Good health is driven by what we do most of the time rather than by occasional indulgences. Here are five everyday habits that can make a big healthy difference.
1. Drink water
Fruit juice and soda are full of free sugar. One large glass of orange juice contains around 25 grams of free sugar, the WHO’s total recommended healthy daily intake. The same glass contains 150 Kcal, 8% of recommended daily calories, but it does little to sate hunger. Switching to water can cut daily calories by a third and eliminate most free sugar consumption.
Free sugar, a WHO definition, distinguishes between the sugar in fruit, which is still in nature’s wrapper, and the sugar in processed foods and juice which quickly slides into the blood stream causing all sorts of problems.
Drinks with artificial sweeteners only work if you are very disciplined. Several studies show that drinking them leads to more sugar later. Artificial sweeteners act on the brain to trigger craving. In addition, those who kick all sweet things readjust their taste buds and crave sweetness less.
2. Cut down on animal products – meat, dairy, eggs
These foods are typically high in saturated fat which leads to high blood cholesterol and clogged arteries.
In addition, meat, dairy and eggs are calorie dense low fibre foods. A small cube of cheese has the same calories as a head of broccoli, but calorie for calorie broccoli has more protein.
Consider using these foods sparingly as flavouring rather than as the centre piece of a meal.
3. Avoid processed foods
Processed foods are often high in refined carbohydrates, salt, free sugar, saturated fat, and trans fat. These can be hard to spot and find their way into many breads, cereal bars, biscuits, cakes, ready-made meals, pre-made doughs, and processed meats.
4. Eat lots of unrefined grains, beans, pulses, vegetables and whole fruit
Fruit, vegetables and whole grains are full of vitamins, phytonutrients, fibre, protein and slow release carbohydrates and are low in saturated and trans fats, salt and free sugar.
Unlike refined processed products, it is difficult to overeat these foods. They are highly filling for the calories they contain. For example one frankfurter has almost the same calories as a kilogram of cooked spinach. But the frankfurter has virtually no fibre, 17 times the saturated fat and only one third of the protein of its calorific equivalent in spinach.
Try substituting refined foods for whole ones. Swap white breads for grainy ones and white rice for brown rice. Most refined foods come with a high glycemic load. This means they cause the level of glucose in the blood to shoot up, something associated with high blood cholesterol and type two diabetes.
5. Eat nuts
According to one study, nuts are the only other element of the mediterranean diet, along with fruit and vegetables, that bring significant health benefits. Another study suggests that a handful of nuts a week can halve the risk of a heart attack. But be careful with Brazil nuts. They are very high in selenium, a trace element that is healthy only in limited quantities.