Start your 2018 with great nutrition!

With Christmas now firmly behind us, the excesses of the festive season may have taken their toll and thoughts turn to a healthier start to the new year. For most of us, eating and drinking far too much over the Christmas period can leave us feeling overweight, sluggish and tired. A diet, rich in good protein, complex carbohydrates and fruit and veg can make all the difference, not only to our bodies but to feelings of wellbeing too. So how do we start as we mean to go on?

Before we even think about what we eat, drinking plenty of water can dramatically change the way we look and feel. Drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day will keep us hydrated, flush out toxins, stave off feelings of tiredness (which can stem from dehydration) and can keep hunger pangs at bay (in many instances, if we are dehydrated, our brain is fooled into thinking we are hungry). As water makes up a huge percentage of the body (between 50 and 65 percent in men and between 45 and 60 percent in women) it makes sense to keep up the water intake, for optimum health and wellbeing.

How many of us have heard the saying “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”? It’s common knowledge that eating a healthy breakfast can kick-start the metabolism, give us the energy we need to concentrate and ward off hunger pangs. Those who eat breakfast tend to be able to engage in more physical activity in the mornings and are less likely to suffer from bad breath, than those who skip breakfast.

Porridge oats can be prepared in as little as 5 minutes on the stove and studies show that whole grains, such as those found in porridge oats lower blood pressure, increase healthy gut bacteria and can reduce the risk of diabetes. Beta-Glucan has been found to lower cholesterol which can combat the risk of heart disease. Top your oats with a handful of blueberries and you’ll be adding vitamin C, Vitamin K, Manganese and fibre to the mix too!

Eggs are packed with high-quality proteins, vitamins, minerals, good fats and nutrients. A large egg only contains around 77 calories with 5 grams of fat, 6 grams of protein and all 9 essential amino acids. They’re also rich in phosphorous, iron, selenium and vitamins A, B12, B2 and B5! Team your eggs with some smoked salmon and raw spinach and you’ll be stocking up on a whole bunch of nutrients such as good fats, niacin, zinc, fiber, vitamins A, C, E and K, thiamin and vitamin B6; so you’ll be laughing all the way to lunch!

If you have a few minutes in the morning to blend a green smoothie, then this could contain all the nutrients you need to keep you going until your lunchtime meal. Although, make sure you focus on keeping the sugar levels down (fruit can contain a lot of sugars). An ideal smoothie would be made with blueberries, avocado, banana, plain yoghurt and a handful of cashew nuts. Not only will you be getting a stack of vitamins and minerals, but the creamy texture will be sure to keep you satiated for a good few hours. If a smoothie alone doesn’t cut it, try pre-baking some high fibre oat muffins to accompany it, far better than a croissant or cake from the local coffee shop.

Lunch should be about fuelling your body but not going crazy with the white bread or convenience foods, which tend to contain high amounts of sodium and offer very little nutritional value. Nowadays, even coffee shops and snack bars offer tempting soups, bean and pulse salads, protein bars, fruit and bread-free meal options (although a wholemeal bread sandwich, with a healthy filling such as chicken and salad or crayfish and rocket, can also be a good choice). If you like something hot for lunch, a jacket potato with either baked beans, tuna or cottage cheese can be a low-fat and satisfying option. The key is to make sure you are getting a balance of protein and carbs so that your body won’t be the craving the biscuits at 3 pm. Hot salads can be created using readily packaged quinoa, prepped chopped veg and tins of fish, such as mackerel and tuna; so there really is no need to head for the takeaway or burger van at lunch.

Dinner should be less carbohydrate rich but should contain a mix of protein such as lean meat, fish or tofu, complex carbohydrates such as quinoa (also high in protein), brown rice, beans and pulses or sweet potatoes and at least two or three veggies. Soups can be really filling and studies show that soups can make us feel fuller for longer and in fact, can fill us up quicker than a solid food meal. Prepping a hearty vegetable soup in advance and having this with perhaps a plate of roasted veg or a quinoa salad can offer a convenient and nutritious meal in minutes.

With any new eating regime, the key should be variety and fun. No diet that makes us feel hungry or encourages us to eat only a couple of food groups is going to work long-term. In fact, nutritionists state that a calorie controlled diet is ‘old news’ and the focus should be on eating whole foods (not pre-packed or convenience foods) and a wide range of them. Good fats (the ones you find in oily fish, avocados, nuts and oils such as flaxseed or olive oil) can be enjoyed, as well as colourful veg and lean proteins and these foods when eaten in regular doses (have a breakfast, lunch and dinner) should keep the hunger pangs, as well as the pounds at bay. If you do enjoy a glass of wine, then have one in moderation! But try and keep it to red of you can (red wine contains antioxidants resveratrol (found in grape skins) and proanthocyanidins, believed to reduce oxidative damage in the body, prevent heart disease and cancer. If you can have at least 2 to 3 alcohol-free days a week to rest your liver and to keep the calories at bay, you’ll be on to a winner.

A healthy diet CAN be one of the true pleasures of life and with the huge range of healthy produce, interesting meal ideas found in a wide range of nutritional publications and food establishments now leading the way to encourage healthier options and wiser choices, it really isn’t a tough call anymore to be food smart and to get back on track for a happier and healthier 2018!