Here are 7 days of healthy food habits you can easily incorporate into your diet that will greatly improve your health and lower your risk of chronic disease.
ONE: SWITCH TO HEALTHY OILS
When it comes to cooking oils not all oils are created equal. Refined vegetable oils like canola, corn, soybean, and sunflower oil should be avoided as they’re inflammatory and easily go rancid. Refined vegetable oils are extracted by high heat and usually a chemical solvent, which destroys their valuable antioxidants and makes them susceptible to oxidation and the formation of damaging free radicals. These oils are high in polyunsaturated omega-6 fats and low in beneficial omega-3 fats. Omega-6 fats are important in moderation but inflammatory when eaten in excess.
Commercial vegetable oils can also form dangerous trans-fats when these oils are hydrogenated. Hydrogenated oils are found in most margarines, commercially baked shelf stable baked goods, frozen desserts, ice cream, and fast foods. Trans-fats are one of the prime culprits in heart disease, raising LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol levels and lowering HDL ‘good’ cholesterol levels. This dangerous combination significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Cold pressed, unrefined oils on the other hand have been extracted by pressing the plant or seed without heat and chemicals, so they retain all of their healthful nutrients, making them a much healthier option. Some of the healthiest cooking oils are cold pressed EVOO, macadamia nut, avocado, and coconut oils.
When choosing a healthy cooking oil for roasting, frying and sauteing it’s important to pick one with a high smoking point like avocado, virgin olive oil and macadamia nut oil. These oils are rich in beneficial monounsaturated fats, which are more stable when heated so they won’t oxidize easily at high temperatures. Avocado oil has one of the highest smoking points so it’s ideal for cooking at high temperatures, along with making salad dressings and dips. Avocado oil is an excellent source of vitamin E and beneficial monounsaturated fats, along with carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) that are required for eye health and good vision.
Healthy oils suitable for medium temperature cooking and baking are EVOO and unrefined coconut oil. EVOO, a staple in the Mediterranean diet, is rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, namely oleic acid, together with vitamin E and antioxidants. EVOO has been found to have a potent cardio-protective properties, helping lower inflammation and blood pressure and reducing the risk of atherosclerosis. EVOO adds plenty of flavour and extra nutritional value to dips and salad dressings, and can be used for medium temperature cooking.
Coconut oil is a good source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) which is a type of saturated fatty acid that’s a great energy source for the brain and body. MCTs can also help boost metabolism to increase fat burning, and can help manage blood sugar levels. Coconut oil works well in baked goods and raw desserts along with medium temperature stir-frying.
Make sure to store your oils properly in a cool dark place.
TWO: COOK MORE MEALS AT HOME
Getting take-out might seem like the best option when your busy and getting home late from work, but unfortunately a lot of take-away choices are unhealthy and high in calories and harmful fats that can promote weight gain and heart disease. Preparing nutritious meals at home is one of the simplest ways to improve your diet and promote better health.
On the weekend get organised for the coming week by planning what meals you will be cooking at home. Write a shopping list so you have all the ingredients ready to go. Try to keep your pantry stocked with cooking staples like EVOO, herbs + spices, tinned tomatoes and legumes, rice, pasta and coconut milk. Invest in some new plant-based cook books or look online for some inspiration for new delicious recipe to try. Start off with simple healthy recipes. One-pot recipes are perfect when you are pushed for time. The weekend is a great time to do some meal prep for the week. Prepare some nutritious dishes that you can freeze for quick healthy meals. Get in the habit of when you cook always cook extra so you can take leftovers for lunch the next day.
THREE: EAT MORE PLANTS
Eating more plants is one of the best things you can do for your health. The benefits of eating plant-based foods has long been known. Evidence shows that eating a wholesome plant-based diet can reduce your risk of weight gain and chronic disease. Plant-based diets are protective against type-2 diabetes, certain cancers, cardiovascular disease and obesity.
Plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and wholegrains are rich in dietary fibre, healthy unsaturated fats, and protective antioxidants. Fruit and vegetables are loaded with important phytochemicals such as flavonoids, carotenoids and isothiocyanates that have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions that help protect our cells from oxidative damage. Inflammation is said to be the root of almost all diseases. Excessive red meat and processed meat consumption can promote inflammation in the body.
Raw nuts and seeds (including their pastes and oils), avocados and extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) contain beneficial unsaturated fats including omega-3 essential fatty acids and vitamin E, that have an anti-inflammatory action and help support cardiovascular health. A study found that people who consume at least 3 servings of nuts per week have a 39% lower risk of premature death.
Fill your kitchen with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables of different colours, along with legumes, raw nuts and seeds (hemp, chia, flaxseed, quinoa, pepita, sunflower and tahini), wholegrains (oats, brown rice, buckwheat, sprouted grainy bread), and some healthy cold pressed oils (EVOO, avocado, and coconut).
FOUR: DRINK GREEN TEA
Green tea is rich in polyphenols namely epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which have potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancerous properties. Many of green teas health benefits have been attributed to the presence of high levels of EGCG.
Studies have linked green tea consumption with the reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. Drinking green tea can help boost immune function and liver health and increase metabolism and fat burning, which can help encourage weight loss. EGCG helps prevent premature skin ageing by reducing the breakdown of collagen, and can protect the joints by inhibiting the degradation of cartilage.
Drinking green tea can also significantly increase glutathione levels. Glutathione is one of the most important antioxidants produced in the body that combats damaging free radicals and supports immune function and liver detoxification. One study compared green tea (4 cups a day) and green tea extract to placebo on the effects of antioxidant protection in people who have metabolic syndrome – a condition characterised by abdominal obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. Those who consumed green tea and green tea extract increased their glutathione levels by over 134% and total antioxidant capacity by over 150%.
Researchers have discovered that certain compounds found in green tea can lift the mood, improve focus and help fend off depression. Green teas beneficial effects on mood and cognition are thought to be due to its combination of the amino acid L-theanine and caffeine. L-theanine has a calming effect on the nervous system, which seems to mitigate the negative effects of caffeine, like feeling jittery or having difficulty sleeping, while enhancing it’s positive effects of feeling more alert and focused.
Scientists have discovered that L-theanine also has an antidepressant and anti-anxiety effect. L-theanine can help improve mood by increasing brain dopamine, GABA and serotonin levels. GABA is an amino acid which acts as a neurotransmitter that reduces the activity of nerve cells throughout the body. It has a positive effect on mood by making you feel more relaxed, reducing stress levels, and helping you sleep. People with depression have lower brain GABA levels.
Always buy a good quality loose leaf certified organic green tea that’s free from pesticide residue. To reap the health benefits green tea has to offer aim to have 3 or more cups daily. Green tea is also delicious iced with a squeeze of lemon.
FIVE: DITCH REFINED GRAINS FOR WHOLE GRAINS
A simple way to eat healthier is to swap out refined grains for natural, fibre-rich wholegrains. Refined ‘white’ grains are found in white breads, rice and pasta, and packaged breakfast cereals, biscuits, pastries and convenience foods. Refined grains have been milled to remove their nutritious bran and germ, which decreases the grains nutritional value and health benefits considerably. The outer bran layer is particularly rich in dietary fibre, B vitamins and minerals iron, zinc, selenium and magnesium. The germ, which lies within the grain seed, is rich in heart-healthy vitamin E and beneficial fats.
Wholegrains are one of the best sources of both soluble and insoluble fibre. Dietary fibre is an essential part of any healthy diet and crucial for gut health and prevention of chronic disease. The recommended daily intake of dietary fibre for adults is 30g, however most Australians don’t get enough due to a high consumption of refined foods. These types of fibres promote healthy bowel habits and protect against colon cancer and cardiovascular disease. They keep cholesterol levels in check and feed our beneficial gut microbiome which helps reduce inflammation and boosts immune health.
The fibre in the bran also slows down the digestion of the grain, which provides you with a slow and steady supply of glucose to fuel the cells in the body. This helps maintain balanced blood sugar levels and reduces insulin levels. It also helps gives you a sense of satiety.
Healthy whole grains to add to your shopping list include brown rice, whole oats, grainy breads and crackers, whole grain pasta, buckwheat, quinoa, millet and amaranth. Swap out refined white flour for wholemeal spelt flour for making fibre-rich baked goods.
SIX: SWITCH TO HEALTHY BEVERAGES
Get rid of any sugary drinks from your fridge including soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, sugary iced teas and cordials. These drinks can contain up to 11tsp of sugar per can or bottle, or artificial sweeteners, and they provide no nutritional goodness. The average 500ml can of energy drink contains around 14 tsp of sugar, plus around 160mg of caffeine which is equivalent to having 2 cups of coffee. Drinking these sugary beverages regularly will result in weight gain, unstable blood sugar levels, and tooth decay. People who consume 1-2 cans of sugary drinks regularly have been found to have a 26% greater risk of developing type-2 diabetes compared to those who rarely consume these unhealthy drinks.
Herbal and green teas, sparkling mineral water, kombucha, vegetable juices and smoothies are all healthy beverage choices. Sparkling mineral water with a splash of lemon or juice is a good alternative to soft drink. While fruit juice contains healthful vitamins, minerals and antioxidants they do contain high levels of sugars called fructose. These natural sugars act like sugar when consumed as a juice, raising blood sugar levels. Eating whole fruit however doesn’t cause sharp spikes in blood sugar levels due to their high fibre content, which slows the absorption of sugars into the blood stream. You should also be aiming to drinking at least 2 ½ Litres of filtered water daily to help flush out toxins from the body, prevent constipation, help keep your skin healthy and hydrated, and to improve brain function.
SEVEN: EAT FERMENTED FOODS
Including fermented foods in your diet such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso and kimchi, in the diet is an excellent way to promote a healthy mood through improving gut health. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics that help boost beneficial intestinal microbiome and support better gut health.
The health of our gut is closely related to our emotional wellbeing. Our gut plays a key role in guarding against the development of anxiety and depression-related disorders. A large percentage of our brain chemicals, including serotonin, dopamine and GABA are produced in the gut. In fact, around ninety percent of our serotonin is produced in the gut. Dysbiosis (altered gut microbiome) and gut inflammation have been linked to altered levels of serotonin levels and several mental illnesses including anxiety and depression. Consuming fermented probiotic rich foods daily will help restore normal gut microbiome to improve mood and promote emotional health.
Try adding a good spoonful of sauerkraut to your next salad, curry, dahl, or earth bowl. Add yoghurt or kefir to smoothies, salad dressings and Bircher muesli. Make heathy yoghurt ice cream. Add miso to soup, stir-fries, salad dressings, marinades and glazes for fish, chicken and meat.
Written by Lisa Guy, naturopath and founder of Bodhi Organic Tea.