20 Health & Nutrition Tips - For Easy Everyday Wins!
1. Get rid of your sugary drinks
I was lucky that in my house growing up we had 2 drinks, water and milk and my sister and I hated milk. We’d get unsweetened natural OJ every now and then, or maybe a root beer if we hit a drive through once every few months. Today kids are getting juice in their water and fizzy drinks not long after they can speak, setting up future generations for a myriad of health problems.
The sugar that comes from fizzy drinks and juice and is stored as excess calories that convert to fat and this only increases with a lack of exercise, which you would need a lot of to burn the excess calorie intake. This in turn adds to the ever growing obesity and diabetes crisis.
I’m sorry to be the bearer of more bad news but even diet drinks of any sort won’t really be doing you any favors at all...why? They have less sugar you say...well if the fact that you can clean grease, blood stains and engine oil (plus 17 more ways to clean I didn’t list) with Coca Cola isn’t a red flag I don’t know what is (1).
2. Avoid processed food
I feel like this goes without saying but it’s getting harder and harder to avoid or even detect processed foods. For example we could technically say that anything produced in a factory is processed, and it is, but not all processing is the same. To take the guesswork out of what is processed to acceptable standards and what is not I’ll just layout a few simple rules to follow with regards to processed foods in general - If it comes in a box/bag and has an expiration date it’s processed, simple.
Crackers, Candies, Chips, Cakes, Cookies, Cereal etc etc...if you are seeing a pattern here you can use my theory, which is C stands for CRAP. Avoiding them all is hard, and sometimes we can’t, I get that. I like crackers too but I choose ones with 10 ingredients I can pronounce and no palm oil, it just being more conscious when you shop, and is something you have to develop. You can give yourself wiggle room with spices/herbs as they can take up a lot of ingredient space but try to keep the list under 10 otherwise. Fast Food (McDonald's, SuperMax, Wendy’s, Burger King etc), Take-Aways (Chinese, Chippers, Pizza etc), should just be avoided full stop.
All of the above mentioned are unhealthy and can lead to poor health in multiple ways. They have been shown to be addictive and promote addictive behavior so maybe next time you eye up that processed delight, think of it no differently than a cigarette and see if you can start to shift your mindset one step at a time (5).
3. Fruits and Vegetables are key to maintaining a healthy body and mind and it’s only asked that you eat 5-7 of them a day. That’s not actually a lot when you know what that means. For example 1 serving of peas is approx. 5 tbsp, 75g or ½ cup. A medium apple counts as 2 servings of fruit since it equals 150g, and the NHS considers a serving to be 75-80g (15). Now does using that guideline to get your essential intake of vitamins, minerals, and fiber really seem so hard to achieve?
Consider that such small amounts of fruit and veg will help your bowel movements, cardiovascular health, reduce the risks of cancer, contribute to your water intake, and provide protein and carbs, which your body can convert to energy. Along with those benefits they can also contribute to weight loss (when prepared well and part of a healthy lifestyle).
There really is no downside to vegetables so eat as much as you want, just don’t drown them in butter or boil them to death. Fruits get a bit of bad wrap because of the naturally contained sugars but that is only an issue if you are not balancing your diet with veggies, fiber, water, protein and exercise. 2-3 pieces of fruit a day is just fine and you can eat lower GI (glycemic index) fruits like berries, apples, pears, oranges and plums to keep the sugar levels down.
4. Meet your daily protein intake is something I cannot stress enough, and as a vegetarian something I have had to work at. It is an essential component to how your body builds and repairs; it acts as a building block for bones, muscles, skin, blood and cartilage. Helps to form enzymes that make hormones, and guess what…your hair and nails are made mostly of protein as well (16). So needless to say keeping levels up is good for you physically, inside and out.
Good news is you don’t actually need to work too hard to achieve your daily protein intake either once you know how. The recommended amount of protein a day, as a general guideline, is 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight. So for example an 80kg person would require 64g of protein per day (0.8 x 80 = 64).
Making sure you get good quality sources of protein is equally as important. Lean meats like chicken and fish, nuts, seeds (flax, chia, sunflower, pumpkin, and linseed), beans, eggs, tofu, and whole grains are good natural sources. To give you a very quick portion size guideline think of this: 1 palm for protein, 1 fist for veg, 1 cupped palm of carbs, and 1 thumb of fat. If you are an active person or want to eat a higher protein diet for weight loss reasons than you may want to consider a high quality protein supplement along with your natural sources. I personally love Vega Nutrition Essentials Powder but this is a personal preference.
5. Eat Fatty Fish the benefits here are long enough to write a whole article on so I’ll try and keep it as short and sweet as possible. Fatty fish, think SMASH (Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines, Herring) all contain EFAs (essential fatty acids) like DHA and EPA. These help to support brain function and development, immune and cognitive function, many areas of cardiovascular health including reducing inflammation, and has been used as an effective aid in reducing symptoms of depression (10). Eating 3-4 servings a week can help achieve this, or you can buy a good quality supplement from a source like Nordic Naturals (again personal preference) or you can check out others that took the top 3 spots in one review, see resource (11).
6. Eat more fiber it helps you to eliminate waste, from excess estrogen to stools we need fiber to keep our pipes clear so to speak. There are 2 types; Soluble, the type that dissolves in water and can help to lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugars. Found in Oats, Apples, Carrots, Peas, Beans and Citrus Fruits as some examples. Insoluble, this is the kind that promotes bulk in your stools and helps with the movement. Whole-Wheat Bran and Flour, Vegetables, Nuts, Potatoes and Beans are just some examples of this form.
Because Fiber helps to fill you up and has a slow digestion time it keeps you feeling fuller longer and this can potentially help with maintaining weight as well. Women should be getting 21-25g daily and Men 30-38g (13). Try to get your fiber from whole food sources (1 ingredient items like oats) and not from processed foods like Granola bars that have 6g of fiber and 16g of sugar, the benefit gets negated when you do this.
7. Drink water it’s your best friend, I cannot stress this enough. If you had to pick 1 healthy habit to improve on or stick with this would be the one my friends. You are 60% water and your blood is 90% water, so think logically about what happens to things that dry out, it’s not a pretty picture (14). Water boosts your skin health, lubricates your joints, regulates body temperature, flushes out waste, cushions your brain and spinal cord, helps deliver oxygen around the body, keep your kidneys healthy, can help with weight loss (you could be thirsty, not hungry) and is essential for athletic performance (15). Pretty hefty list hey! Whether you like the taste or not there are ways around that, good quality water should have no taste and like anything it takes a few weeks to form a habit, so be patient with yourself. If you drink no water start small and increase that to 1 pint glass a day for a week, then 2, then 3 and poof in 3 weeks you are just meeting your minimum water intake. You won’t regret this lifestyle perk I promise!
8. Eat Nuts
You’ve been told they are high in fat so you might avoid them but honestly fat is so complex you cannot blanket it over nuts. Most nuts, and especially Almonds contain fiber, protein, magnesium, manganese, and Vitamin E, all highly beneficial to your diet and health. In addition to tasting good they are full of antioxidants, may help lower cholesterol, blood sugars, and blood pressure as well (3). A small handful of almonds is only around 160 calories and 10-15% of those calories aren’t absorbed since the fats aren’t accessible to some of the digestive enzymes (2). Now don’t go crazy here stick to small portions.
Walnuts are another amazing little nut that can be eaten on it’s own or in lots of salads and baking. Through fatty acids (DHA, EPA, and ALA) they help to moderate cholesterol, blood pressure and can contribute to the prevention of some cardiovascular diseases by helping to balance the Omega 3 to 6 ratio (4). In short nuts (bar peanuts) are good for you, of course, moderation is key and I am talking about raw unsalted nuts here.
9. Coffee and Chocolate are not bad for you
First off this clearly goes against my C for CRAP rule but like everything in life, there are exceptions. Coffee first and foremost is not 2 shots of espresso in water. Good quality coffee, ie sustainably sourced beans roasted and ground, organic if you can afford it, has health benefits. In recent years it has been shown to protect against Parkinson’s, Type 2 Diabetes, Uterine and Liver Cancer, Cardiovascular diseases and may even improve Cognitive Function (6,7). This does not give you the go ahead to guzzle it though sorry.1-2 cups a day of good quality coffee can have these benefits but be aware of how you respond to caffeine as it may not suit all people. Then of course the amount of milk and sugar you add will negate the benefits as well. Try Xylitol or Stevia in moderation to replace sugar and use whole milk or unsweetened Almond milk when you can.
DARK Chocolate, I’m not going to lie this is my guilty pleasure for which I really have no guilt. I eat it daily and have yet to understand my craving for it. Some studies suggest you may be deficient in Magnesium but I’m not, 3 O-Clock slump and the need for a sugar rush, but that’s not when I want it and so the mystery continues. Regardless of when or why you are wanting chocolate, the reasons can be more complex than we know, so I’ll share some facts about chocolate to ease your mind (if you eat the right kinds that is). Dark Chocolate is 50-90% cocoa solids, cocoa butter and sugar (due to production it may have trace amounts of milk). Milk Chocolate is 10-50% cocoa solids, cocoa butter, milk, and sugar. Lower quality chocolate, as in all those you see at the checkouts, will likely have added fat, vegetable oils, and or artificial colours and flavours also (8).
Since the list of benefits for Dark Chocolate is long I’ll just do a quick summary here for you: High in Antioxidants that mop of free radicals and help prevent oxidative stress reducing your risk for heart disease, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases. Flavanols are the primary component in dark chocolate that can help to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, ultimately leading to a reduction in the risk of heart disease when combined with other healthy lifestyle measures (8,9). Eating 2-4 squares a day or 20-30g of good quality dark chocolate (60-90%) is perfectly ok, just make sure you read the label and don’t pick ones with too much sugar, less than 25g per 100g bar just as a reference point.
10. Get a good night's sleep this goes without saying but yet most of us are lacking in this one extremely important component of our health. Adults require 7-9 hours and the benefits range from boosting brain function, reducing blood pressure and cardiovascular risks, forming and retaining memories, to the regeneration of energy which can aid in physical performance (12). Try to avoid screens 30-60 min before bed, do something relaxing close to bed even if it’s just deep breathing, have darkness and silence, and avoid food at least 1 hour prior to sleep to help maximize your chances of a good night's sleep.
Additional tips to help you on your journey…
11. Go Vegetarian 2 days a week - it will help you meet your fiber and vegetable intake while boosting your antioxidant intake helping to reduce oxidative stress. Plus if you like cooking, it's fun to see what you can do with vegetarian food. Good for your guts and the planet, win win.
12. Take a Vitamin D supplement if you don’t live in the sun - the lack of Vitamin D intake has been an issue for a long time, especially if you live in places where the sun may not shine daily. A high quality Vitamin D supplement can help improve your immune function and overall health. Look for a supplement containing 400-800 IUs and this will ensure that you get your daily intake.
13. Use Extra Virgin Olive Oil - Vegetable oils and sprays are not doing you any favours. Due to our increased consumption of them as an attempt to avoid butter (which is not that bad for you), we are over consuming them and increasing inflammation in your body due to the high Omega 6 to 3 ratio. Long story short, the likes of soyabean, peanut, sunflower, canola, and sesame oils contribute to health risks and the less you consume the better. Extra Virgin Olive oil is better for you all around so make the swap.
14. Exercise 30 - 60 min daily - Walking, Strength training, Cardio, HIIT, Yoga, Swimming, it doesn’t matter how you get your exercise just get it. From children to adults we all need at least 30-60 minutes of exercise a day and if you can make 30 min of that outdoor time as well then your going to find yourself physically and mentally healthier. The benefits of walking are so numerous I could do a whole blog post on them and I will, but for now just know that it’s true exercise is essential to your health.
15. Try Yoga, Stretching or Meditation - For those of you who suffer from aches and pains, low mood, anxiety, or any imbalance that causes you unnecessary mental stress then yoga, gentle stretching and meditation could be of serious benefit. They are all backed by science but I’m not going to delve into that here. I can vouch myself for the yoga and improvements in digestion and mood because of it. Try something and judge whether it’s beneficial to you or not.
16. Listen, read, do, or watch something positive everyday - Again I’ve read lots on this and I won’t slow you down with the details but just apply common sense here...if you see, hear or read something positive you feel happier. It’s that simple when you boil it down. So listen to a podcast on your drive to work, read The Good News Network news (it’s awesome honestly), or even hold a door for someone. Doing good gives you that hit of dopamine that brings your mood up and puts a smile on your face, win win :)
17. Eat Seeds - Super easy snack that will give you protein, fiber, fat, vitamins, minerals and flavour. 25g of Sunflower or Pumpkin seeds mixed with 25g of almonds and walnuts is a great snack. Or add the same amount of Chia, Linseed, Hemp or Flax seeds to your breakfast be it porridge or a smoothie. One of my favorite snacks is peanut or almond butter on rice cakes with a pinch of cinnamon and 2 tbsp of hemp seeds.
18. Have Variety - Don’t get stuck in an eating pattern or a termed way of eating like Low Carb, High Fat, Low Fat, High Protein, Paleo, Keto etc etc...you get the idea. The more you label your eating style the more you limit yourself, feel pressured to only consume certain foods, miss out on essential nutrients that may come outside of your set foods, and ultimately you lose the battle as what you’ve done is called dieting. If you want to eat a certain way by all means do, but try to incorporate other foods into your diet at least 2 days a week. Fruit is not bad for you and neither is fat, every whole food has its place in a healthy diet and variety is the spice of life!
19. Don’t Trust All Labels - Gluten Free, High Fiber, Low Fat, even Organic...doesn’t always mean healthy. Industries know what consumers want and have sneaky ways of marketing them to appeal to most of us. I will do a post on reading labels very soon but as a rule, look at the ingredients, if there are more than 12 and most read like a science class, try to find another option. Often high fiber foods are high in carbohydrates and sugar and not really nutrient dense. Low Fat often means more sugar and Gluten Free can be highly processed and full of oils that are devastating the planet, like palm oil.
20. Get outside - Seriously spend at least 30min outdoors each day or whatever you can fit in. Even if you just sit and stare at people, read a book or go for a walk, nature is nurture and the effects of being out in nature are even more beneficial than just being outdoors alone. Whether it’s sun on your face, rain, snow or none of the above cause it’s cloudy where you live, even the colour green will help to calm you and refocus your thoughts...so find a tree and try it for yourself to see.
**Disclaimer...not every suggestion works for every person, try things out and adjust as needed. It’s your body, your mind, your life. Why not spend it in the best you form you can be!!**
1. (Summerly, J. 2013) ‘20 Established Uses For Coca Cola’. Published online by PreventDisease.com 2013. Available at: http://preventdisease.com/news/13/110613_Uses-For-Coke-Proves-It-Does-Not-Belong-In-Your-Body.shtml
2. (Leech, J. 2018) ‘9 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Almonds. Published online by Healthline, 2018. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/9-proven-benefits-of-almonds#section1
3. (Schmerling, R. 2018) ‘Health benefits of Walnuts’ Published online in Harvard Health Blog by Harvard Health Publishing 2018. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/health-benefits-of-walnuts-2018081314526
4. (Mikstas, C. 2018) ‘Omega-3s: Benefits of Fish Oil, Salmon, Walnuts & More’ Published online by WebMd, 2018. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-omega-3-health-benefits
5. (Schlute et al 2015) ‘Which Foods May Be Addictive? The role of Processing, Fat Content and Glycemic Load’ Published online in PLOS|One Journal, 2015. Available at: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0117959
6. (Hensrud, D. 2017) ‘Coffee and Health: What does the research say?’ Published online by the MayoClinic, 2017. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/coffee-and-health/faq-20058339
7. (Schmerling, R. 2017) ‘The latest scoop on the health benefits of coffee’. Published online in Harvard Health Blog by Harvard Health Publishing 2017. Available at:https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-latest-scoop-on-the-health-benefits-of-coffee-2017092512429
8. (Eske, J. 2019) ‘Dark chocolate; Health benefits, Nutrition and How much to eat’ Published online by Medical News Today, 2109. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324747.php
9. (Harvard T.H. Chan, no author, 2019) ‘Dark Chocolate | The Nutrition Source’ Published online by Harvard T.H. Chan, 2019. Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/dark-chocolate/
10. (Swanson et al 2012) ‘Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA; Health Benefits Throughout Life, 2012. Published online in Advances in Nutrition, Volume 3, Issue 1, January 2012, Pages 1–7. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/3/1/1/4557081
11. Published online by Reviews.com 2019. Available at: https://www.reviews.com/fish-oil-supplement/
12. (NIH, no author, 2019) Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep, 2019. Published by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2019. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep
13. (Mayo Clinic, no author, 2018) ‘Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet, 2018’. Published online by the Mayo Clinic Staff, 2018. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983
14. (USGS no author 2019) ‘The Water in You: Water and the Human Body’ Published online by USGS, 2019. Available at: https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/water-you-water-and-human-body?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects
15. (NHS, no author, 2018) ‘Why 5 A Day?’ Published online by the NHS, 2018. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/why-5-a-day/
16. (Osterweil, N. 2004) ‘The Benefits of Protein’ Published online by WebMd, 2004. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/men/features/benefits-protein#1
17. (Dolson, L. 2019) ‘How to Calculate How Much Protein You Need’. Published online by Verywellfit, 2019. Available at: https://www.verywellfit.com/how-to-calculate-how-much-protein-you-need-3955709