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ASK THE NUTRITIONIST: Where do I start to improve my diet?

Even small adjustments can make a difference
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Dear readers,

This week’s column covers the last of the top 10 nutrition questions I get asked. If you missed it, the first week I covered soy products and the controversy around whether they are good or bad for your health. Then I covered whether or not we need nutritional supplements and organic foods. We also explored  the health benefits of dairy products and why some people choose to turn to dairy alternatives. Then we explored eggs and why they are a great addition to a healthy diet - even if you have high cholesterol.

After that we looked at plant-based diets and whether it’s healthy to eat meat. Over the last two weeks we explored how to beat a sugar addiction and the sugar substitutes I recommend. Today we’re going to look at the top nutrition question I get asked: where do I start to improve my diet?

Don’t get overwhelmed

Many clients I see are overwhelmed - even if they have some basic information about nutrition. They frequently don’t know where to start to improve their health. Sometimes they have an idea of what they should do, but they don’t know how to implement that. For example, they know they want to cut the sugar, but have no idea which products contain sugar and what to replace those with to improve blood sugar. So today I want to address some of the suggestions I give that will make a positive impact for most people if implemented with consistency.

My preference is to focus on what we want to include, rather than what we want to exclude. This is for two reasons. First, if I tell you not to think of a pink elephant, what do you automatically do? It’s the same if I tell you not to eat sugar and wheat. You are going to fixate on those items and it’s going to be difficult to think of anything else, especially with ingredients that are so ubiquitous! Secondly, knowing what you should do makes it easier to follow through with. It gives you a blueprint. So today we’ll focus on some things you can add to your diet to make a huge improvement in your health overall.

Super sized salad

A very simple step most people will benefit from is making one meal a day a super sized salad. A large salad provides abundant nutrients and fibre and if it follows the guidelines below, it has a very low impact on blood sugar.

The optimal salad should focus on veggies and have a homemade dressing with an olive oil or avocado oil base. Why? Commercial salad dressings are made with inflammatory vegetable oils that do nothing for our health. Making tasty salad dressing at home is very easy and extra virgin olive oil is super nutritious and anti-inflammatory. If the salad contains a mayonnaise dressing, the mayo should be homemade from avocado oil. If the salad contains fruit, the fruit should be limited to a half-cup. And the salad should always contain a good amount of protein. Following these simple guidelines makes a perfectly balanced meal.

  • 2 cups greens
  • 1 cup diced, flavourful veggies
  • 1 cup protein (sprouts, eggs, meat, seafood, tofu/ tempeh, nuts, seeds, cheese)
  • Healthy fat (avocado, egg yolks, nuts, seeds, cheese or just the oil from the dressing)
  • Dressing of oil and vinegar/lemon with herbs or a homemade avocado mayo with vinegar, optional sweetener, and herbs

Two of my favourite salads are the classic nicoise salad and this beet and roasted pepita salad.

Fun ferments

Another way to improve our overall health tremendously is to add fermented foods, beverages, and condiments into our daily routine. These can include miso, natto, tempeh, sauces, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, and so many more, but they must be unpasteurized to be beneficial.

These foods provide probiotics to our intestines, which help us break down foods and extract nutrients. A healthy gut biome has been shown to be protective against inflammatory diseases, mental illness, and digestive disorders. It’s also essential for optimal immune, brain, and hormone function. Additionally, the gut biome may be the single most important factor in whether we gain or lose weight easily. In mice, changing the bacteria in the gut changes the body weight with no other factor altered! Adding these interesting foods can do a lot to change our own health outcomes!

Super seafood

Wild caught seafood is abundant in protein, nutrients, and minerals - from nori to fish to crustaceans. We all know about the benefits of salmon, but did you know smaller fish are known to be lower in mercury and packed with omega 3 fatty acids, which are the ones that substantially reduce inflammation in the body? Add seafood at least one to two times a week to experience the full benefit, including seaweeds. This is a really easy addition to your super sized salad, as with the tuna in the salad nicoise, above.

It’s not offal

While organ meat may not be as popular as it once was, chefs are starting to realize the importance of eating nose to tail and the nutrient density of offal. It’s also lower in price. If the flavour or texture is something you don’t like, grinding organ meat fine and adding it to other dishes of ground meat is an easy way to hide it. Meatloaf, meatballs, burgers, and sliders are all easy ways to add organ meat to dishes without overwhelming a dish or raising any ire from finicky family members. It’s an easy way to get abundant nutrients for physical and mental health.

Quality over quantity

Who doesn’t love a deal? But is it really a great value if the quality is questionable? This is the case with many food products. More expensive doesn’t always equal better quality, as branding plays a role, too, but reading product labels you will come to understand when quality is at stake. Purchasing quality oils, sugars, flours, and meats will do a lot to improve overall health. Sprouted ezekiel bread or natural sourdough bread for someone with a sensitive digestive system - can make a huge difference for overall health. Be super picky and wherever possible, choose quality first.

Homemade treats

Making our sweets and treats at home helps us to ensure the ingredients are as fresh and natural and high quality as possible. Homemade cookies, cakes, chips, and popcorn are infinitely healthier than store bought. This is because of the quality of the ingredients. Last week, I did a list of the sugar substitutes that are least likely to spike blood sugar. Incorporate these into your treats, and swap out the ones you purchase pre-made. Try almond and coconut flour in exchange for wheat-based products. Replace vegetable oils with natural butter and coconut oil. There isn’t much you can’t mimic with these more wholesome ingredients. This way you can have your cake and guilt-free, too!

Protein power

Protein smoothies are another great way to add nutrients to your day. They can serve as a quick and easy meal replacement when you’re busy and on the go - and are very versatile. They can keep you from blood sugar mood and energy swings and from snacking or losing self control when you don’t have time for a full meal. You can make fruit or chocolate flavoured protein smoothies, depending on your preference. Just look for a protein powder that is naturally flavoured with no sugar! Add to this your milk of choice and some fruit or cocoa and vanilla with ice. You can also add superfoods and some quality kefir for that fermented food fix! Over time you will notice a drop in your appetite and waist when you incorporate a low sugar, high protein smoothie as a meal replacement with regularity.

These are just some of the easy things you can add to improve your diet and health easily. I hope you find it helpful! As always, if you have your own nutrition related question, send me an email. If you’d like to read more articles like this, you can find me here.

Nonie Nutritionista