Many moons ago as a freewheeling teenager, it had never dawned on me that my nutrition, the amount of calories, fat and sugar I consumed was ever of considerable importance.
As I approach my mid-twenties, I cannot help but notice how my body has changed in response to my diet and physical activity (of lack thereof) as compared to my younger years. Make no mistake, I would love to have the metabolism of an active 14 year-old, but these days – and for practical reasons – having good nutrition goes way beyond looking good and staying slim.
I have been on a health conscious journey for a while now, although with periods of highs and lows as I try to strike a balance between eating healthily and not depriving myself. Also as a health science student, I have been exposed to greater awareness regarding modifiable health conditions. It is important to start healthy habits right from your own home!
This year, Circuit Breaker and my home-based learning have given me the gift of time to explore something which I have put off for months now – Healthier eating and lowering my sugar intake! My focus this time was not to eliminate unhealthy food altogether but to start small by swapping out sugar-laden everyday foods for more nutritious staples.
My brother, also my non-certified personal nutritionist who accompanies me for runs to the supermarket, guides me on healthy alternatives when picking out my groceries.
Here are some simple ways in which I am swapping out the not-so-healthy, or presumably healthy, with better and more nutritious home foods.
#1 Peanut Butter
Don’t we all love creamy, spreadable, old school peanut butter? It is a staple in my breakfast but most commercial peanut butter spreads contain additives like sugar, salt and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils which offer extra calories and contribute to unwanted health risks.
The rule of thumb is to select peanut butter which contains the least number of ingredients – and it should generally only contain peanuts.
I have since converted to single-ingredient only peanut butter! The spread seems more watery with the oils suspended. Stir it up before eating and you’re good to go!
Gone are the days where I spend an absurd amount of time selecting my favourite yogurt flavour. Fruit-flavoured yogurt is typically very high in sugar, although ‘0% fat’ or ‘low fat’ on the packaging may fool us into thinking that it is actually healthy. These terms might be overcompensating in another area such as sugar.
Unbeknownst to you is the amount of artificial sweeteners and additives that go into them to enhance their flavour, on top of natural sweetness from the fruit.
Beware of marketing strategies on the packaging that distract us from the nutritional content! It is best to check the nutritional labels and compare them amongst different brands.
Plain and greek yogurt is way healthier but it took some getting used to at the beginning; I had to saturate it with a ton of fruits to disguise its taste. But eventually, unsweetened yogurt managed to make its way to my heart, and fridge!
#3 Fruit juice
Although many people are using fruit juice as a healthier substitute for carbonated drinks, it is not nutritionally equivalent to eating a fruit itself, whether it is freshly squeezed or from a juicebox. Did you know that cup of orange juice you are drinking contains at least three oranges? To think that most people would only eat one full orange at a time! Check out thekitchn.com for more information on other fruits.
Also with most of its fibre removed, even without ‘added sugar’, juices are bound to cause a spike in blood sugar levels as fructose gets absorbed quickly into our body without dietary fibre to slow it down. Furthermore, drinking juice means most of the fruit’s skin and pulp that makes it significantly healthier is removed. What a waste. =(
For a less sugary option, I infuse my water with fruits to give it a more refreshing taste. I enjoy a good iced tea (sans sugar) too!
#4 Granola bars
They are popular as a convenient, healthy snack or breakfast on-the-go. Some granola bars do contain the nutrients they claim, but at the same time they contain high amounts of sugar as they are laced with sweet syrup or honey to ensure the ingredients are stuck together. Furthermore, when granola bars are doused in chocolate or yogurt, in addition to dried fruit and chocolate chips added in, it really ramps up the sugar content!
With that said, I don’t reach out for granola bars at the supermarket anymore. I go for a pack of roasted, unsalted nuts instead – way healthier than granola bars and it is easy to carry them around as well.
#5 Breakfast cereals
A bowl of cereal in the morning has been my form of comfort food for the longest time before I start my day. Truth be told, I was a little unwilling to swap out my favourite Honey Bunches of Oats for something plain and less pleasant for the palate. But a little scrutiny on the nutrition labels managed to nudge me to the direction of healthier, less sugary cereals.
Credit: Jennifer Dery on Pinterest
Cheerios has been my go-to for now, albeit not the healthiest.
#6 Sports drinks
Sports drinks are often marketed as a healthy drink to replenish electrolytes and fluids after exercise, but with the amount of sugar it contains, shouldn’t we think twice?
Some sports drinks are recommended after extended and strenuous exercise that lasts more than an hour. For most of us who do regular, low to medium intensity exercise, it would just be counterproductive to be replacing fluids with high amounts of calories. It is just not necessary no matter what the packaging says!
I have since learnt to kick the habit of drinking a can of 100Plus post workout. A bottle of refrigerated water does the job! Save your money and drink water. =)
We all are a work in progress but I hope this post will inspire you to take the first baby step towards a healthier and more conscious way of eating! A quote by Oscar Wilde which I strongly relate to with regards to diet: Everything in moderation, including moderation.
This article is brought to you by Hazel, an undergraduate from University of Newcastle Australia who is currently interning at SNCF (August to November 2020). She is an earl grey enthusiast, caffeine addict, avid reader and passionate about all things health and lifestyle related.