This is the season where many of us are looking to get a fresh start. Despite the urge to find that next quick fix or think about making drastic changes to your diet, you can have a more substantial and sustainable impact by making minor changes that create big momentum.
By Kim D’Eon RHN, B. Journalism, Hons.
Birds are chirping, flowers are budding and we’re delighted to, finally, be able to get our daily dose of vitamin D from those extra rays of glorious sunshine. We’re replacing our winter boots for sneakers and rethinking our months-long love affair with comfort foods and the couch to embrace the promise of springtime renewal.
Though it may be tempting to turn to quick-fix schemes, fad diet advice or restrictive fasting cleanses, these approaches are not sustainable and can seriously mess with your metabolism.
Instead, I’m offering up four shockingly easy and effective ways to rethink your eating habits to set you up for a fresh start this spring and beyond!
1. Cook from Scratch
One of the first things you should be thinking about when it comes to spring-cleaning your eating habits and resetting your health is getting into your kitchen and cooking more often. Don’t be overly concerned with what you’re cooking, just do it from scratch. When you cook from scratch, you don’t add artificial colourings, artificial flavourings or strange chemical additives to your foods (I hope). And since shelf life isn’t a concern, you’re not adding gobs of preservatives either. When you cook at home, you’re using ingredients that you can identify and pronounce and I bet chemicals like Butylated Hydroxyanisole or Potassium Bromate aren’t on your grocery list.
Yes, cooking takes time. Eating healthier takes effort. But, this is a perfect season to make lasting lifestyle shifts.
Tip: Don’t leave meal planning until the last minute. (65% of Canadians decide what to eat for dinner about an hour before they need to cook it.) Weekends are a great time to think up three easy recipes and make sure you do a grocery shop that includes everything you’ll need for those three meals. You’d be surprised how a little prep goes a long way.
2. Drink more Water
It’s not as sexy as a green juice cleanse, but most of us simply aren’t getting enough water. Being properly hydrated is one of the most important things you can do for your body. We’re mostly water (60-70% in fact) so getting enough is critical to your health. When properly hydrated your skin will be plumper and clearer, you’ll eliminate toxins more efficiently (think more urine and better bowel movements), your immune system will be more effective and all of this can help you store less fat and have more energy. In fact, many times, those hunger pangs are just your body calling out for water.
There’s no set amount of cups or glasses you should drink a day. Your unique hydration needs depend on many different factors. The best way to tell if you’re properly hydrated is to check your urine through the day. It should be a light shade of “straw” or pino grigio :). It shouldn’t smell strong.
Tip: If you have a hard time remembering to drink water through the day, I recommend scheduling reminders on your phone. Keep a full glass on your bedside table and drink it as soon as you wake up. Bring a portable water bottle with you every day. Add slices of your favourite fruits: citrus, berries and mint. Herbal teas count too!
3. Get Sober about Sugar
You may be trying to eat healthy, but are being sabotaged by sneaky excess sugar in some of your favourite convenience foods. Even “healthy” packaged goods can contain staggering amounts of sugar. In fact, one container of fat free, fruit flavoured yogurt can contain twice as much sugar as a Krispy Kreme glazed donut.
By now, we know the health dangers of consuming excess sugar. It’s been linked to all the major chronic illnesses like diabetes, cardiovascular conditions and obesity. The World Health Organization recommends no more than six teaspoons of added sugar for women and nine teaspoons per day for men. But, on average, most of us are consuming 22 added teaspoons of sugar daily. Most of it is coming from packaged foods and not the spoonful you add to your coffee!
Tip: This spring, I’m suggesting you learn to do some sugar math. It’s easy. You just have to remember that four grams = one teaspoon of sugar. As long as you can divide, you’re set. Simply scan the nutrition label for the sugar listing (which is in grams) and divide by 4 to figure how many teaspoons of sugar are in the packaged food. It’s sobering and will help you make wiser decisions. I’m not saying you have to banish every granule of sugar, but knowledge is power.
4. Focus on Veggies
Most Canadians are falling short of Health Canada’s recommendation of eight-ten servings of fruit and vegetables. Fruit and vegetables have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and to boost the health of our blood vessels and immune system, yet many of us forget to make veggies the star of our meals. Since spring brings fresh crops of tasty veggies, it’s a great time to experiment and make progress on your produce intake.
Tip: By eating more produce, you’re increasing your intake of vitamins and minerals as well as fibre, antioxidants and beneficial enzymes. Experiment with adding veggies to what you’re cooking already.
Scrambled eggs for breakfast? Add broccoli, spinach, peppers or mushrooms. Pasta for dinner? Add some kale.
Consider getting on the Meatless Monday bandwagon. Grated zucchini, cauliflower rice or spaghetti squash make great a great base for dinner. Once you see how easy it is, perhaps you’ll expand your veg-forward meals to other days of the week.
These four basic principles can help you spring clean your eating habits, build the foundation for lasting health and set you on your way to expanding your nutritional horizons.