Nutritional therapist Kaye Osborne shares five small steps to better health…
Does Christmas seem like a long time ago already? Have your New Year resolutions been thrown out along with the Christmas tree?
Well, you’re certainly not alone. Almost all of us start the year with great intentions, wanting to eat more healthily, get fitter, shed a few pounds or rid ourselves of any unsightly muffin tops. Frustratingly, making nutritional and lifestyle changes can be really difficult, especially if you haven’t prepared properly, or you don’t feel adequately supported. Perhaps we also expect too much, too soon.
Reflecting on the Queen’s words in her Christmas speech this year “…the path, of course, is not always smooth but small steps can make a world of difference”, I’m thrilled to be offering you some small steps to better health. So, let’s not worry about New Year resolutions, now’s the time to pick yourself up, brush yourself off and start making some small steps for a healthier you – trust me, small steps really can make the world of difference.
Reduce sugar intake
We all know sugar is highly addictive – the more sugar you have, the more sugar you want. In fact, sugar is able to set off the same biological mechanisms in your body as cocaine and other drugs. It’s therefore not surprising that ridding your body of its sugar monster can be incredibly difficult and people describe withdrawal symptoms like headaches, poor sleep and low mood when they reduce their sugar intake.
Remind yourself of this – sugar contains no vitamins, no minerals, no fibre, no protein and no healthy fats. In fact, sugar is literally ‘empty calories’, which rots your teeth and contributes to weight gain. Worse still, the glucose molecule in sugar quickly enters the blood stream, raising blood sugar and insulin levels. Raised insulin, over time, can lead to type 2 diabetes, and is linked to most other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and stroke.
Snacks and soft drinks, including fruit juices, are notoriously high in sugar. If you feel you need a snack, then keep away from the sweet options and opt instead for healthier choices such as nuts, seeds, olives, hummus and crudités.
Cut down on refined grains
Refined grains are used to make most bread, pasta, pizza, cake, pastries and biscuits. To create the white refined flour used in these processed foods, the beneficial bran, fibre and nutrients are all removed from the original grains. With the fibre removed, refined carbohydrates, when consumed, quickly break down into sugars and enter our blood stream as glucose molecules.
Just as with sugar, refined carbohydrates raise your blood sugar and insulin levels, contributing to insulin resistance and increasing your risk of weight gain, type 2 diabetes and so on. Where possible, choose whole grains rather than refined grains and always eat grains in moderation.
Avoid ultra-processed foods
Did you know 50 percent of the food we’re choosing to eat in the UK is defined as ultra-processed? Notoriously low in fibre, vitamins, minerals, protein and healthy fats, ultra-processed food is made in factories using industrialized ingredients and additives. The blend of refined carbohydrates and inflammatory fats, combined with few nutrients, leads those choosing ultra-processed food to consume around 500 more calories a day.
Nutritionists often refer to this unnatural mix of fats and carbohydrates as the ‘bliss point’ because it’s so tasty and compelling. However, the ‘bliss point’ doesn’t occur in any naturally available foods. It’s no wonder ultra-processed foods are directly linked to weight gain. Try cooking at least one meal from scratch every day and save time by batch cooking and freezing meals. For example, choose scrambled eggs or an omelette, rather than ultra-processed breakfast cereal, as an easy meal swap.
Consume more vegetables
Vegetables are seriously good for you – they’re jam-packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals. The fibre found in vegetables will help stabilize blood sugar levels and curb any sugar cravings you may experience, so try filling your plate with a variety of different vegetables at each meal.
Mainly choose vegetables which grow above the ground and limit your intake of root vegetables, which are naturally higher in carbohydrates and starch. Vegetables from the cruciferous and allium families are particularly helpful in cultivating a healthy gut microbiome, vital for both your physical and mental wellbeing, whereas more colourful vegetables are great for boosting your antioxidant levels and improving your immunity.
Eat within a time-restricted window
We’ve become a nation of grazers – starting early at breakfast and continuing right up until bedtime with various snacks and nibbles. This continual eating is preventing our digestive system from having a chance to rest, and our bodies the chance to draw upon fat reserves for energy. No wonder we struggle to lose weight.
Known as ‘intermittent fasting’, eating within a restricted timeframe has numerous health benefits, in addition to weight loss. For example, intermittent fasting has been proven to improve insulin sensitivity, reduce chronic inflammation and increase the rate of cellular repair. That’s pretty impressive.
Why not start out by trying to eat within a 12-hour window and slowly increase your fast to 16 hours, this will leave you with an eight-hour eating window to enjoy healthy meals. After a few days, most people find fasting quite easy and tend to break their fast at around midday. If you’re diabetic or take any regular medication, then I recommend you speak with your GP or practice nurse before starting intermittent fasting. Clear fluids are permitted during a fast period.
I hope you find my five small steps helpful and always remember, small steps can make a world of difference!
About Kaye Osborne
Kaye Osborne is a registered nurse and nutritional therapist with over 35 years clinical experience under her belt!
Specialising in gut health, weight loss, metabolic and auto-immune conditions, Kaye runs a private practice near Winchester in Hampshire.