Easy swaps to give your diet a health kick

It's Healthy Eating Week later in June, so there's no better time to get your diet on track. Here are some easy ways to get started

20w ago

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We all plan on eating healthily. I don't think anyone actively aims to eat unhealthily, it's just difficult sometimes. It seems the really lovely, tasty food is the food that's really bad for you, and it's just not fair.

Changing your diet can be a pain, particularly if you are quite set in your ways with specific things you like and a specific routine. However, Healthy Eating Week is nearly upon us, so now is a good time to think about how you can make some improvements.

It needn't be radical either. Often just making little changes you are unlikely to even notice can make a big difference. Here are some examples.

Breakfast

If you're in the habit of having a fry up every morning, the first thing you should do is consider changing that up a bit: having one every other morning for a start and reduce it from there.

But if you are determined to keep the fry up on the menu, there are things you can do to make it healthier. Instead of frying the bacon and sausages, cook them under the grill. Increase the number of tomatoes you have. Mushrooms are full of fibre, so take a bigger portion of them too. There is no harm in embracing your inner hipster and sticking some avocado on the plate as well. It's full of the fats you need and will help fill you up.

If you prefer cereal, you're off to a good start anyway, but if your cereal of choice is Coco Pops, or something similar, you're starting the day with a massive dose of sugar. You can make it a bit better by switching your milk to semi-skimmed or skimmed, but if you really want to improve, consider having porridge and getting your sweetness hit from honey and fresh fruit. Porridge will keep you full till at least lunch time and is full of fibre, so is great for you.

Lunch

The best thing you can do here is cut down on bread. This is far easier said than done for most of us (myself included), but breads and bagels etc. are full of hidden calories and are quite easily swapped.

If you are used to having a sandwich, consider having a salad. There is no reason the meat or fish from the sandwich can't be the basis for an amazing salad, and you only need to have the things you like. There seems to be this impression that a salad must have a set bunch of ingredients and, if you don't like some of them, salads are really tough to get on board with. It's really not the case. Don't like tomatoes? Swap them for some peppers or leave them out all together. Make it yours!

Soup is a great way to feel like you've eaten a substantial meal without having loaded up on the stuff you're trying to avoid. It's amazing if you can make it yourself because you control exactly what goes in it, but a good tin of soup is absolutely fine.

If you really can't manage without bread, have a tortilla wrap with some meat and salad, or get some croutons to add to what you're having, but don't make it the main thing on the plate. It's also worth considering Rivita. It has a reputation for being like cardboard, but I promise it isn't and it comes in tonnes of flavours with seeds and nuts. This with a spread of light Philli and some cucumber couldn't be simpler and will fill you up.

Dinner

It's so easy to let calories, sugar, and carbs get away from you at dinner time. Even if you are making a huge effort to be healthier, it's difficult to know how good some things are for you and, a lot of the time, you've had a long day and really can't be bothered dealing with it! Don't let it take over your evening, keep it simple. Take what you like to eat and tweak it.

Start with portion size. Is the amount of food you're eating reasonable, or is it more than you really need? I'm the kind of person who will eat the entire plate of food if i'm enjoying it and I know i'm not the only one so, for me, it's important to only make what I need. An easy way to manage this is by having smaller plates which tricks you into thinking you're having a plate full and is great for portioning. Alternatively, you can weigh things based on recommended amounts or eyeball it on the plate, aiming to fill less space than you normally do.

Then think about what's in the meal you are having. If you like pasta with rich creamy or cheesy sauces, try a vegetable sauce alternative, although it is worth checking the sugar content as these can have way more than you think. Low is best and, better yet, make your own. If that sounds like an additional task at night, you can make a big batch of it on the weekend and freeze it to be heated when you want.

When it comes to meat, leaner is better, and consider switching it out for some oily fish like salmon. There may be meals where you can drop meats all together and replace it completely with veg or lentils. Think about the veg you are eating too, potatoes are good in small portions but, if you like a lot of them, try sweet potato instead.

Variety is also good here. It's difficult if you don't like a huge array of different foods because you can eat the same thing to the point of boredom so try to mix it up every day, to avoid reaching for the full fat milk and cheese sauce every night.

Snacks

Snacks are so many people's downfall, myself included. If I give in to temptation mid-afternoon and have something I really shouldn't have had, I often write off the rest of the day. Either this or I have dinner at around 7. When 10 o'clock comes, it's all too easy to just have a biscuit or some crisps. You know you do it too.

There are really simple ways around this though. Timing can be key. Have breakfast so that you are not ravenously hungry come 11am. Don't have lunch so early that you can't make it till dinner time, and same goes for dinner. But plan to snack, don't persecute yourself for having a little bite to eat mid-afternoon, just make the bite something better.

If you are partial to a packet of crisps, try having popcorn instead. Unsalted is best but any is better. Take a snack with you to work so that you're not tempted to nip to the shop and you control what you have through the day. You can slice some apples and dip them in a little peanut butter. Take some grapes or some raw carrot. Nuts are great for you too, in small portions.

If chocolate is your vice, the best thing to do is go for sweet fruit, but it doesn't mean cutting it out entirely. Dark chocolate is a great alternative and can be melted onto things or eaten on its own to satisfy evening cravings.

Drinks

This is all well and good, but if you are having a hazelnut mocha with cream and 4 sugars every day, you're really setting yourself back! That might be tasty, but it's a massive hit of sugar and calories that you could be getting from something more enjoyable at mealtimes.

If you are counting calories, carbs, or any particular food group (not recommended), then drinks are not your friend!

Sometimes you can do no right either, like when you grab a smoothie rather than a fizzy drink. If it's a bottled smoothie, particularly one made to 'boost energy' then there is probably more sugar in that than in the pop.

Making smoothies yourself is a great idea and a brilliant way to get some of the fruit and veg you don't normally like without feeling like you are torturing yourself! My favourite things to add include spinach (which I can't be bothered cooking but is full of tremendous stuff like iron), herbs, and natural yoghurt. Things I wouldn't otherwise really have had, but the yoghurt adds bulk and gives it a great texture, and the rest is completely masked by all your favourite fruit that you've added. Smoothies can even make a great dessert, if dinner just hasn't hit the spot.

Hydration is key, you don't need me to tell you that. But what you might not know is that a lot of the time when you feel like you are hungry or peckish, you just need a drink. If you feel like you shouldn't be hungry but are, try having a glass of water and waiting a bit, you might just find it works. As well as keeping you healthy, being well hydrated is important for this very reason, helping your body, and therefore you, understand what you really need. So drink frequently throughout the day. Water is best, but if you struggle to get enough, try chopping some fruit to throw in and flavour it to make it more appealing and stop it getting boring.

All about the balance

It's all about balance. You'll have heard a million times: "everything in moderation" but, as with all the best cliches, it's true. Nobody is saying you have to give up all your favourite things if they fall into some of the less healthy categories. Saving those things for treats is a great way to make sure you enjoy them even more, and get the most out of what you are replacing it with.

Tell us about your healthy alternatives...

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