling good, having more energy and potentially being in a better mood. You can lose weight while eating unhealthily if you eat in small amounts. It’s the deficit of food that makes your body optimize and drop the pounds. Healthy food is not necessarily low calorie or low fat, it’s food that is good for your body – after all it is what is used to build it.