5 healthy habits

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. Drinking mainly 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 (5% of calories)1. 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 a large chunk of free sugar consumption.

Free sugar, a WHO definition2, 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 health problems.

Drinks with artificial sweeteners only work if you are very disciplined. Several studies show that drinking them leads to more sugar later4. Artificial sweeteners act on the brain to trigger craving.  Some sweeteners might interfere with healthy gut bacteria too3. In addition, those who kick all sweet things readjust their taste buds and crave sweetness less.

2. Dodging highly 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 some breads, cereal bars, biscuits, cakes, ready-made meals, pre-made doughs, and processed meats.

3. Getting 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 they 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 highly 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.

4. Grabbing a handful of nuts

Studies5 suggest a handful of nuts a week might 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.

5. Cutting down on meat, dairy and eggs

These foods are typically high in saturated fat which leads to high blood cholesterol and in time clogged arteries.

In addition, meat, dairy and eggs are calorie dense low fibre foods. A 1 cm cube of cheese has the same calories as a small head of broccoli, but is far less filling. And, calorie for calorie broccoli has more protein than cheese.

Consider using these foods sparingly as flavouring rather than as the centre piece of a meal.

1Reducing free sugars intake in children and adult – WHO

2WHO definition of free sugar

3Low-Calorie Sweeteners – Harvard School of Public Health

4More Bad News for Artificial Sweetener Users

5Nuts for the heart – Harvard School of Public Health

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