A New Year a New You
Many of us use the start of a New Year to make some
changes in our life, particularly with our diet, whether it be to lose weight,
eat more healthily or try some new foods. So if you have decided to take the
plunge and make some dietary changes, but are not sure where to start, why not
glean some inspiration here and get the year off to a tasty, but healthy start!
The New Year
If one of your new year’s resolutions is to acquaint yourself with the gym, then you need to make sure your body is prepared for all the extra hard work you will be inflicting on it. Remember food is the body’s fuel, the better quality of fuel you put in, the better performance you get out of it! Any athlete will tell you, that protein is a sport person’s best friend and is an essential component of a healthy diet. If you are have started a new fitness regime this year and are working those muscles like never before, then its good quality protein that you need to repair and rebuild muscle tissue.
Almond and rice milk are both very low in protein and provide a poor source of it. If you are a vegetarian, eating good quality protein is even more important as many vegetarian diets lack good, ‘complete protein’ foods. A great source of protein for vegetarians is pulses such as pinto beans, chickpeas, navy beans and kidney beans.
Another food that should be on your menu if you are exercising, training or hitting the gym more, is quinoa. This is a gluten free grain, so suitable for those with coeliac disease or gluten intolerance, and is a high source of both protein and carbohydrate. The Incas used to feed it to their warriors to improve stamina, so it is great for those people competing in endurance sports such as marathon running or even just to help you jog round the block! If it was good enough for Inca Warriors, it’s good for you too!
To help give you an extra bit of ‘go’ in your new fitness endeavours, then try increasing your consumption of beetroot and watermelon, not necessarily at the same time though as they don’t necessarily complement each other taste wise! Both beetroot and watermelon have been shown to have a vasodilating effect on the blood vessels, which means that your blood vessels expand and get bigger, which results in increased blood flow and thus increased oxygen to muscles and tissues in the body. This is particularly beneficial during exercise and sporting activities.
Once the hard work is over and you are recovering whilst slumped in a chair, there are foods that can help the recovery process. Coconut water contains the electrolytes sodium and potassium, which are essential for vital bodily processes. These electrolytes are lost during sweating and need to be replenished after a workout, so drinking coconut water can help with this. Make sure you choose a brand that is 100% coconut water though and not one with added sugar. If those muscles are feeling a little sore, pomegranates can also be your new best friend as these are high in polyphenols, which can help reduce muscle soreness as well as offering anti-inflammatory properties that will help the post workout pain.
The New Year Weight Loss Resolution
If you are one of the thousands of people who are on a mission to lose weight this year, it can feel daunting knowing what you should and shouldn’t be eating. The ongoing craze of smoothie making is still going strong and I’m sure Santa delivered many a ‘smoothie making machine’ down a few chimneys at Christmas. Smoothies are healthy in moderation and as an addition to a healthy diet, but this also depends on exactly what they are made from.
All fruit smoothies are very high in sugar and because you are consuming this in liquid, rather than the solid fruit form, the sugar is available to the body very quickly. This can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels, which is not good for those people with diabetes, those wanting to lose weight and also those with low energy levels. Smoothies made with vegetables don’t contain as much sugar, but will not keep you full in the same way as eating those same vegetables in their solid state. Liquids leave your stomach far sooner than solid foods and once food has left your stomach that is when you start to feel hungry again. This can often cause you to reach for other foods to satisfy your hunger, meaning that drinking smoothies can often result in more calories being consumed over the course of a day than would otherwise be the case had you used those same ingredients in their whole form. If you are hooked on your smoothies, as long as you have them in moderation, then they can be a tasty way get some goodness when time is short.
When it comes to weight loss, one easy addition you can make to your diet is by including foods that naturally increase your body’s metabolism. By increasing your body’s metabolism, your body will burn more calories and so a faster metabolism results in greater weight loss. There are foods and certain eating behaviours that have been shown to have a natural influence on increasing metabolism. Fresh red or green chillies are not only packed with vitamin C, but they are also high in a compound called Capsaicin. It is this little ingredient that can really give metabolism a boost in the right direction. You can add Chillies to almost anything, including soups, casseroles, salads and dips. Green tea also contains active compounds that helps speed up metabolic rate, so why not increase your fluid intake and start drinking 2-4cups of green tea every day. This is particularly important, because if you don’t drink enough, as many of us don’t, dehydration reduces metabolic rate so will not stand you in good stead when you are on a weight loss mission.
Eating a good amount of protein in your diet is also very important for those wanting to lose weight. Foods high in protein, both animal and plant sources, take more breaking down by the digestive system. This breaking down of foods requires energy, so the harder it is for the body to break a food down, the more calories the body burns trying to do it, which is good news for you and bad news for your fat!
The New Year Improvement of Your Mental health
Sometimes a New Year can prompt people to become more focused on their mental health, which can be an easy area of health to neglect, especially at this time of the year when most media attention focuses on physical health as a main priority. We have all heard the expression ‘A healthy mind, a healthy body’ and there is a lot of truth in this statement. If your New Year’s goal is to improve your mental health by reducing stress levels and providing more ‘you time’, then make sure you focus on your diet too, as nutrition greatly influences a person’s mental state. Research shows that a deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals, including selenium, magnesium and B6, increases the prevalence of depression and low mood. Many foods contain these such as spinach, bananas, dates, beans, nuts, seeds and avocado.
If reducing stress levels is the key to improving your mental health this year, then there are definitely some foods that are best avoided, especially those that act as neuro-stimulators, which can aggravate stress levels further. Alcohol, and beverages containing caffeine such as tea, coffee and energy drinks are all neuro-stimulators and can adversely affect stress levels and stress hormones in the body. Foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids should certainly be eaten daily if possible, as these have a very positive impact on mental health including improving mood, reducing depressive symptoms and reducing anxiety. Best sources of Omega 3s are found in wild salmon, sardines, flax seeds and walnuts.
Improving your health should never just be a New Year goal that is often forgotten by March, if not sooner. Making changes should be gradual and incorporated into an ongoing lifestyle change. In this way, the changes you make will be far more sustainable over the long term. Set yourself achievable goals that you reevaluate regularly and that become a natural part of daily routine rather than an unobtainable mission.
· Effects of Differing Dosages of Pomegranate Juice Supplementation after Eccentric Exercise, 2014. Physiology Journal
· The health benefits of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: a review of the evidence, 2004. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics
· Selenium content and distribution of human, cow and goat milk, 1987.The Journal of Nutrition
· The effects of green tea on weight loss and weight maintenance: a meta-analysis, 2009.The International Journal of Obesity.