4 Swaps to Ease Into Healthier Eating
As we roll into another new year, expect to be bombarded with ads for slim down shakes, meal kits, and miracle supplements, all promising rapid weight loss and life-changing health improvements.
I have fallen prey to the lure of supplements and have jumped on the diet train a few times myself, but after a few months I find myself reverting to old habits. BUT after many years of trial and error, I have found some realistic and sustainable diet modifications that have helped me transition to healthier eating.
Re-evaluate your morning coffee
For me, this was the easiest change to make. I would often mindlessly buy caramel macchiatos and the occasional peppermint mocha on the way to work. If I was running late, I would make myself a coffee at home with cream and sugar. When I started being more conscious about my sugar intake, I was shocked to find that some of my favorite coffeehouse drinks had as much sugar in them as some of my favorite candy bars. Eeek! This also made me think about the creamer I keep in the fridge and the extra sugar I would add.
I knew it was time to make a change. For my at-home coffee, I decided to go cut cream and sugar cold turkey. A word of caution: your taste buds will take some time to adjust. But once you do, you’ll discover the true flavor of coffee you missed under all that cream and sugar. If you’re not ready to let go of your coffeehouse experience, start experimenting with dairy and sugar alternatives. Coffeehouses have a wide variety of alternative creamers and sweeteners for you to try. I found that coconut and oat milk were the best milk replacements and monk fruit sweetener was the best sweetener but find what you like best!
Make the effort to bring your lunch and some snacks to work
This takes some planning but will save you money and the temptation to make unhealthy choices on the fly. What you make can be as simple as a salad with chicken or a fajita bowl. Salad kits make for a great shortcut, and bulk preparing protein can make it simple to diversify your meal prep. Experiment and see what works best for you.
I make dinner about 4 nights a week, cooking enough to feed 4-5 people even though I’m currently feeding a family of 2. The extra food is available to freeze or grab for lunches throughout the week. Usually on Sunday nights I will do a bulk preparation of food to get us started, that might be a soup, stir fry or a protein and veggie dish. There are plenty of healthy meal prep recipes available online for you to try, but be conscientious of your portions and follow the hand guide to portion sizes:
- Protein: the portion of protein you eat in a meal should not exceed the size of your palm.
- Vegetables/fruits: shoot for a portion the size of your cupped hand.
- Carbs: limit your carb portion to the size of your clenched fist.
- Fat: limit your fat ingestion to the size of your thumb.
You can also cook healthier versions of your everyday staples by using cauliflower or chickpea rice, bean or lentil pasta and more.
To keep you on track during the day, bring healthy snacks to curb cravings. Nuts, dried fruit or even a bar of dark chocolate or cacao nibs can keep you from going to the vending machine.
Swap sugar for a healthier or unrefined alternative
Sugar alternatives are controversial, but too much cane sugar has a negative effect on our bodies. Here are some cane sugar alternatives to try:
- Raw, unfiltered honey: Low fructose and the only natural sweetener with anti-microbial, heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Agave nectar: Though low on the glycemic index, agave nectar is high in fructose, so this would not be a suitable alternative for diabetics.
- Coconut sugar: It’s unrefined, so it holds all it’s natural vitamins and minerals and doesn’t lead to blood sugar spikes.
- Monk fruit sweetener: During processing, mogrosides are filtered out, therefore it contains no fructose or glucose. Due to its potent sweetness, you don’t need to use as much.
- Stevia: Non-caloric and safe for people with diabetes.
- Date paste or syrup: A natural sweetener that can easily be made at home. Syrups are also available online and are more shelf stable than pastes.
These sweeteners can be found in most grocery stores and even in some local restaurants and coffee shops.
Swap cows’ milk with a non-dairy alternative
Cow’s milk is rich in protein and calcium and has been hailed as a nutritional staple for many years. However, recent concerns over allergies, hormones, additives, sugar content and other dietary restrictions have created more demand than ever for milk alternatives. Here are some to try:
- Almond milk contains less than a quarter of the calories and less than half the fat of cow’s milk and is considered one of the lowest-calorie nondairy milks available. Almond milk is also a great source of vitamin E, protein, fiber, and healthy fats.
- Coconut milk has one-third the calories, half the fat and significantly less protein and carbohydrates than cow’s milk. Around 90% of the calories from coconut milk come from saturated fat, including medium-chain triglycerides, which are thought to control appetite, aid in weight loss and improve blood cholesterol levels. Coconut milk is sold in cartons and cans, the product in cans is a more concentrated and whole version of coconut milk. You can even use it to make a simple yogurt at home.
- Oat milk is similar in calories to cow’s milk and with nearly double the carbs and half the protein and fat, oat milk is high in fiber and beta-glucan, which helps lower bad cholesterol levels.
You can also try soy, rice, cashew, hemp and macadamia milks. Each has their own unique flavor and bring different nutritive benefits. If you are looking for substitutes for baking or cooking, be sure to check online to verify the suggested replacement ratio.
Any step to get healthier, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction. As you start your journey to eat healthier, find what you truly enjoy, and give yourself time to adjust. Changing your eating habits starts at home but to be sustainable, must carry through your workday and your social life as well. Let yourself cheat every once in a while, but be diligent and consistent to meet your health goals.
Image by yasuhiroamano