The New Year is just days away. This is a time where lots of people do some reflecting and planning. This is also a time where New Year’s resolutions are commonly made. Some people stick to them, but most people don’t. So, I can understand if you’re not big on making them. You don’t need a resolution to make some healthy changes to your diet though. If you’re not ready to make big changes just yet, I’ve got you covered with some simple swaps you can make to move toward healthy eating this year.
Healthy Eating Swap #1: Plant Milk for Animal Milk
I recently put together a post on calcium. In it, I discussed how cow’s milk and dairy products in general, are a poor source of calcium in the human diet. Not only that, but they are also linked to increased rates of autoimmune diseases and are powerful cancer promoters. That’s the bad news.
The good news is, milk alternatives are now widely available on the market. You don’t have to make your own (unless you want to) in order to opt out of dairy milk. You can get milk made from grains (rice and oat milk), legumes (soy and pea milk), nuts and seeds (almond, cashew, hemp milk, etc.) and more! All of these are readily available at just about any grocery store. The variety is great because they can serve any and all of the purposes that dairy milk does.
This is an easy healthy eating swap you can make any time. Buy a few varieties to try, and taste test them to see which varieties you like best. If you want more info on calcium, check out the related link below.
Related: The Calcium Facts You Need to Know
Healthy Eating Swap #2: Upgrade Your Greens
Iceberg lettuce, while not a bad food, definitely comes in pretty low on the nutrient scale. Offering up only small amounts of nutrients compared to some of its leafy green cousins. Generally speaking, the darker the leafy green, the more nutrients you’re going to get from it.
If you make the swap from iceberg to romaine, you’ll be getting more fibre, calcium, potassium, vitamin C, folate, vitamin K, beta carotene and more. All for roughly the same number of calories. I know some of you may be avoiding romaine due to recent e-coli outbreaks. Not a problem, spinach is even better!
If you step that up to spinach, you’re stepping up the nutrient content even more, as well as adding a great source of iron. Spinach is a mild flavoured green that is tolerated pretty well by picky eaters. If you’re new to spinach or scared to try it, start with baby spinach, chop it up small, and add it in where you would normally use lettuce.
For more tips on how to get more greens into your diet for healthy eating, check out the related link below.
Healthy Eating Swap #3: Whole Grains for Refined Grains
Refined is just a fancy word for processed. This processing removes part of what was there before. The problem with this is that the parts removed to make refined flours and grain products are the parts with the most nutritional value.
The bran and germ layers are the ones that are polished away in refined grain products. This is usually done to get a smoother texture or whiter colour, but those layers contain most of the fibre, B vitamins, and minerals that the grain contained in the first place. Not ideal when one is looking to eat a nutritious diet.
For this reason, stick to whole, intact grains as much as possible. This applies to all grain products you consume, breads, wraps, buns, grains, pastas, etc. Stick to whole grain breads and bread products (look for the word ‘whole’ in the ingredients list) instead of white bread. Avoid white or all-purpose flours, instead choose whole wheat, oat, or other grain flours. Same goes for rice, choose brown, or wild rice over white.
The extra nutrients are important and the extra fibre will help keep your blood sugars in check. This will help you avoid that huge crash that comes after eating refined carbohydrates. For more info on whole grains vs refined grains, check out the related links below.
Healthy Eating Swap #4: Natural Nut Butter over Conventional
I don’t mean to harp on your Skippy here, but have you read the ingredients lately? Out of curiosity, I stood in the grocery store recently and read the ingredient labels on all of the nut butters they offered. The number of additives contained in a product that only requires one ingredient is astounding. Most had not only oil and sugar added but multiple types of oil and sugar.
Natural nut butters contain oil that separates out from the nuts after processing. This is why you often see a layer of oil on top that needs to be stirred back in. So there’s absolutely no need to add other oils, multiple sugars and emulsifiers to nut butters.
Instead, look for natural varieties with only one ingredient, the nut (or seed). Your peanut butter should contain peanuts, full stop. Anything else is just an unnecessary additive, and not beneficial to your health.
If you dislike the oil that separates out, store your jar upside down in the pantry until you’re ready to stir it up. Then, stir really well (all the way down to the bottom of the jar) and keep in the fridge once opened. This will minimize further oil separation.
Healthy Eating Swap #5: Dates for Sugar
When it comes to sweeteners, fruits are always your best bet, especially over highly refined and processed white sugars and corn syrups. This is because they contain nutrients that refined sugars have left behind. They also contain fibre, which slows the speed at which sugar hits your bloodstream.
In terms of sweeteners, dates (or date sugars), have been found to retain the most nutrients of all the unrefined sugars available. You can use dates for sweetness in a lot of recipes. Or, you can get either dried date sugar or date syrup, (made entirely from dates) to substitute in place of white sugar or corn syrup in your baked goods.
For more info on healthier swaps in your baked goods, check out the related link below.
Healthy Eating Swap #6: Water for Sugary Beverages
Our bodies contain large amounts of water and need it to carry out the daily processes required to sustain life. So much so, that we can survive longer without food than we can without water. It’s that important.
As such, we tend to drink a lot of fluid in a day. However, as time went on, we stopped enjoying water for what it was, a life-sustaining beverage. Instead, we began adding sugary sweeteners to it, then caffeine and other additives. Now, people are more likely to reach for a sugar-laden beverage to quench their thirst, than a simple glass of water.
There are a number of problems with this. Excess sugar in the diet has a number of negative effects on the body. Ranging from weight gain and tooth decay all the way to increased risk of chronic diseases, including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
So, ditch the sugary sodas and beverages. Instead, reach for water. It’s calorie-free and linked will all sorts of health benefits, rather than disease risk.
If you’re looking for something with more flavour, infused water is a great choice. You can slice some fruit, herbs, or vegetables and add them to a pitcher of water. They’ll add some flavour to an otherwise bland beverage. Herbal tea is also another great option for those looking for a little more flavour in their beverages.
Healthy Eating Swap #7: Homemade for Store Bought
There may come a time when you can’t get a certain food item out of your mind. Whether it’s something you have fond memories of enjoying as a child, or just a favourite food that you try to limit for health reasons. I get it. Nobody is perfect (myself included) and sometimes you just want a little treat. That’s perfectly normal.
There’s nothing wrong with allowing yourself a treat now and again. However, instead of running out to the store to pick up something processed and full of chemical additives, make it yourself. Head into your own kitchen, and whip up a healthier version of whatever you are craving.
By doing this you have full control over all of the ingredients. This is important, as those processed foods are formulated to keep you coming back for more. They’re also formulated to be cheap to produce, so they tend to be made from poor quality food fragments and additives.
In your kitchen, you can choose good quality ingredients derived from whole foods. So, while you indulge in that craving, you can ensure you’re getting some decent nutrients out of it as well. A good example of this is my double chocolate mint cookies. Made from chickpeas, oat flour and other whole food ingredients, they are a treat you can enjoy without any guilt.
For more information on curbing cravings to support your healthy eating, check out the related link below.
The Bottom Line
I understand that not everyone is ready to jump into a whole food plant-based diet. But, even if you aren’t ready to make that change, there are a number of small steps you can take that will get you started on the road to healthy eating.
Start questioning the ingredients in the food items you purchase. Really read those ingredients and ask yourself what they are doing for you and your body. The more processed the food item, the less likely you’ll be to derive any real nutrients from it. Focus on real foods rather than factory-made, food-like substances. That’s a small step anyone can take. A step that will pay off for years to come.
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