Hands up who has no idea where to start when faced with the task of adopting a healthier diet; my hand is up high and I bet a lot of other hands are up too.
When you’ve been eating unhealthy foods on a daily basis for a large part of your life, you become addicted to them. You form unhealthy eating habits and we all know how hard they are to break, so when you finally make that decision to ditch the bad foods and embrace the nutritious, where do you start? Is it that easy just to change your eating habits overnight?
I tried and failed many a time to just get up in the morning (usually Monday morning of course) and adopt a completely new diet, but I found I only succeeded when I eased myself into it. Making small changes to the way I ate helped me to start forming new habits, leaving the bad behind.
I’ve come up with a list of nutritious substitutes for the unhealthy foods we should be avoiding. Replacing the bad foods I ate with these nutritious alternatives really helped me to kick-start my new, healthier diet.
If you have a bit of a sweet tooth, have no fear. Being healthy doesn’t mean you can’t give in to your cravings for sweets. Although many of us would have opted for chocolate (why wouldn’t we it’s delicious) or biscuits and cakes, this obviously isn’t a great idea if you’re embarking on a new journey to health.
There is a sweet treat however that is far lower in calories and provides us with one of our five a day — GRAPES! If you freeze grapes they taste even better and feel even more like you’re tucking into a naughty sweet treat. Always remember that fruit still contains sugar, so keep it to a cup a day to curb your sweet cravings.
Lets be honest, a plate of leaves with a few tomatoes here, and a bit of cucumber there, isn’t really tantalising the tastebuds. When eating a salad, you often need a salad dressing. While a salad is very healthy, people don’t realise that they’re adding calories when they dollop on the sugary, often fatty salad dressings. Why not squeeze on a bit of lemon juice and a drizzle of natural yogurt to replace the salad dressing? Or blend the yogurt up with some fresh mint.
Low-fat natural yogurt contains probiotics which are good for digestion, it populates your gut with good bacteria and is a great source of calcium, vitamins and lean protein. Natural yogurt can also be used instead of mayonnaise to make tasty dips for vegetables, meaning you can replace breadsticks, or corn chips and dip, with crunchy veggies and dip while you binge watch your favourite shows. Very tasty and very healthy.
Many people are unaware that the oil that they cook their food in can add an unhealthy quality to their meals. Vegetable oils are a very common choice but they are full of trans-fats and are highly processed and refined. If you’re attempting to lose weight or eat a healthier diet, avoid vegetable and seed oils all together. The best oils to cook with are olive and coconut oil.
Olive oil is packed full of nutrients and contains essential fatty acids. It’s been proven to lower bad cholesterol and is very good for the heart. To make sure you’re getting the full benefits of this super oil, opt for extra virgin olive oil (it tastes better too).
Coconut oil is quite often considered a super food. Like olive oil, it contains fatty acids essential to our health and lowers bad cholesterol. Coconut oil also speeds up the metabolism and leaves you feeling fuller in comparison to other oils.
If you’re anything like me, you adore potatoes. Mashed, baked, boiled, roasted, I love them all! However, with the exception of jacket/baked potatoes, there is very little nutritional value to them.
Although they have a sweeter taste and a slightly more vegetable-like texture, sweet potatoes are a perfect healthy replacement for white potatoes. They contain vitamins B6, C and D and are a great source of iron, magnesium and potassium. This beautiful orange vegetable is also full of antioxidants (beta carotene) and adds a beautiful colour to your plate.
Try roasting them with a little olive oil for your Sunday roast or mash them up with butter (real butter not margarine) and a little black pepper as a side with any of your favourite dishes. You’ll be over white potatoes in no time.
White rice is a staple food in so many people’s diets. It’s the perfect side for stews, curries, meat, fish, chicken…the list goes on, but white rice is a bad choice if you want more nutrition in your diet. You have to eat rather a lot of it to satisfy your hunger, and when you’ve finally eaten enough you feel uncomfortably full and bloated.
This swap is a pretty easy one, just opt for brown rice (whole grain) in place of white rice. Brown rice still has it's nutritional value because only the hull (outermost layer) is removed — it's not completely refined like white rice. The texture will be a bit of a change, it's a lot more grainy (rice is a grain after all) and it takes slightly longer to cook, but whole grain rice is a great source of fibre and you’ll actually find you consume less of it because it’s dense in nutrients; you need a lot less of it to satisfy your hunger.
Like white rice, brown rice is a little bland on it’s own, however if you season it with whatever seasoning you have at hand or mix it with the sauce from your curries, chili, or stews and it's a perfect, healthy substitute for white rice.
I have never met a person who doesn’t like Italian food. If you are one of these people, what is wrong with you? Now Italian food seems healthy, pretty much everything is made with tomatoes, fresh herbs, olive oil and various other fresh fruits and vegetables, but one of the main components of Italian cuisine is pasta. Pasta is not good for a move towards a more nutritional diet, unless of course you swap white pasta (egg or duram wheat pasta) for brown pasta (whole wheat).
Similarly to brown rice, whole wheat pasta is a great source of fibre and leaves you feeling fuller quicker than white pasta does. This means you eat less of it and beat the uncomfortable bloating that comes with eating a plate full of white pasta with your favourite Italian dish. The only difference in my opinion, aside from the nutritional difference, is the grainier texture.
The most important part of any person’s diet is water, but believe it or not, most people don’t drink enough. Why does it seem so difficult to drink more water? Water flushes out toxins, helps with weight loss, gives you more energy and gives you glowing skin, so why wouldn’t you want to guzzle it down?
If you’re like me, you may find water boring, it doesn’t actually taste of anything, but opting for water instead of soft drinks ensures that you’re not drinking your calories. Instead of drinking your favourite fizzy drink or fruit juice, use a few drops of dilutable juice/squash (no added sugar of course) to jazz up your water. Buy pocket sized bottles to give your water a fruity taste when you're on the go.
You can also make sure you’re getting your 8 glasses a day by drinking herbal teas or simply adding a slice of cucumber with mint or lemon to your water for a fresh hint of flavour.
Milk is a kitchen staple in almost every household, but deciding to use non dairy milk over cow’s milk could make a huge difference to your diet, especially if you’re losing weight or want more nutrition in your diet.
While cow’s milk is a great source of calcium and tastes great in tea and coffee, it also contains a lot of calories, and although there is semi-skimmed and skimmed milk available, you may want the added benefits that come with non-dairy milk. Almond milk is a fantastic alternative to cow’s milk.
Almond milk (unsweetened of course) is far lower in calories than cow’s milk, so it’s the best alternative for anyone on a weight-loss diet. While a cup of skimmed milk contains 86 calories, a cup of almond milk only contains 60 calories. It’s also great for the heart because it contains no cholesterol or saturated fat, it’s a great source of healthy fats, iron and fibre, and is also lactose free for anyone who is lactose intolerant.
Adopting these nutritious substitutes into your diet will make healthy eating seem much easier. Take baby steps rather than making drastic changes over night and when you see the progress you're making, the other changes will follow. In addition to these nutritious food sustitutions, exercise is a vital change to include on your journey to a healthier lifestyle. Add in 30-40 minutes of brisk exercise a day and you will be well on your way to becoming a healthy new you.
What are your favourite healthy swaps for not-so healthy foods?
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