Summer has arrived and many people are looking forward to a sun-filled holiday. For some, this prospect can lead to an unnecessary concern about appearance – especially in this age of social media, when it’s the norm to share and compare pictures online.
Lots of us can feel pressure to lose weight or ‘detox’ before that week away.
While looking for ways to get more nutrients into our meals is never a bad thing, going on an extreme, unsustainable diet rarely works and can even do more harm than good, impacting things like your energy levels and mood.
So, instead of cutting things out, why not try to boost your diet by adding in new foods and tweaking your shopping and cooking routines? Here are five ways you can do just that.
Eat fermented foods
Ferments – foods that have been transformed by the activity of living microorganisms, including bacteria, yeast and moulds – are believed by scientists to be good for our health. They include yoghurt, kefir and some cheeses.
Some of these microbes, when ingested as part of fermented foods, travel through your digestive tract to support the trillions of microbes already living in your gut, according to research. Studies have linked a healthy composition of gut microbes to the working of the immune system, the body’s metabolic functions and many other aspects of health.
Not all fermented foods contain live microorganisms though, so it’s important to check the label. For instance, sauerkraut and kimchi can be made with vinegar, or pasteurised, which kills the bacteria. Of course, many cheeses are pasteurised too.
If you’re up for making your own ferments all you need is a vegetable (such as a cabbage), salt and water (and some herbs and spices for extra flavour, if you like). After two or three days, during which you’ll need to ‘burp’ the jar every now and again to release gases, you’ll be left with a pot of nutritious, delicious and thrifty food, such as kimchi or sauerkraut. You can also make fermented drinks, like kombucha, which is a fermented tea.
Make changes to your shopping basket
If part of the joy of your summer holiday is trying new foods, why not do the same at home? We tend to eat a relatively small variety of ingredients, with just 15 plants providing 90 percent of the world’s calories, even though there are more than 7,000 edible plant species.
Half of the UK’s vegetable intake is made up of peas, tomatoes (OK yes, this is technically a fruit), onions and carrots, according to The British Nutrition Foundation. These four plants do pack a punch when it comes to nutrients, but different vegetables provide different combinations of nutrients, so variety is important.
Eating a wide range of plant-based foods is believed to be good for your gut microbes, too. Rice, noodles and pasta are firm favourites, but pearl barley, spelt and quinoa are also easy to cook (and are grown here in the UK).
Many people in the UK don’t eat the recommended two portions of fish per week. Fish not only provides protein and several vitamins and minerals, but oily fish – including salmon, mackerel, sardines and fresh tuna – contains long chain omega-3 fatty acids, which research suggests are important for brain function. It’s a good idea to vary your snacks too. Nuts are a high-protein, nutrient-rich option that will keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Boss batch cooking
We all want to spend less time in the kitchen over the summer. Savvy batch cooking can be the key to eating nourishing homecooked meals all week.
It’s easy to double up the ingredients when cooking and you could even use a slow cooker to make big portions of lovely summer dishes, many of which freeze well. But be sure to label everything before putting it in the freezer, so you know what you’re defrosting.
Food writer Hattie Ellis takes batch cooking to the next level by cooking just once a week, for about three hours, and then storing the meals in the fridge or freezer. “Choose your best time, download a podcast or turn on the radio, then chop, stir and taste”, she writes.
Get your five a day
According to research from 2018, Less than a third of adults in England eat five potions of fruit and veg a day. The average daily intake is just over three and a half portions, so one more might be all it takes reach your goal.
One portion is roughly 80g – a handful of heavier veg, such as broccoli and tomatoes, or two handfuls of leaves such as spinach and kale. You can combine different fruit and veg to make a single portion, so it’s worth including small amounts in light meals and snacks.
You might be surprised by some of the ingredients that count towards your five-a-day. Beans and legumes are included, but no matter how many you eat, they never count as more than one portion (that’s because although they are a good source of fibre, they contain fewer nutrients than other fruit and veg). But this does mean that beans on toast and hummus count.
Dried fruit contributes to your five-a-day because it contains plenty of fibre, but the recommended portion size is 30g due to the density of calories and sugar. A portion (150ml) of fruit juice or smoothie also counts, but never as more than one portion per day because it is low in fibre and high in sugar.
Potatoes don’t count, due to their starch content, but they do still contain nutrients, especially in the skin. However, sweet potatoes are on the five-a-day list, so mash away! A top tip is to make a veg-packed breakfast or add fruit to porridge or overnight oats for a delicious five-a-day friendly start to the day.
Cook from scratch
More than half the food bought by families in the UK is ultra-processed, according to a report published by Cambridge University Press.
There are lots of reasons why we turn to these kinds of foods (which include most ready meals), including budget, time restraints and convenience. If costs are a concern, BBC Food has a budget recipe page packed with money-saving tips, thrifty family favourites and savvy recipes for students.
Perhaps you’re new to cooking, and find the idea of making things from scratch a touch dauting. Try these easy recipes for beginners and how to cook videos. If you know what you want to cook, use the recipe search bar above to look for it. If you want simple recipes, type ‘easy’ into the search bar. These 5-ingredient dinners are another good place to start.
If you’re short of time, there are plenty of quick recipes to choose from, and one-pot meals will save you time (and effort) when it comes to washing up. Veg prep can be avoided by buying bags of pre-chopped, frozen ingredients, like onions.
Cooking is flexible – find what works for you and don’t worry about what doesn’t.
(Article source: BBC)