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Tips for getting healthy in January

January 20, 2010

Is it an oxymoron to start getting healthy in January? Of course not- here are some timely tips to get started.

tip one: food

Learn to make meal-in-a-soup…  To see you through the coldest months providing warmth, plentiful nutrients, keep you feeling full and satisfied and minimise unhealthy snacking.  If you aren’t a confident cook, now’s a good time to experiment with soups and master this basic technique whether you favour blended or chunky soups.  Pulses work well in soups and are very good for us, particularly as they are a very low glycaemic index food, meaning they help to balance our blood sugar keeping us satisfied for longer.

When soup-making, almost anything goes – throw all kinds of bits and pieces in – that last piece of bacon, a carrot or two, some leeks, a handful of lentils, a can of tomatoes and you’ll soon have a full-on meal-in-a-bowl.  Traditional soups such as Italian ribollita (link) or French onion soup often have bread as part of the soup, or are served with bread.  This is a great choice if there are beans in the soup, as the beans and the grain in the bread complement each other to make a complete protein – wonderful for vegetarians.  If you don’t want to eat bread, the same effect can be achieved by with a handful of your favourite grain like barley, rice or quinoa along with the beans or lentils.  If you eat meat or fish, leave out the grains if you like, and achieve a delicious, satisfying soup using vegetables and a little meat such as chicken, turkey, bacon or ham – a great way to gradually use up those bits and pieces you may have stashed in the freezer after Christmas.

tip two: the great outdoors

Get some fresh air…  Many of you will have understandably avoided going out much in these treacherous winter conditions, but when a walk in the park isn’t likely to land you in casualty, it’s a good idea to get out and about as much as possible.  We all know that fresh air and a change of scenery makes us feel better, and we will feel even more satisfied coming in from the cold to a steaming hot bowl of homemade soup.

From April to October in the UK, getting outside every day provides us with a healthy dose of vitamin D, which our bodies cannot make without sunlight.  But during the winter months when the sun is not strong enough for vitamin D synthesis (and we are probably all wrapped up so our skin is not exposed), it is even more important to try and get some vitamin D in the diet.  Abundant sources of naturally occurring vitamin D are limited, but can be found in dairy products, eggs, meat and oily fish.  If you don’t eat many of the foods listed above, you may want to consider a supplement to keep bones healthy

 tip three: wellbeing

Do one thing each day that’s good for your body and mind…  In order to boost emotional wellbeing at (supposedly) the most depressing time of year, it is important to look after ourselves and respect our bodies.  Whether it’s eating a nutritious meal, starting a new skin care regime or getting some exercise, taking care of ourselves is guaranteed to make us feel better.

tip four: saving money

Healthier food doesn’t have to cost more.  Many supermarkets have offers on a variety of fruits and vegetables, making these more affordable than ever. Lots of delicious meals don’t cost the earth, and if we store, use and prepare foods resourcefully we can get maximise value.

  •  Buy locally and in season – an economical way to eat well for your body and the planet.  What’s in season? (hyperlink to later section)
  • Cook seasonal vegetables into soups, curries, pasta sauces, stews, casseroles and dishes like mousakka, then freeze in portions – this will save time and help you resist the temptation of processed foods.  Cooking foods in bulk like mince made into different meals like bolonese, chilli or a base for cottage pie, then freezing in smaller portions saves time and money.
  • Buy dried pulses and cook in a pressure cooker if you have one – a great and low cost way of incorporating more fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals into your diet.
  • It can be economical to buy certain foods in bulk, as long as you store them well.  Onions, potatoes and garlic as well as dried foods such as grains and pulses will usually cost less in bulk.  You may even be lucky enough to find a food co-op near you, which sells good quality organic produce at minimal cost, making healthy eating easy.
  • Remember, when you take a trip to the supermarket that you don’t need to buy everything!  Research has shown that most of us are buying enough for at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, but funnily enough, buying broccoli doesn’t have the same nutritional benefit as eating it!  It is important to eat a variety of foods to provide a good range of nutrients, but this can be achieved by planning meals more carefully and buying a small selection of fresh vegetables that will complement each other and will work in different dishes.
  • If you eat meat or fish, remember that quality rather than quantity is key.  Most of us eat more protein than our bodies require, so we can afford to buy good quality meat in smaller amounts from butchers, supermarkets or farm shops, choosing the right amount for specific meals.  Minimising waste as much as possible will obviously save us money too.
  • Make your meat go further by buying:
    Whole chickens, chicken thighs, stewing beef, or minced turkey can be a healthier, leaner option than minced beef (make sure it is lean).
    Poultry with the skin on is often cheaper than skinless cuts, so remove the skin yourself at home.
    Make stocks from chicken carcasses or ask your butcher for wings or other meat bones for stock – they often cost very little.
  • Don’t buy pre-packaged veg!  It is always cheaper to buy loose fruit and vegetables then trim or wash them yourself, and the waste in terms of packaging will be minimal too.  Some vegetables, such as carrots are also more nutritious with the skin on.
  • Shop around and find out whether your local greengrocer or market stall has better quality and value than the supermarket.  Find out when your nearest Farmer’s market is on, you’ll be in for a treat and pleasantly surprised by what’s on offer – and you’ll be supporting local producers that can inform you exactly where your purchase’s are from.
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