5 ways to improve your diet that aren’t about weight loss


 

As summer approaches, many individuals eagerly anticipate a sun-filled vacation. However, some may unnecessarily stress about their appearance due to the prevalence of social media, where sharing and comparing pictures has become the norm. The pressure to lose weight or engage in extreme "detox" diets before the holiday can be detrimental to one's energy levels and mood.

Rather than resorting to drastic measures, it is more beneficial to focus on enhancing your diet by incorporating new foods and adjusting your shopping and cooking routines. Here are five ways to achieve this:

  1. Embrace fermented foods: Fermented foods, such as yoghurt, kefir, and certain cheeses, offer numerous health benefits. These foods contain living microorganisms that can support the existing microbes in your gut, which has been linked to improved immune function, metabolic processes, and overall health. When selecting fermented products, ensure they contain live microorganisms by checking the label.

Alternatively, you can make your own fermented foods, such as sauerkraut or kimchi, with just a vegetable, salt, water, and optional herbs or spices. After a few days of fermentation, you'll have a nutritious and flavorful homemade delight. Additionally, you can experiment with making fermented drinks like kombucha.

  1. Diversify your shopping basket: Instead of sticking to a limited range of ingredients, be adventurous and explore new foods at home. While peas, tomatoes, onions, and carrots are common staples, it's essential to incorporate a variety of vegetables that offer different nutrient combinations. Don't hesitate to try alternative grains like pearl barley, spelt, or quinoa, which are easy to prepare and locally grown.

Additionally, many people in the UK fall short of consuming the recommended two portions of fish per week. Fish, particularly oily varieties like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and fresh tuna, provide protein, vitamins, minerals, and essential omega-3 fatty acids that support brain function. For snacks, consider opting for nutrient-rich nuts that keep you satiated for longer periods.

  1. Master batch cooking: To reduce time spent in the kitchen during the summer, implement efficient batch cooking techniques. Prepare larger portions when cooking and consider using a slow cooker to create ample servings of delicious summer dishes that can be frozen for later use. Properly label each dish before freezing to keep track of the contents.

You can also take batch cooking a step further by dedicating about three hours a week to cook all your meals in one go. Store these meals in the fridge or freezer, allowing you to have nourishing home-cooked options readily available throughout the week. Make the cooking process enjoyable by listening to podcasts or music while chopping, stirring, and tasting.

  1. Prioritize your five-a-day: Research from 2018 indicates that less than a third of adults in England consume the recommended five portions of fruits and vegetables per day. By adding just one more portion to your daily intake, you can reach this goal. A portion typically amounts to around 80g, whether it's a handful of heavier vegetables like broccoli and tomatoes or two handfuls of leafy greens like spinach and kale. Combining different fruits and vegetables can contribute to a single portion, so consider including small amounts in light meals and snacks.

It's worth noting that beans and legumes count as one portion regardless of the quantity consumed since they offer fewer nutrients compared to other fruits and vegetables. Dried fruits contribute to your five-a-day due to their fiber content, but be mindful of portion sizes (30g) due to their calorie and sugar density. Fruit juice or smoothies (150ml) also count as one portion per day, but they are low in fiber and high in sugar. While potatoes don't count toward the five-a-day recommendation due to their starch content, sweet potatoes are a favorable option. Consider incorporating vegetables and fruits into your breakfast or including them in dishes like porridge or overnight oats for a nourishing start to the day.

  1. Cook from scratch: Over half of the food purchased by families in the UK consists of ultra-processed items, which include most ready-made meals. Factors such as budget constraints, time limitations, and convenience contribute to the prevalence of these foods.

If cost is a concern, utilize resources like BBC Food's budget recipe page, which provides money-saving tips, thrifty family favorites, and budget-friendly recipes for students. For beginners in the kitchen, explore easy recipes and cooking tutorial videos to gain confidence. You can search for specific recipes or filter them by simplicity (e.g., "easy" recipes). Five-ingredient dinners can be an excellent starting point for novice cooks.

If time is a constraint, opt for quick recipes and one-pot meals that save you both time and effort during cleanup. Simplify vegetable preparation by purchasing bags of pre-chopped frozen ingredients, such as onions.

Remember that cooking is flexible, so find what works best for you and don't fret about what doesn't. Enjoy the process of nourishing yourself and exploring new flavors and ingredients along the way.

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