As many people start the New Year with a fresh, energetic outlook and are motivated to make changes in their life that will bring them closer to their goals, I thought I would make things a little easier for those who want to improve their health and wellbeing in 201o by putting together an easy guide to the 10 most important changes you can make to improve your health.
1. Avoid Sugars, Refined Carbohydrates, Chemical Food Additives & Toxins.
I know they taste good, but this one really is top of the list, especially for those of us with PCOS or insulin resistance. The simple fact of the matter for those of us with these conditions is that sugar and refined carbohydrates will make us fat and damage our bodies. There are so many toxins and poisons in our environment and in our food these days that it can be hard to avoid them. Although they are ubiquitous, we need to try very hard to limit our exposure to them. It is important to eliminate from your life:
- Soft drinks – of any form, regular or diet & bottled fruit juice
- Cakes & biscuits
- Sweets, milk chocolate and white chocolate
- Commercial, processed breakfast cereals including rice bubbles and cornflakes. Breakfast should be high in protein and high in fibre.
- White anything: rice, bread, pasta, flour. Choose wholegrains and only eat those sparingly.
- Processed foods which contain cheap and nasty sugar compounds such as sorbitol, fructose, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), mannitol, maltitol, isomalt and glycerol. HFCS especially is dangerous for the health of those with insulin resistance and PCOS. It disrupts the messages which signal to the brain that you are full, leading to over-eating and it increases insulin resistance, worsening the PCOS disease process.
- Artificial sweeteners. Whilst you may think that you are making a better choice by using artificial sweeteners, unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth. Artificial sweeteners can actually stimulate your appetite resulting in you taking in more calories, not less. Additionally, many of them have been implicated in the development of a range of cancers.
- Artificial flavours, colours, preservatives. These toxic chemical food additives can have a range of negative effects on the body.
- Smoking – we all know how toxic a habit this is, for ourselves and those around us. In addition to poisoning our bodies, smoking has been found to increase abdominal weight gain and elevate blood sugar levels.
- Alcohol. It is very high in calories and carbohydrates, damages our livers and offers no nutritional benefits. Restrict alcohol to 1 or 2 times a year and choose alcohols which at least have some slight benefit to the body such as red wine or beer. Don’t overindulge on these occasions either, limit your intake to 1 or 2 glasses.
- Caffeine. This potent nervous stimulant is very easy to come by in modern life and many people are addicted to the buzz it provides. Whilst tea and coffee have significant health benefits, they do not come from the caffeine. If you enjoy tea or coffee, switch to a decaffeinated version. Swiss water decaffeinated, organic, fair trade coffee beans are absolutely delicious – the flavour is even richer than regular espresso coffee I’ve found. You can indulge your love of coffee, whilst feeling good about the farmers, the planet and your body.
- Refined salt. Instead of table salt – pure refined sodium chloride, choose a healthy, mineral filled alternative such as Celtic Sea Salt, or Himalayan salt. These are the ‘wholegrain’ alternatives of the salt world. They contain a balanced array of essential minerals which are vital for our health. Be aware that processed foods and takeaway meals will contain a large amount of refined salt.
- Takeaway or fast food is rarely good for you. It is often crammed with preservatives, salt, sugar, calories, fat and carbohydrates with very little real nutrition. Limit takeaway foods to a special treat no more than once per month.
2. Drink plenty of pure water
For your body to function optimally and to be effective at filtering out toxins from our diet, environment and the toxic byproducts of metabolism it needs a constant source of pure water. A good quality water filter (such as http://www.zazenlivingwater.com.au/) is essential.
3. Eat plenty of fresh vegetables, salad greens & a moderate amount of fruit. 5-7 servings of veges and 2 of fruit per day.
The best source of nutrition for your body is from fresh, unprocessed vegetables, salad greens, grains and fruit. You need to eat 2 servings of fruit per day and at least 5 servings of vegetables.
4. Choose organic whenever possible
Whenever you are able, choose certified organic foods. When food is produced organically it has been grown without synthetic chemicals, fertilisers or genetic modification. In addition to supporting a more sustainable, earth-friendly practice, you are reducing the burden on your body of toxic compounds which can interfere with many of your body’s processes including metabolism.
5. Choose wholegrain, low GI cereals
When you choose wholegrain foods, those that contain all parts of the grain, not just the ‘white’ middle part, you are eating a balanced food with healthy fibre and nutrients which are commonly found in the ‘germ’ or outer part of the grain. These wholegrain cereals are digested much more slowly than their refined, ‘white’ counterparts slowing the rate at which their carbohydrates are absorbed into the blood stream and lessening the insulin response to them. Fibre is an important tool in healthy blood sugar regulation as well as the more well known benefits to the bowel.
6. Eat the right amount of lean protein & healthy fats
Protein provides the building blocks for all cells and the repair of cells. Foods rich in protein such as fish, chicken, lean red meat, eggs or dairy products are very important and should be eaten regularly throughout the day to provide your body with the fuel it needs to repair cells and build healthy muscle tissue. Eating protein regularly throughout the day will also help to stabilise blood sugar levels. Eating organically raised and grass-fed meats is always a better choice.
Some fats are very good for us: eat plenty of cold water fish, organic, pasture-raised meats 3-5 times a week, organic eggs, organic dairy products (preferably unhomogenised and unpasteurised if you can get it) avocados, cold pressed coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, macadamia nut oil and raw nuts & seeds. It is important to avoid unhealthy fats such as saturated fat from grain fed animals and trans fats (found in margarine, processed foods, bakery foods, fried foods etc). Trans fat is formed when oils are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated to make them more stable for longer shelf life or to make them more solid at room temperature to improve the texture and mouth-feel of processed foods.
7. Get the right amount of quality sleep each night
An appropriate amount of high quality sleep is one of the most important building blocks of good health. Too much or too little sleep, or interrupted sleep can have a multitude of negative effects on the body including increasing insulin resistance, accelerating the aging process and disrupting hormonal balance. We need between 8-10 hours of uninterrupted, peaceful, relaxing, restorative sleep each and every night for the body to function optimally.
8. Manage your stress levels
When we are stressed we produce cortisol, ‘the stress hormone’. A small amount is necessary for life, but too much can have a very negative effect on our health including increasing blood pressure and making the body store fat. Take up a new activity with the aim of reducing your stress levels:
- Tai Chi
- Get or swap a regular massage treatment
- Exercise – Walking, swimming, jogging, tennis, golf, sailing, bushwalking/hiking – anything that gets you outside and moving
- Music – learn to sing or play an instrument
9. Move your body!
Our bodies were designed to keep moving. Modern life reduces the necessity for us to move and unfortunately limits the time and energy we have available to do it. Regular exercise is absolutely essential for every human being. Make an effort to get at least a 20 minute walk in every single day and 2-3 minutes high intensity exercise (such as star jumps, skipping rope, sprinting) before each meal.
10. Eat small amounts as often as possible
Eating small amounts of healthy foods at regular intervals is the best way to keep your blood sugar and energy levels even throughout the day. Of course, you don’t want to eat too many calories, but if you can split those calories up into many, many small snacks throughout the day instead of 3 large meals, then you will help to boost your metabolism and keep your blood sugar levels balanced all day.