As New Year is almost upon us, some of us will be giving some thought to the resolutions traditionally made at this time. Many will spy their diet as a target for change, and a common tactic here is to strip out foodstuffs well known for their disease inducing or weight-inflating properties. Fat laden or sugar-charged fare such as cheese and ham croissants, burgers, kebabs, crisps and chocolate generally get the heave-ho by individuals looking to upgrade their diets and perhaps dispense with some excess weight too. However, my experience is that the eschewing of such nutritional undesirables normally brings with it feelings of deprivation that can sap even the hardiest of resolves. When naughty-but-nice foods are blacklisted, the sense of sacrifice this tends to provoke can often see their return back into the diet before January is out.
In practice, I have found a better tactic for lasting dietary change is not to take unhealthy foods out of the diet, but to add healthy ones to it. It seems that, as a general rule, we respond better to positive rather than negative health advice, and tend to prefer the adoption of healthy behaviours to the relinquishing of unhealthy ones. Adding healthy foods to the diet feeds into this natural preference, and as an added bonus, often sees less healthy foods tend to fall naturally by the wayside without any sense of loss. For many, focusing on eating plenty of nutritious foods is a compelling and enduring way to overhaul their diet.
One nutritionally favoured food that is well worth grafting into the diet is fruit. Fruit contains an assortment of substances that have health-giving potential including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals (plant compounds with disease-protective properties) and fibre. To get decent quantities of fruit into the diet I recommend taking a piece or two of fruit at breakfast time, whatever else is eaten. Fruit can be taken whole, though zizzing up a banana or two, some frozen berries and a dash of water in a blender takes practically no time at all and tends to be a palatable alternative to those who tend to be a little fruit-phobic.
Another good time to fill up on fruit is the mid-morning and mid-afternoon. While doctors and dieticians generally advise against it, there is quite a body of evidence to show that snacking between meals may have considerable health benefits in the long term. Those who graze food throughout the day appear to be at a reduced risk of pigging out on unhealthy fare. Plus, counter-intuitive though it may be, snacking has been associated with a reduced risk of excess weight, high cholesterol levels, heart disease and diabetes.
Other foods worth emphasising in diet are those rich in healthy fats such as oily fish (e.g. salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines), extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado. Evidence suggests that the fats contained in these foodstuffs may offer relative protection from a range of conditions including heart disease, cancer and depression. Simple ways to graft more of these health-giving fats into the diet include opting for oily fish when eating out, seeking out sandwiches and salads that include avocado as an ingredient, and using nuts as a snack food in place of crisps or confectionery. Filling up on healthy foods helps ensure that our nutritional New Year resolutions have a decent chance of bringing truly lasting benefits.