Whether you're trying to shift those stubborn pounds, or simply trying to take better care of your health, it can be tempting to try out the latest fad diet. After all, if your favourite celebrity endorses it, and if it's worked wonders for a few of your friends, what's the harm in trying?
But while strict diets might be effective in the short term, they're simply not sustainable in many cases. Diets that are too restrictive and demand extreme willpower are, by definition, only a short-term fix. Instead, achieving long-term health and a controlled calorie intake requires a different approach in most cases.
The secret to losing weight at a healthy rate, and keeping yourself healthy in the long term, is as simple as tweaking a few of your existing eating habits for the better. Food should be one of the most enjoyable parts of life, and you can still indulge in all your favourite meals in a healthier way.
From fresh meat delivery services to buying a different make of pasta, there are plenty of sensible ways to enjoy a healthier diet. Let's get started.
Swap white bread for rye or wholegrain
We know you've heard this one before, but some advice is worth repeating. You don't need to ditch the bread - or any other carbohydrates - completely in order to lose weight. Just switch the bread you use for your morning toast, lunch time sandwich, or evening snack, for wholegrain or rye bread.
Wholegrain releases energy slower than white bread, which is typically heavily processed to reach its current state, having all the fibre removed from the flour. Wholegrain and rye bread has all that natural fibre included, which does wonders for both your heart and your digestive system. Any sugar contained in the bread is digested much more slowly and efficiently than that found in white bread, giving you more energy for longer, and staving off any between-meal pangs of hunger.
Forgo the jam for olive-oil based margarine
Speaking of toast and other tasty bread-based snacks, let's talk about what you spread on it.
There's nothing quite like a slice of toast slathered with a sweet jam on, maybe with a strong cup of tea on the side. It's enough to make all the world's problems fade into the background, if only for a moment. There's no reason you have to go without such a lovely thing. All you need to do to make it significantly better for you is swap the sugar for an olive oil based margarine. You still a get a great taste without the refined sugar content.
Trade supermarket meat for meat boxes
Meat is a complicated food for dieticians and nutritionists. On the one hand, protein is always good, but many meats are quite fatty, and lacking in nutrients. This is mostly down to how the animals are farmed. Having an animal raised on a natural diet of grass, flora and berries isn't just good for the environment and our conscience, it's good for the meat itself.
If you want to guarantee the meat you eat is as healthy as meat can get, consider getting it through a local meat delivery service. Meat box delivery companies, such as the Dorset Meat Company, deliver 100% grass fed, free range meat straight to your front door for whenever you need it.
All the meat they sell comes from animals raised slowly on one of 20 small, family-run farms in Dorset and Wiltshire. Plenty of fresh air, exercise and a natural diet free of chemicals and sugary grains, makes for meat that is packed full of vitamins, minerals, and unrivalled flavour.
You can get all the chicken, beef, pork and venison you love guilt-free by constructing your own meat box on their website, or buy one of their pre-made boxes, such as the Full English Breakfast Meat Box, or Autumn Meat Box. All are prepared by master butchers, and all are as healthy as they are delicious.
Choose your meat wisely
When choosing the meat for your meat box, it's worth keeping in mind which meat is the healthiest.
Free range meat is typically much leaner than that reared in close confinements. That means more walking around for the animal and, so, more muscle than fat. For the end consumer – i.e. you – this means that you’re getting more protein and less of the fat within your 250g steak.
If you're a born and bred carnivore who can't go without their red meat, there is no red meat healthier than venison. It's incredibly lean, impossible to farm (meaning a natural diet full of vitamins is all but guaranteed) and makes absolutely scrumptious steaks and sausages.
Wholegrain pasta and rice
Carbohydrates are not your enemy; they're an important staple of any diet. On top of that, carbs like pasta and rice are cheap, and easy to make a meal of. But there's still an opportunity to increase the health benefits of your rigatoni or long-grain.
Wholemeal pasta and rice contains much more fibre, vitamins B and E, and antioxidants than the white alternatives. Making the swap will allow you to eat all the penne arrabiata and chicken curry you want without shame (what fad diet would ever tell you that?)
Make your own cereal
Cereals like porridge and granola are delicious and have the potential to be a healthy start to your day. Unfortunately, many of the pre-packaged brands are full of unnecessary sugar, salt and flavourings, which undo all their natural health benefits.
When you make your own porridge and granola, you're in control of how much sugar and salt go into it, as well as whether it's made with milk or water. Fill it with healthy additions like nuts, fruit, a drizzle of honey or a dollop of Greek yoghurt for an enviable, vitamin packed breakfast.
With fruit, don’t stop at the juice
Fruit juice is infinitely preferable to soda and energy drinks, but it's not the health tonic it's cracked up to be. Even if you guzzled down glass after glass, mixing apple, orange, cranberry and grapefruit, it would still only count as one of your five a day.
Why? Because there's hardly any fibre in it, but plenty of natural sugar. Having only the juice means the sugar in an orange or apple can more easily be absorbed into the body, whereas eating the entire fruit provides so much more in terms of vitamins and filling fibre. So swap the orange juice for the orange itself to get every last healthy benefit.
Coffee is the way to energise
Coffee might not be the healthiest of drinks, but compared to soda and sugary energy drinks, it might as well be the elixir of life.
If you're in need of an energy boost, have a cup of unsweetened coffee or tea in lieu of a red bull or coke. Limit yourself to 3 or 4 small cups a day, and the caffeine won't raise your blood pressure; it's main health drawback.
Make your own salad dressing
Shop bought salad dressings, especially of the creamy variety, are full of fat, sugar, salt and empty calories. What's the point of having a salad if you're going to pour all that on top of it?
Making your own salad dressing is an easy way to keep your salad healthy while also adding some much needed flavour. A base of olive oil and vinegar is always good, as are lemon dressings. Add garlic, herbs, a lean protein or unsalted nuts for a very healthy, and surprisingly filling lunch.
Low-fat yoghurt is not your friend
It's depressing how careful you need to be about what you eat. How can low-fat yoghurt possibly be bad for you?
Unfortunately, many fat-free yoghurts compensate for the lack of fat by adding artificial sweeteners, flavourings and sugars, giving them very little nutritional value at all. Greek yoghurt, however, is the best yoghurt you can eat. Rich and creamy, it's also much lower in fat than most other yoghurts, and many brands contain extra protein which will help you feel fuller for longer. Add some chopped nuts, berries, and a little honey if you prefer your yoghurt on the sweeter side.
Ditch the salty snacks
Sorry, but there's no way we can pretend that crisps are good for you. Obviously a packet of Walkers a week isn't going to make any difference, but if salty snacks are a part of your daily diet, they can quickly start to have an adverse effect on your health.
So ditch the crisps, pretzels and salted peanuts for something lighter. Popcorn is a good alternative, as unlike crisps, it's wholegrain and quite low in calories (just don't smother it in salt or sugar, or there's little point in switching). You could also try unsalted nuts like Brazil nuts, or simply work more fibre and protein into your meals. That'll make you feel full enough to forget snack time altogether.
Go for the sweetest potato
Is it over the top to call potatoes the greatest discovery humankind has ever made? We don't think so. You can't drown gravity in vinegar and eat it at the seaside, can you?
Chips, mash and jacket potatoes are delicious sides to many meals. It's just a shame they're not that healthy, and can actually make an otherwise nutritious meal like fish or steak and salad unhealthy.
But you can still have your fries, croquettes and creamy mash. All you need to do is swap the kind of potato you use to make them. By eating sweet potato, you're still getting all the essential carbohydrates, but unlike starchy regular potatoes, they count as one of your five a day. Also unlike regular potato, it's best if you eat the crispy skin, to give yourself an extra boost of tasty fibre.
How do you like your eggs in the morning?
There's nothing quite like a big breakfast on a Saturday or Sunday morning, is there? It's the light at the end of the tunnel of a long working week. And a small tweak to how you cook your eggs for said breakfast can make all the difference in terms of health benefits.
If you invest in a good non-stick pan, you can dry fry your eggs without adding oil or butter. It's these fats that make fried eggs so bad for us. You can also experiment with how you cook your eggs. Boil them for eggs and soldiers like how you had them as a child; poach them for that yummy, gooey centre; scramble them to have with a couple of bacon streaks (taken from your just-arrived meat box, of course).
It doesn't take much to change your diet for the better. A few small swaps and adjustments can see you shed the pounds at a sustainable rate, and keep you healthy for years to come.