With level 5 restrictions now in place, it’s hard to have a positive view of the next few weeks. Research from UCD’s Institute of Food and Health shows that 40% of us in Ireland ate more than usual and 1/3 of us reported weight gain over the lockdown earlier this year. But let’s look at the silver lining….. We have an opportunity over the next 5 ½ weeks to implement some healthy habits and emerge from the lockdown looking and feeling better in the run up to Christmas – like a gentle lockdown food reboot!
Support your gut health
There has been a huge increase in IBS symptoms since March. Increased stress has no doubt played a role, in addition to the dietary habits that may have changed along with the rest of our lives. We know that gut health also plays a key role in supporting our immune system. One of the best ways to support gut and overall health is to eat plenty of fibre, providing food for our beneficial bacteria (prebiotics). Not bran, which is what most people think of, but rather lots of different vegetables and some fruit.
Rule of thumb and our first healthy habit is to fill half of your plate at lunch and dinner with vegetables and to have 2 portions of fruit daily, including as many different colours as you can – the proverbial rainbow. These colours reflect the different polyphenols in veg and fruit, which act like fertiliser for our beneficial bacteria.
If you want to take things to the next level, another easy way to support gut health is to eat food containing beneficial bacteria – fermented food. That might be as easy as having some natural yoghurt with your breakfast. Or trying some of the other fermented foods widely available, like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha. Making sauerkraut is a simple kitchen project to try at home and might keep the kids occupied for half an hour over Halloween. Try this easy sauerkraut recipe or treat yourself to The Cultured Club cookbook by the fabulous Dearbhla Reynolds. If you are new to fermented food, then introduce in small quantities as it can cause bloating at first.
Watch the slow creep of weight gain
We have had more queries about weight gain than anything else over the previous lockdown. Everyone is keen to avoid the slow creep of another 5 or 6 pounds while we are stuck at home. Weight gain can also reflects food choices that are less beneficial for overall health. Three easy steps to put in place
- Our second healthy habit is to fast for 12 hours overnight. This is a simple and safe form of intermittent fasting, with wide ranging benefits for immune, cardiovascular and even mental health. It also has the benefit of cutting out some of the mindless grazing that can happen in front of the tv at night. Ideally, finish eating by 7 or latest 8pm and then don’t eat anything until your breakfast 12 hours later. You can drink herbal tea or water, but nothing else
- Our third healthy habit is to limit your treats. 42% of people in the UCD study reported eating more snacks than usual during lockdown, and it’s likely that most of those snacks fell into the treat category. Of course, having the odd treat is one of the pleasures still available to us, but if you are having it every day, it’s not a treat, it’s a habit! Buy less treats in your weekly shop and decide in advance when you are going to eat them e.g. only at weekends or switch from full size to snack size. If you are amongst the 70% of us who are doing more home baking, try making a nice brown bread like this easy recipe or a new meal instead of automatically choosing sweeter baking projects. When you do have your treats, eat them mindfully. Instead of wolfing them down guiltily, take a few minutes to focus on what you are eating and enjoy every bit. It’s much more satisfying and makes it easier to change the habit.
- Our fourth habit is to plan your meals. It’s not everyone’s idea of fun. But spending a few minutes meal planning at the weekend or even a couple of days in advance is a game changer when trying to implement and stick to healthier eating habits. It’s also going to save you money and make shopping easier and let’s face it, queuing to get into the shops in the cold and rain is going to be zero craic.
To get you started with your meal plan, here is a sample day below.
|Breakfast||Porridge with natural yoghurt, berries and seeds|
|Lunch||Favourite coconut lentil soup, slice wholegrain bread|
|Snack||Apple and palmful nuts|
|Dinner||Teriyaki salmon with stir-fried veg and perfect brown rice or wholegrain noodles|
Our fifth habit is to stay well hydrated throughout the day. Staying hydrated helps our concentration, energy, mood and even our sleep. It’s easy to get into a habit of drinking a regular stream of tea and coffee all day when at home, but all that caffeine can disrupt sleep and relaxation. Try to limit caffeine to a maximum of 2 cups of coffee or 3 – 4 cups of tea daily. Switch to herbal teas in the afternoon instead, to support hydration without the stimulant effect of coffee and aim to drink at least 1.5L water daily. To help your water habit, have a bottle of water on your desk and refill at each meal.
Your level 5 healthy habits
- Eat at least 5 portions of veg daily
- Fast for 12 hours overnight
- Limit your treats and enjoy them
- Plan your meals in advance
- Stay well hydrated, drink at least 1.5L water
Putting these 5 steps into place now will help you to make the most of the next 5 weeks and arrive in December ready for a great Christmas.
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