With so much conflicting information out there sometimes it can be really hard to know where to start to improve your health. Whether you want to lose weight, improve your gut health, sleep better, feel better, have a stronger immune system, decrease your risk of disease or have more energy, there are some simple things you can do on the path to better health.
Here are my top 10 things you should start today to improve your health. You'll notice the benefits immediately.
1. Limit sugar
I've talked a lot about sugar but that's because it's such an important piece of the health puzzle. Historically, if you lived in a semi-tropical location you would have eaten sugar straight from the sugar cane. Without the processing, you would have accessed more than 85 minerals for great health. So if you want to include processed sugar in your diet, chose one that is as close to nature as possible such as rapadura sugar which is simple dried sugar cane juice. Even raw sugar or brown sugar is highly processed and has lost its essential vitamins and minerals. Also take care with the quantity of fruit that you eat. Remember to eat fruit seasonally, in moderation and try to eat more of the fruits that have enormous health benefits such as berries.
But apart from giving us energy, what does sugar actually do? Sugar affects the messaging in our brains and causes our brains to release instructions to store fat (gasp none of us want that!). Sugar also impacts on our immune system so particularly if you are fighting a cold, illness or disease, you want to limit or exclude all sugar from your diet to give your immune system the best opportunity to fight back.
You also want to know what words also mean sugar such as high fructose corn syrup, glucose, molasses, fructose, dextrose, fruit juice are some that you will see on packaging. They are all sugar and your body will treat them in the same way. And artificial sweeteners should be avoided too because they stop your brain from receiving the signal that you are full leading to overeating. None of us want that!
2. Remove processed foods
I have a general rule here, if your grandmother doesn't recognise it as food, it probably isn't food! We need to remember that our bodies are not designed to process chemicals, those chemicals have an effect on our gut, our brain and our overall health. Processed foods often have much of the goodness removed from them and I get so cranky with 'vitamin enriched foods'. If we didn't destroy the goodness in the first place we wouldn't need to replace it. Even if a chemical claims to be 'nature identical', it simply cannot replace the original product straight from mother earth.
We all know that when we are raising our children there will be some processed foods in our lives. This is the nature of living in the 21st century, being busy and our children having access to these products. But we can limit them in so many easy ways. And we can chose products that although they may be processed, they are much closer to what you might make in your own kitchen. I've talked before about knowing what you are and are not comfortable with when it comes to products you use in your kitchen and I certainly often outsource curry pastes as an example.
3.Take a good quality probiotic
The human body is 90% bacteria and 10% human cells (say whaaaat?!). So the health of the bacteria in your gut (called the microbiome) is critical to the health of you. Probiotics help to improve the quality of your microbiome. Things that destroy your microbiome include antibiotics, stress, poor diet, excess alcohol and some other medications. The bacteria in our gut control what food we want to eat (nasty little monkeys when they crave highly processed carbohydrates because that is what they are used to growing on) and how we feel in terms of our emotions (the link between the gut and the brain - called the gut brain axis is so strong that we now know that a healthy gut is imperative for great mental health).
4. Drink more water
Adults should drink about 2 litres of water every day, more if it is hot or you are exercising. This can be really hard but it is really important to keep your cells hydrated. Water also helps to keep you feeling fuller as 90% of all hunger is actually thirst in disguise (tricky isn't it!).
5. Get more greens into your diet
Greens are a powerful antioxidant. They help to alkalise the body (keeping disease at bay) and help to protect the body against oxidisation (protein oxidises at heat so even an egg brings oxidation into the body but eating your eggs with greens helps to clean up damage done by oxidisation and allows you to benefit from all the good stuff that meal gives you). An easy way to get more greens into your diet is to drink them! Green smoothies are an excellent way to consume greens because they have been broken down making them more easily digestible and you can get heaps of bang for your green buck.
6. Eat fermented foods
Fermented vegetables have been a part of most cultures in varies forms for thousands of years. The local bacteria in fermented foods helps to keep our gut healthy. There are lots available on the market or you can cheaply and easily make your own at home. Start with a small amount each day and increase it slowly.
7. Eat good quality gelatin
It's really important to eat lots of good quality gelatin. You can do this by sourcing a powdered gelatin (I sell one from Changing Habits that I love) and using it to make lollies with fruit juice or to add to soups, stews or desserts to thicken them. Gelatin is a healing property and helps to heal inflammation in the body, particularly in the gut. Bone broths are a great source of gelatin. These are made by slow cooking bones in water with a dash of vinegar for a long period of time. You can use the broth in soups, stews, currys and any place where stock is used.
8. Eat good quality fat
Contrary to popular belief, eating fat will not make you fat, nor will it cause heart disease. The key to eating fat is to eat it with it's protein. Our brains are 70% fat so when we limit fat in our diet we are starving our brains (think rapid rise in cases of Alzheimers and Dementia). Fat also keeps us feeling full for longer so it actually stops us from overeating. And if you need another reason, many vitamins found in vegetables such as Vitamin A and K are only absorbed by the body when consumed with fat. So you need to eat those veggies with a great source of fat. Awesome fats include avocados, seeds, nuts, the fat on meat (eaten with the meat), olive oil, coconut oil and full fat dairy. Always consume a whole food in it's whole state. We were designed to eat fat with our meat, it helps us to digest it.
9. Cook your food slowly
These days everything seems to be fast and faster. But the SLOW food movement is gaining momentum as people come to understand the benefits of slow cooking our food. So let's explore them. Over heating oils causes it to oxidise so if we cook our vegetables for example at a low heat we not only get exceptional flavour and access to minerals and vitamins, we also protect the fat in the cooking oil. When we slow cook meat, particularly with the bones in, we gain access to that beautiful gelatin which is critical to our health. And if you need another thing, cooking food slowly tastes amazing - try an 8 hour slow cooked lamb leg AMAZING!
10. Eat food with joy and gratitude
When you are eating whole foods, you can do so with great joy and in abundance. Listen to your body, share with friends and family and enjoy the simple pleasures in life. Food is a wonderful way to come together and to share real food means that you can enjoy the celebration without guilt, worry or feeling deprived.