The end of a year is a busy and exciting time, festive things aside it is also a time to start thinking about the exciting year ahead – the closing of one chapter and the opening of another.
What do we want 2017 to be about? For many it is the chance of a fresh start, living and eating a little healthier to give us the kick start for the year ahead. Who doesn’t want to be in better health with more energy, better sleep, clearer skin, improved mood? These can be achieved through a healthy lifestyle and healthy eating.
Here’s our guide to helping you achieve your healthier goals in 2017:
Hydration – sounds obvious doesn’t it, but have you actually focused on it to check you’re getting it right? We are 70% water! It’s important to make sure we drink enough fluid to flush out toxins and to keep our brain feeling less fatigued. If you Google how much water you need to drink per day it will tell you 1.5-2L day, but it is only an estimate. Let 2017 be the year of you – start to observe and learn about yourself. You’ll find some days you’ll need to drink more or less than this. Your personal guide to hydration is the colour of urine so it will change throughout the day. Ideally it should be pale yellow/champagne colour so drink throughout the day according to this. Alcohol will dehydrate you, and keep an eye on salt intake – really salt should not be added to food either for cooking or before eating, there’s plenty in the occasional processed food we eat, and as a guide it should be less than 6g day.
Understanding food labels – initially this may seem tedious, you may think you know all about the contents of what you regularly eat, so why not test yourself. Pick just one item each time you go shopping and have a quick glance to see how much you did know, it may surprise you. Here’s a quick guide to understanding food labels: all food packaging should have a list of ingredients listed in order of weight so the heaviest item first (it’s quite scary how far up the list sugar often appears). You’ll also see a table with two columns, per 100g and per serving size – look at the per 100g column as this will allow you to compare between products and brands. As we’re all different you should focus on the ingredient according to your personal goals (saturated fats for cholesterol, sugar for Diabetes, salt for blood pressure, calories for weight management, fibre for bowel health). If lowering cholesterol is your 2017 goal focus on the ‘Fat – of which is saturates’ number as ideally you want this saturated number to be as low as possible. If you’re concerned about Diabetes focus on the ‘Carbohydrates – of which sugar’ as you want this sugar number to be as little as possible as a proportion of the ‘Carbohydrates’ number. Salt as mentioned previously should be less than 6g day.
Portion control – where possible try to include three meals per day and if necessary one snack. Many of us don’t have time for the most important meal of the day, breakfast! However, we expect great things from our body and brain after a night of starvation. Yes, time is a crucial factor and some people say they just don’ feel hungry so try this, for the first two weeks take an apple/pear on your commute. After two weeks try going without the fruit, you’ll see how your body has adapted and you’ll miss the energy boost. Breakfast doesn’t have to be large, the rules are eat something and keep it as low sugar as possible (so check breakfast cereals, even the ‘good’ ones have some surprises) and include peanut/almond/cashew butter (all are now available in your supermarket) on granary/seeded toast instead of jam/marmalade. Breakfasts are the ideal time to fuel up on carbohydrates (e.g. cereal, toast), and eating carbohydrates (e.g. bread, pasta, rice) at lunchtime also works for many people, however if weight reduction is your goal in 2017 then consider excluding carbohydrates in some of your evening meals. The evening meal then becomes ¼ plate protein (fish, meat, dairy, beans/lentils approximate size deck of cards), 1/2 plate vegetables/salad, and the other ¼ is where the carbohydrate would have been. It will surprise you how quickly you notice a change in weight just from this small change.
5-a-day – where did 5-a-day come from? The concept came from the World Health Organisation who identified a reduction in many health conditions when the population ate at least 5 vegetables/fruit per day. What they didn’t say is that the majority of this should be vegetables - ideally no more than two fruit per day (although natural, fruit is still sweet). One portion is an approximately the same size as your fist (or 80g). Here’s some tips to get you to 5-a-day: buy frozen/canned in its own juice, add piece fruit to breakfast (spoonful of defrosted berries), make a smoothie/blend fruit instead of throwing it out, raw carrot batons/celery/pepper with houmous as a snack, ½ plate vegetables/salad for evening meal, buy seasonal vegetables/fruit as it’s often cheaper and more local (e.g. apples/pears in Autumn & Winter, berries/plumbs in Spring/Summer), make soup each week from leftover vegetables and add some lentils/barley/quinoa.
Exercise – we all know the importance of exercise and for most it’s a case of trying to fit it in around our busy schedules. It does help that research now suggests short periods of high intensity exercise with low intensity recovery periods (e.g. interval training) increases fitness and burns more calories than steady state cardio for a longer period of time. So we don’t really have an excuse any more – we can all do 10 minutes per day of 1 minute high intensity (run/walk quickly up the stairs) then 1 minute recovery. A great tip for motivation too – power walk down the road, when 1 minute is up look at the building number then slowly walk back again. Repeat this 4 times and each time you have to reach the next building. It’s great because you have a focus/goal.
Sleep – for many this is underestimated. The average person spends 36% of their life asleep! Good sleep increases your concentration, attention, decision making, creativity, social skills, and health. Sleep is so important because some genes are only turned on when we are asleep and these genes are associated with restoration and rebuilding. We know when we are asleep the brain processes what we have learnt and our memory consolidates – it is estimated a good night sleep gives us a three-fold advantage in solving complex problems. Research now suggests if you sleep less than 5 hours per night there is a 50% likelihood of being obese as sleep loss increases ghrelin (hunger hormone) which signals to the brain the desire for carbohydrates (sugar). Our advice to get those desirable 8 hours sleep - turn off bright lights 30 minutes before bed (dim lights when brushing teeth, turn off electronic devices and phones) we need darkness to release melatonin (hormone made in the brain) which helps us sleep.
We all know a healthy lifestyle and healthy eating are fundamental not just for good health, but also allow us to exceed ours and other expectations of us. Practicing the guidelines in this article should help you make a great start to 2017, and a year which should be your year of better health.