The opening weeks of a new year can be a time when we feel at our most motivated to make big changes to our diet in order to lose weight and improve our health.
However, radical changes to our diet rarely stick. I find that clients are not motivated by hearing about what they shouldn't be eating or drinking. Instead, they like to hear about simple, effective changes they can easily incorporate into their lives. A good strategy for lasting change is to focus on adding to your diet rather than eliminating items.
1 Spices Not only do spices add flavour they also have antioxidant power, which means they help protect us against diseases. For example, one teaspoon of ground cinnamon has the equivalent level of antioxidants as half a cup of blueberries. In addition, they have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation has been identified as a precursor to many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, arthritis, and Alzheimer's. Cinnamon, ginger and turmeric are particularly beneficial to health and should be used liberally. Try adding half a teaspoon of cinnamon to your porridge in the morning. Turmeric is wonderful in a curry and use ginger in a stir fry.
2 Berries All fruit is nutritious, but berries are particularly high in antioxidants which help protect us against ageing and diseases. They're also packed with vitamin C, which helps ward off colds and they've been shown to protect our brain and boost memory. Add fresh or frozen mixed berries to your porridge in the morning, or pop them into your lunch box for a tasty snack. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and cranberries are among the most nutritious.
3 Garlic Eat one clove of garlic per day to keep those pesky bugs away. Garlic is known as 'nature's antibiotic' and for good reason. Garlic contains allicin, a powerful antibiotic agent. It's best to crush garlic and leave it to stand for 15 minutes before adding it to your dish. This will trigger an enzyme reaction that boosts the healthy compounds found in garlic. It's also best to add it towards the end of the cooking process.
4 Tea Certain teas have powerful health benefits and are a great way to stay hydrated. Green tea contains antioxidants called catechins that may slow down the growth of cancer cells. In laboratory studies, catechins stop free-radical damage to cells and reduce the number and size of tumours. Rooibos tea tastes similar to normal breakfast tea but doesn't contain caffeine and is believed to alleviate health problems such as irritability, insomnia, headaches, hypertension and anxiety attacks.
5 Nuts If you're looking for simple ways to improve your health snacking on nuts and seeds may be satisfying. Nuts and seeds are an excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium, a good source of protein and fibre, and offer potassium, calcium, phosphorous, iron, and heart-healthy mono unsaturated fat. So ditch the biscuits and make nuts your snack of choice -- choose raw, unsalted ones and one palmful a day is enough.
6 Oats The health promoting powers of oats are truly impressive. Oats are low in calories, high in fibre and protein. They're a rich source of magnesium, potassium. zinc, copper, manganese, selenium and B vitamins, which help soothe our nervous system and give us long-lasting energy. However, it's the cholesterol-lowering power of oats that draws the most attention. The specific fibre -- beta glucan-- in oats is the soluble fibre that seems responsible for this benefit. If you don't like porridge try oat cakes or make your own oat crumble or flapjacks (see website for more ideas).
7 Legumes The bean family is a cheap, tasty, and non-perishable food that can be easily incorporated into any cuisine. Beans are a delicious source of protein, fibre, B vitamins, iron, folates, magnesium and many phytonutrients. Because of their high vitamin B and magnesium content, they help our bodies deal with and resist stress. Try adding half a tin of lentils or kidney beans into a Bolognese sauce.
8 Oily fish Most of us are deficient in omega 3 essential fatty acids, which is why we need to consume oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines or take a fish-oil supplement. They are called 'essential' fatty acids because they are needed for normal nervous-system function, memory and mood regulation. Studies have noted that in countries where much fish is eaten, such as Japan and China, rates of depression are low. Omega 3 also helps lower cholesterol and acts as an anti-inflammatory, so it can help those suffering from arthritis.
9 Olive oil If you were to make one change in your kitchen switch to extra virgin olive oil in place of other fats. So many studies have verified the health-promoting qualities of extra virgin olive oil that the European Union has embraced it as the oil of choice, and is investing to promote consumption in its member states. Studies have demonstrated that adding olive oil to your daily diet could reduce your risk of breast and colon cancer.
10 Leafy vegetables The likes of spinach, rocket, kale and cabbage are powerful health promoters. Regular consumption of green leafy vegetables seems to lessen our risk for many of the most common diseases of the 21st century, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. Aim to eat at least two portions per day.
Elsa Jones is a nutritional therapist and presenter of How Healthy Are You? on TV3. Elsa offers individual consultations and weight-loss courses. Visit www.elsajonesnutrition.ie