The 10 Tips for Healthier Eating at Home in 2021
For most of us, 2020 was a year when uncertainty upended our lives, economic chaos redefined our professions, and Covid-19 brought complete disruption. We can all be forgiven for putting dietary considerations on the back burner for twelve months, not least because many of us had to order carry-out or delivery or came to rely on food as an emotional positive during a testing time.
The result is that we’re set to start 2021 feeling a little overweight, perhaps somewhat sluggish and uninspired. But, you know, there’s no need to blame yourself. Stress brings many effects, among them an over-reliance on cheap, tasty food which actually harms our bodies. Facing unusual demands like homeschooling or working from home can also wreck our cooking plans, and it’s hard to muster the energy when there are so many other factors competing for our bandwidth.
To help get us all back on track, here are ten awesome ways to take control of your diet in 2021 (plus a bonus). You won’t need any special training or equipment, and you may be doing some of these things already.
Remember, the aim isn’t to follow some faddish, over-hyped diet, but to raise your own awareness of what you’re eating, and when, as well as the all-important why.
#1 Eat Breakfast.
It’s both the first and the most important meal of the day. Eating breakfast replenishes stores of glycogen which become depleted overnight, ensuring your body has an adequate supply of sugars. This is important, because glucose fluctuation can have damaging effects on your appetite, leaving you hungry at odd times of day. In contrast, a solid breakfast helps you feel satiated, so you’re less likely to reach for sweet or fatty snacks later in the day. A healthy breakfast has been linked with lower incidence of type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart trouble. Common reasons behind a reluctance to eat breakfast include time (try adjusting your sleeping arrangements), not feeling hungry (just have a small breakfast) and boredom with the conventional breakfast foods (try making your own granola, eating a customized bowl of fruit and nuts, adding yogurt or kefir, and experimenting with regular and cooked options, most of which are easier than they look).
#2 Eat Whole Foods.
By this, we mean food which has been minimally processed and contains few if any additional ingredients. (E.g. potatoes are whole foods while potato chips are highly processed and full of additives). If in doubt, look at the ingredients label. Remember that everything you eat has an effect on your body, even forgettable snacks like chips, pretzels or pizza.
#3 Eat Lots of Leafy Greens.
Offering a wealth of healthy phytochemicals, vitamins and fiber, leafy greens are superfoods which are easy to prepare and amazingly flexible. Try a simple stir-fry with curly kale, ginger, chili and garlic, or a stew with beans, collard greens, onions, stock and spices. Salads with arugula benefit from a little lemon juice and garlic, while spinach is great in smoothies, salads, risotto, with pasta, or sautéed as a topping for a baked potato. Then, experiment with dandelion greens, mustard greens and boy choy, all of which bring plentiful nutrients and fiber.
#4 Switch to Whole Grains.
Again, we’re talking about unprocessed grains such as lentils, bulgur, pearl barley and quinoa. These are all fantastic sources of minerals, and are much underrated as tasty side dishes. Try boiling up any of these nutritious whole grains and tossing them with a simple dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and parsley. Add chopped bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, olives and feta to really take it up a notch. Grains need flavor, so experiment by boiling them in chicken or vegetable stock (here’s a simple way to make your own), or by adding region-specific spices such as those found in the food of Greece (oregano, parsley, garlic, lemon, paprika), North Africa (preserved lemon, mint, cumin, red chili), east Asia (cilantro, garlic, ginger, red chili) or India (curry leaves, mustard seeds, garlic, asafetida, cumin and green cardamon).
#5 Reduce Your Fat Intake.
The easiest way is to replace the fatty cuts of meat (steaks, ribs, ground beef) with lean cuts (chicken and duck breast, good-quality lamb chops, veal cutlets) and fish (sustainable salmon, mackerel, herring, snapper, cod, tuna and skate). Stock up your freezer when prices are discounted, giving yourself lots of options on just a few hours’ notice.
#6 Cook More at Home.
Many of us had little choice but to spend more time in our kitchens in 2020. A sudden explosion in sourdough experimentation quickly led to a national shortage of yeast, while a new enthusiasm for home preservation (of cucumbers, radish, carrots, green beans, etc.) led to a shortage of pickling jars. These are great signs, so why not become part of the home cooking revolution? It’ll help build your confidence as well as providing a completely customizable way of eating. Besides, cooking with family and friends is a joy in itself, and planning meals in advance saves money and builds anticipation.
#7 Avoid Refined Sugar.
Depending on your habits, this could be a no-brainer, or it could be a major challenge. Many popular processed foods contain terrifying amounts of sugar – commercial pizza dough, cookies, energy bars and breakfast cereal are some of the worst, with soda the leading culprit. If you have a daily soda habit, we can’t recommend strongly enough switching to green tea, natural juice or water. For snack foods, read the labels and try switching to less sugary options. Making your own cookies, cakes, bars and other treats puts you in control of the sugar content, and lets you experiment with less damaging options like Stevia, molasses, honey and maple syrup.
#8 Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods.
It’s becoming clear that many 21st century ailments are connected with the body’s inflammatory response. This is triggered when the body senses it is under attack, but for many of us, this warning system malfunctions in the presence of foods we cannot easily digest. The result is bloating and all kinds of digestive troubles, poor sleep, fluctuating mood and other problems. To tackle inflammation the natural way, try incorporating antioxidant and anti-inflammatory foods such as berries (especially strawberries and blueberries, excellent with yogurt or granola for breakfast) and ginger (sliced and included in stocks, soups, stir-fries, rice dishes and noodles).
#9 Front-Load Your Calories.
Get ready for something counter-intuitive: eating a larger breakfast helps you lose weight. Research has found that a generous breakfast sets you up for the day by providing a steady source of energy. In contrast, eating a larger dinner (or worse, snacking after dinner) provides calories that cannot readily be burned – because you’ll be asleep for 7-8 of the next 10 hours – so they’re stored as fat. The advice can be summed up with: “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper”.
#10 Bring Healthy Herbs and Spices into your Diet.
The natural world is full of beneficial foods which also taste amazing. Add cinnamon to breakfast granola or Persian rice for its anti-diabetic qualities, and include some sage (which contains neuroprotective compounds) when making stuffing for a roast. Peppermint is great for nausea and digestion, while turmeric and cumin are both anti-inflammatory powerhouses. Ginger also helps digestion, while garlic can boost heart health. All spices (including allspice!) can lift the flavor profile of a dish, so feel free to experiment.
#11 A bonus idea: Eat More Mindfully.
Many digestive ailments are connected with the speed at which we eat. When figuring out how to treat our digestive systems, it’s worth remembering that they developed slowly, and that most of the processed foods we eat are brand new (early Europeans didn’t even have potatoes, let alone potato chips). To counteract our modern tendency to eat quickly (while standing, or while distractedly watching TV) a movement has arisen to promote slow, mindful eating. The advice is to turn off devices and make the food your sole focus until the meal is over. Put down your utensils between bites, chew thoroughly, and bring in a little gratitude for the farmers, producers and cooks who made what you’re eating.
Eating a healthy diet requires a little concentration and planning, but once you’re comfortable with the basics, it’ll be an empowering and enjoyable way to eat.
*All opinions reserved to the author*