There is so much research and information available in todays world about what we should and should not be eating. However, I believe if you stick to basics and try to eat food in as natural form as you can get you cannot go wrong. Below are 6 super easy ways to improve your health on a daily basis by simply grabbing a different item off the shelf. None of these are fancy superfoods that will cost you a fortune per gram, just simple little swaps that you will barely notice!
- Vegetable oil to olive oil
It is unlikely that you go through your day without using some sort of oil for cooking, but this almost thoughtless choice about what oil you are using may be having devastating impacts on your health without you even noticing. The main dilemma with vegetable oil is the high content of unsaturated fats they contain. These types of fats can lead to problems later down the track due to being used by the body to make new (and weak) cell walls. These cell walls containing many poly-unsaturated fats are essentially easier to damage, break and allow molecules to enter therefore leading to health implications such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. However, quality saturated fat such as that from olive oil helps to build strong cell walls that can protect against damage and support healthy cardiovascular functioning. Furthermore, the production of these vegetable oils involves various chemicals and toxic solvents, which also wreak havoc to your cells and health. There is also an important balance that exists between the amount of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids that must be obtained from the diet. Ideally the ratio should be fairly similar ie. 1:2, however currently it has been calculated that the average diet has a ratio much higher ie. 16:1. Vegetable oils can result in this unhealthy ratio due to their very high content of omega 6 fatty acids. Finally, these oils can also contain trans fats that are associated with increasing your risk of many cardiovascular diseases, obesity and cancers. Trans fats have even been recognised by law to be terrible for health, so definitely one to avoid!
- Margarine to butter
For years the media has convinced us to actually make the exact opposite choice as the one I am suggesting. However, margarine is produced artificially from vegetable oil through a process of hydrogenation – which actually leads to the production of dangerous trans fats. So from the above information it can already be seen why we should be avoiding vegetable oils and trans fats. Butter is made from cows milk using the fatty portion, hence is high in fat (especially saturated) and the reason it has been labelled as a bad food for so long, as these fats are believed to increase cardiovascular disease risk. Only… this saturated fat as explained above is essential in building healthy cell walls, so consumed in moderate amounts is actually good for your health. But without getting into the debate over saturated fats I personally would rather consume a more natural produce such as butter rather than the chemicals and vegetable oils used to make margarine. Ultimately, if you are going to use a spread such as butter or margarine I strongly believe you are better to go with butter (grass fed if possible), but do remember moderation is the key.
- Grain fed to grass fed
This swap can come with a bit of a price, but is worth every cent! When buying any sort of meat it is most important to try and source it in the most natural form possible (sorry sausages). This means for fish sourcing wild caught and not farm raised, for chicken getting free range and organic (this avoids eating chicken pumped full of harmful antibiotics) and for red meat getting grass fed rather than grain fed. Naturally, cows and sheep are meant to eat grass from the land not highly processed grain products and this can alter the nutritional value of the meat. This unnatural diet for cows can cause inflammation in the tissues and hence change the composition of the meat you eat. The main difference is that grass fed meat contains much higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids (the good ones), enabling us to equal out that omega 6: omega 3 ratio better. The nutrition the cows receive from the grass also means there are more vitamins in grass fed meat. Furthermore, generally grass fed meat enables the animals to live a more natural life living off the land rather than being held in feeding sheds and fed grain to fatten up faster, so ethically as well, grass fed is often best.
- Cows milk for nut milk
As babies we feed off our mothers breast milk to grow and gain weight to enable us to survive. At this young age we have digestive enzymes that enable us to break down the components of milk. However, as we grow older we lose the ability to produce these enzymes and hence our ability to digest milk. This is the reason a large portion of the population is actually not suited to be consuming milk. Cows milk is also designed for the same reason breast milk is… to help calves gain weight and grow, hence is not the ideal food for adult human consumption. There is much controversy on this topic but generally you can source the nutrients (and much more) provided from cows milk with a well balanced diet without having this product that can lead to health problems in some people. Moreover, cows milk contains casein, a protein that is essentially what gluten is to bread, of which many people are sensitive to and it can induce an inflammatory response in the gut lining resulting in many common gut problems. If you are interested in this debate please watch the documentary MILK, it gives a comprehensive insight into the nutritional value of milk and the dairy industry. You are probably wondering now why I am telling you to eat butter but not milk… yes they are both dairy products but the processing involved means that butter has very minimal amounts of casein, whereas milk contains high amounts. In comparison, a milk such as coconut is packed full of healthy fats required to build strong cell walls and is also high in many trace minerals that are difficult to obtain from the diet. Even better though, nut milks do not contain lactose or casein, thus avoiding potential immune reactions to these proteins in your body.
- White rice for brown rice
This is such a simple swap that can really make such a difference! I started using brown rice for everything I would have usually used white rice for a couple of years back and have not looked back since. Many people actually also find that they enjoy the texture and taste of brown rice better than that of white rice. It is also becoming an easier swap with many cafes and restaurants now offering it as a side for dishes. There are many benefits of brown rice such as it being filled with fibre, helping to fill you up and keep you satisfied for longer and it also has a lower GI than white rice, which means it wont spike your blood sugar levels (meaning it is a good swap for diabetics especially). Essentially, white and brown rice come from the same place, however brown rice is less processed meaning it still contains a good amount of nutrients that are removed with processing to give white rice.
- Carton stock instead of cubes
If you have ever read the ingredient on the back of a stock cube container you are probably still puzzled by what some of those words actually mean… All I am going to say is they are bad news! However, the solution is simple – start using stock in the cartons already made up. This stock contains mainly vegetables and natural ingredients with a bit of salt, rather than the concoction of chemicals required to get the same flavour from a tiny stock cube. Be sure to check the ingredients as different brands have different recipes but generally the stock that comes pre-made in cartons contains far fewer chemicals and preservatives than the cubes.
These swaps are so easy to make and can really make a difference especially over the long term. This concept can be applied to almost all other foods by simply choosing the less processed option or the option that you know and understand all the ingredients in it. This is an easy way to improve your health without actually involving much effort by you at all. I also think it is so important to have some knowledge about the food you are eating, especially on a regular basis! This can be as simple as doing a quick Google on the ingredients or products, but be sure to sift through the websites and find reputable ones!
Disclaimer: this advice is purely based on my own knowledge and experience, which is not backed up by any accreditation. Please always consult your health care provider before making any dramatic changes to your lifestyle, especially if you have been diagnosed with a health condition.