I’m not surprised when people tell me they’re confused about nutrition. There are so many confusing messages floating around that are not evidence based.
The good news is nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, there are three things you can do today to improve the quality of your diet – no superfoods, special diets or strict food rules required!
1. Add more vegetables to your diet
One of the best things you can do for your health is to make sure you eat plenty of vegetables. If the dinner plate is the only place you’re adding vegetables, it’s time to think about other ways you can include vegetables throughout the day.
Here in NZ, the recommendation is set at ‘5 plus a day’ which includes three vegetable and two fruit serves each day – but this target is higher in Australia where their slogan is ‘go for 5 & 2’ vegetables and fruit. If you’re already hitting your three serves of vegetables, I’d encourage you to increase your intake by an extra serve or two. Remember, three serves of vegetables is the minimum to aim for.
Vegetables are not only a source of vitamins, minerals and fibre, they are packed full of phytonutrients – plant-based compounds that have many benefits for your health in terms of reducing the risk of chronic disease and keeping you healthy.
Here are a few ideas to get more vegetables in your day:
- For a snack, choose some vegetable sticks such as cucumber, carrot and capsicum with hummus
- Add grated vegetables to mince-based dishes
- Use avocado instead of other spreads on your bread
- Add more than one lettuce leaf to your sandwich – pack it with grated carrot, red onion, tomato, sprouts and cucumber
- Add some grilled tomato or mushrooms as a side to eggs
2. Choose minimally processed foods
Replacing processed foods with wholefoods or minimally processed foods is another easy way to improve the nutritional quality of your diet. For example, instead of grabbing a nut bar for a snack, opt for a handful of raw nuts instead. You’ll be eating less sugar and less sodium and you’ll get all the goodness of healthy fats, protein, vitamins and minerals found in nuts.
Switch from refined grains such as white rice to brown rice, or from couscous to quinoa. These wholegrains provide B vitamins, magnesium and other vitamins and minerals that are not present in more refined grains.
3. Increase your food variety
We tend to be creatures of habit when it comes to food and eat the same things for breakfast and lunch, day in day out. An easy way to improve your diet is to add more variety. Because all foods have a different mix of nutrients, eating a wide variety of foods also means you increase your range of nutrients.
Are almonds your go-to nuts? Then try to mix it up with walnuts or mixed nuts. Do you normally eat apples? Try to include a range of different fruits. Only add a couple of vegetables to your sandwich? Think about adding some more.
Eating well doesn’t have to be complicated. These three simple steps are just a few ways you can move towards a more nutritionally balanced, varied diet.
Nicola Jackson is a NZ-registered nutritionist with a passion for helping people to develop a healthier relationship with food. Nicola’s blog Eat Well NZ tells you why you don’t need to quit foods, follow rules, or go to the extreme to be healthy. Her blog showcases a balanced approach to eating well, with plenty of healthy recipes and other tips on nutrition, fitness and wellness. You can also find Nicola on Facebook and Instagram.