How I made small changes to live healthier

  1. Made a conscious effort to reduce my sugar in take

Before I began my own journey to health, I used to be someone who could eat cupcakes covered in icing or a white T.V. bar daily between lectures. As the years proceeded I came to realise I was fuelling my body with poison. How could I study pathology, diagnostics and nutrition, understanding that so many diseases start with sugar and continue eating the way I was? I made a conscious effort to reduce my sugar in take. It was difficult at first because physiologically when your body is used to having sugar, it craves it. That’s due to the spikes and dips in your hormone called insulin. But I pushed through. I started with reducing the sugar I took in my tea. From 2, to 1 ½ to 1 to ½ to zero. This of course took a couple months. Remember it’s a gradual process. As you gradually reduce your sugar in take, your palate changes. Eventually you will want less and less of the stuff. In fact, you may even feel sick eating certain high sugar foods you once did. In saying that, I don’t believe in ‘cheat days’ or restricting yourself. A cheat day implies you are breaking the rules and your diet must be a strict regime. It shouldn’t be. The food you eat should nourish your body and your relationship with food must be a good one. If you want that piece of decadent chocolate cake, have it. Everything in moderation, so once in a while is fine. No guilt attached. If you are eating healthy, nutrient dense food 80 – 90% of the time what do you have to feel guilty for anyway.

2. Read food labels

Don’t be fooled by good marketing. A lot of so-called ‘health’ products out there are anything but. I got in the habit of reading food and product labels well before I started grocery shopping for my own household. Don’t see it as a tedious practice because once you know if a product falls into a ‘naughty’ or ‘nice’ list then shopping is effortless. You’ll be surprised how many products you think are healthy, are not. For example there is a cracker in particular that many of my patients opt for instead of bread. They eat 3 to 4 of these tiny cardboard planks assuming it is a better option. Here are some of the ingredients amongst other things Wholewheat flour (63%), (gluten). Wheat flour (gluten), unhydrogenated vegetable oil (palm fruit), butter (milk), golden syrup, glucose syrup (preservative (sodium metabisulphite)), whey powder (milk), salt, malt extract (barley (gluten)), raising agents (sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate), yeast, emulsifier (E322 (soya)), proteolytic enzyme.

Try to avoid things like vegetable oils (as these are highly processed in these products), preservatives, raising agents, colourants, artificial flavours etc. Basically anything artificial that your body doesn’t identify as food. Two other ingredients above I’d like to highlight is the golden syrup and glucose syrup. I have had many patients tell me they are trying to lose weight or was given a meal plan that said they should have these crackers instead of bread. If we do a quick comparison, your standard commercial white bread has 42g per 100g of carbs and 2.3g per 100g of sugar. The popular cracker has 58g per 100g of carbs and 7.0g per 100g of sugar. That’s a huge difference! The point I’m trying to make is don’t fall for clever marketing and front branding of products. Pick it up and read the fine print. Compare the nutritional information.

3.Butter & coconut oil over margarine & sunflower oil

For a long time unsaturated fat was believed to be the better option compared to saturated fat. So what’s the difference? I will explain in detail in a blog post soon. A quick explanation is that saturated fats contain only saturated fatty acids (the molecules that make up a fat) and are solid at room temperature. Whereas unsaturated fats are made up of unsaturated fatty acids and are liquid at room temperature. To prevent unsaturated fats from going rancid and allowing them to be solid at room temperature, in the case of margarine, they need to go through quite a few chemical processes namely hydrogenation (a by-product is trans fat, which because of its chemical structure, leads to the plaque formation in arteries leading to blockages = heart attack) or interesterification which is a more recent process without the formation of any trans fats. In addition to hydrogenation or interesterified vegetable oils, margarine contains several food additives including emulsifiers and colourants. Vegetable oils contain a higher concentration of omega 6 which promote inflammation whereas fats from nuts, seeds and coconut contain omega 3 which is anti-inflammatory (a discussion on inflammation needs its own blog post which I will post up soon). Like with many things, there is the good and the bad. This applies to fats as well. The danger comes in when you are consuming a high fat diet (even the good fats) with a high sugar diet. This is what leads to heart disease, obesity, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Bottom line – So as for butter vs margarine, I trust cows more than chemists.

4. Opted for natural whole foods instead of processed

One of the main points I’d like to stress is that I focus a lot of attention on are the processes various foods go through to achieve an end product. As these processes influence the way our body identifies, breaks down and absorbs these foods. Some dieticians will argue that raw honey and refined white sugar are essentially the same because they both breakdown into glucose in the body and stored as fat if not utilised. Sugar is sugar right? But as a homeopath, I look at the whole picture. Why would I not choose a raw, nutrient dense, natural superfood like honey over highly processed chemical laden refined white sugar?? Personally, the manufacturing process is just as important. The closer to nature any food is the better. Eating healthier can be easy if you look at the plate in front of you and ask yourself “Are the items here whole natural foods or are they processed?” An example I often give my patients is a comparison of two fast food outlets. Rather go for the chicken burger that’s flamed grilled (not deep fried in vegetable oil) and you can actually see a piece of chicken instead of a chicken burger with a processed patty. Another hot topic for discussion is the cereal aisle. Yes. I have this conversation with almost every patient. Eating a processed high carbohydrate for breakfast in a bowl of milk is the way to start your day if you want to spike your insulin, gain weight and get little to no nutrients. This idea of high fibre and fortified with vitamins again is clever marketing. Pick up that box and read the ingredients. The only item I would opt for and recommend is your standard Jungle oats (not the instant kind – in fact anything instant is a no no) or good old fashioned rolled oats.

Summary:

  • Make a conscious effort to reduce sugar
  • Read food labels. Google an ingredient if you don’t know what it is. I’m pretty sure if you don’t know what it, your body won’t know either.
  • Compare nutritional information of similar items to see which is the better option.
  • Opt for whole natural foods. Avoid anything artificial or processed.

These tips don’t require you joining a gym, following a meal plan or extra time in your day. They are small adjustments you can make to your current lifestyle to live healthier. Some say being healthy is expensive. But in my opinion, being sick is more.

Yours in health

Dr. Tharushka Naidoo

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