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Stop avoiding food - 5 things to focus on including in your diet

We are constantly told to stop drinking, eat less meat, reduce fat, avoid carbs, fear sugar, mind the ultra-processed food... So many things that ought to be removed.

But human diet is like nature: it does not like vacuum. We NEED to eat food to function and thrive. We will eventually eat anything if we keep restricting. Especially since the brain hates being constantly told 'NO'. The more something is forbidden, the more it becomes desirable... right?!

So how about, rather than focusing on what to avoid, instead focusing on WHAT TO EAT MORE OF.

Here I am suggesting 5 focus points to give your diet a boost in a positive rather than a punishing and restrictive way. And you should notice that naturally your overall diet improves... and your body, health and wellbeing will be grateful!

TIP #1 - Get protein from more plant-based foods

Whether your motivation is to improve your gut health, take care of your heart, increase your life expectancy, or reduce your carbon foot print, it is a good idea to eat a bit less meat.

But the body still needs some protein as it provides the essential building blocks to repair, produce and grow all your body's tissues, from skin to hormones.

So forget about cauliflower steak or jackfruit - these are certainly nice and tasty foods to have in your plate but they are no substitute to meat, fish or dairy because they have no protein whatsoever. Instead chose a dish rich in pulse (i.e., chickpeas, beans, lentils) as these are a proper alternative source of protein. Think Puy lentils soup, refried black beans, teryaki tofu, falafels, hummus, ribollita soup with cannellini beans. There are so many options!

And certainly no need to cook them from dry: use tins and pre-cooked pouches to add to soup, stew, or to use as a base for a salad.

Just one important point about plant-based protein foods: apart from soybean foods (e.g. tofu, tempeh, edamame beans), most pulse are considered to be 'incomplete' proteins - they have a great amount of protein but they don't contain all the amino acids (the basic compound that make a protein) the body needs. Luckily, the missing amino acids can be found in other plant foods such as cereals. So as long as your diet includes some bread, pasta, oats or rice you are all covered.

TIP #2 - Keep hydrated

Thirst is a funny thing - by the time you feel it, it is likely too late: you are already dehydrated. At that point you might find focussing difficult, have a headache, get muscle cramps, feel tired and irritable, have a more rapid heart rate. These symptoms recede once we drink fluid but even better if you can prevent them by staying hydrated all day long!

First thing, drink a big glass of water (or any fluid, ideally unsweetened) shortly after you wake up. This is because after a night sleep you will have lost a lot of fluid and need to replenish your stores.

Then, throughout the day, keep drinking regularly. An average adult needs between 1.5L to 2L of fluid a day but that can vary depending on how much exercise or sweating you will experience. The best indicator of hydration is the colour of your urine: Pale straw? you are well hydrated. Darker yellow? you need to drink.

Although water is all you need, all fluids will help: milk, tea, coffee, herbal tea - just be mindful of sweetened beverage (fruit juice, soda) as they can damage your teeth and can bring additional energy beyond your needs.

And if you are trying to manage your weight, you might notice that staying hydrated helps you regulate your hunger. Let's be clear, if you are hungry, drinking water isn't going to fix that, but sometimes thirst is mistaken for hunger. So before heading to the fridge, drink a glass of water first.

TIP #3 - Include some alcohol-free drinks

If you think your consumption of alcohol is getting a bit too high after 2 years of pandemic, you are not alone. At the end of a long day of working-from-home, many of us like to use a glass of wine as a ritual to close the working day. But it doesn't have to be alcohol. And today there are so many amazing alcohol-free alternatives.

How about an alcohol-free beer? Or an alcohol-free gin & tonic?

So tidy away your work station, pour yourself a non-alcoholic drink in a nice glass with a squeeze of lime, dim the light and... relax.

TIP #4 - Go for plain food and choose how sweet you want it to be

Do you have a sweet tooth and worry you eat too much sugar? Rather than cutting all sugary items from your diet try to be the one in control of how much sugar you eat.

Buy plain yogurt or plain cereals (porridge oat, weetabix), and add the amount of sweetener (honey, table sugar, jam) you really need/enjoy... chances are, it will be much less than what would be in already-sweetened product.

And how about swapping a tsp of sugar for a few berries into your bowl of porridge? or for half-banana into your yogurt?

This gives you full control and enable you to get a sense of how much sugar you are eating - it is also a great way to slowly re-train your palate for more subtle aromas.

TIP #5 -Choose whole-grain foods

The gut LOVES fibre: it helps with digestion and it feeds the colonies of good bacteria that thrives in the large intestine, influencing immune function, appetite, metabolism, even mood.

Unfortunately, the Western diet is quite poor in fibre - the average UK adult is getting only half of the recommended amount a day.

So a good focus point is to increase your daily fibre intake and a powerful way to do that is by opting for the whole-grain version of certain foods: brown instead of white rice, wholemeal instead of white bread, porridge oat instead of corn flakes.

But you can be even more adventurous: try barley in soups, wild rice in salads, wholemeal couscous or bulgur to serve with a tajine.

Another unexpected beneficial effect of fibre is that it makes you feel full faster and for longer, acting on your appetite hormones. You will be less prone to snacking as a result.

Could you do with some help with your eating habits?

Whether it is for weight management or you're dealing with a difficult relationship with food - get in touch

The next weight management programme will start in April-May 2022 - email me if you are interested

I run 1:1 consultations online. Book a free discovery call and let's talk to find out if I am the right person for you.

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