Health tips to keep you feeling jolly in January

vegetables

vegetables - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

During the dark, grim days of January moods are often low due to crash diets and failing fitness plans. But is the real key to health and happiness variety? Richard Porritt investigates how to achieve the perfect, balanced diet.

Many pieces of sugar to sweeten it isloiert on a white background

Many pieces of sugar to sweeten it isloiert on a white background - Credit: Archant

By this time in January lots of good intentions have been forgotten, packed away like the Christmas decorations until 2017 looms.

Resolutions are often broken already because they are hard to achieve – making major changes is always best done in small chunks.

And many people make plans to lose weight or get healthy. Therefore what we eat has to be a focal point.

But that is the easy bit surely? Cut out carbohydrates and treats and prepare to be hungry for a while.

Red wine pour into glass isolated over white background

Red wine pour into glass isolated over white background - Credit: Archant

But scientists and nutritionists disagree. They claim the key to long-lasting happiness and health is about having a varied and balanced diet.

Sadly that doesn’t mean choosing a different topping on your pizza at supper from the one you had at lunch.

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What is a balanced diet?

Fresh raw sardines in a bowl

Fresh raw sardines in a bowl - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

There are endless diets out there – the Paelo, the 5:2, Atkins … but the one most experts think we should be striving for is the balanced diet.

In fact it is mentioned so often, by such a range of professionals from your GP to sports stars that it has taken on something of a mythical status.

But really it is quite simple – eat enough fruit and vegetables, aim for more lean protein and fish, eat the right carbs at the right times and enjoy treats in moderation.

What could be simpler? The problem the balanced diet faces is that unlike some other plans it does not promise to help you shed pounds quickly.

A isolated pilsner glass of beer

A isolated pilsner glass of beer - Credit: Archant

The latest Food Standards Agency report into the UK’s eating habits found that at any time 10% of people living in England are trying to lose weight.

The diet industry in the UK is worth more than £2 billion a year – and much of that money comes from people who lose weight only to gain it again.

Eating more variations and aiming to improve what you eat across the spectrum is not a fad but a long-term lifestyle choice.

And getting your diet right will increase your chances of keeping the weight off.

What do we have too much of?

The UK definitely has a sweet tooth.

Tooth decay in children and obesity levels in adults are just two indicators among a worrying plethora of alarm bells all pointing to the same thing – we consume too much sugar.

Guidelines suggest no more than 5% of the energy intake we need each day should come from added sugars – one can of fizzy pop would scupper this target.

And sugar is hiding in plenty of other places you might not even realise – white bread and salad dressing are notoriously high in the sweet stuff.

In fact many foods labelled ‘fat-free’ also pack an unhealthy punch with lots of sugar added to make a meal that would otherwise be rather bland palatable.

And there is also a lot of sugar in alcohol - gin, some wines and cider are the worst offenders.

But sugar is not the only problem associated with alcohol consumption.

New Government guidelines will recommend not drinking anything alcoholic for two days each week – in reality those wishing to achieve a healthier lifestyle should aim for far longer periods of abstinence.

There are many, well documented health issues linked to excessive alcohol consumption. But another, often less recognised, problem is the food choices people make while drinking.

For example – how many kebabs are sold on Monday mornings in comparison to Friday nights?

What do we need more of?

For some time now we have been told to eat five portions of fruit or vegetables each day – and experts agree it is a sound advice.

Some even think we should be aiming for more.

Fish is another food people sometimes struggle to fit into their diet – unless it comes with chips and mushy peas.

As a breakfast alternative to bacon and sausage, salmon is perfect. Scramble some eggs – another food we should eat more often – and serve on a wholemeal bagel with salmon.

Carbohydrates have become much-maligned in recent years as diet plan after diet plan has stripped them back. But the body needs carbs – they are the fuel that keeps our brains and bodies working.

Of course some carb sources are better than others – common sense is the tool to success. Instead of pasties and pies try brown rice and healthy pasta dishes.

The benefits?

The World Health Organisation states that a balanced diet can guard against diseases – including cancer – and contribute to an improved mental state.

The WHO’s official guidelines say a balanced diet can “protect the human body against certain types of diseases, in particular non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, some types of cancer and skeletal conditions”.

And Saxmundham-based fitness and diet expert Mary Skelcher agrees. She believes the key to overall good health is getting true balance in our diets.

“Variety across your diet is absolutely vital – any doctor or nutritionist will say the same thing,” she said.

“To live an active and healthy life we need to pay close attention to what we put inside our bodies.

“It does not have to be expensive to do either – it just means taking some time to plan meals and really thinking about what we are eating.”

For more information visit www.marysnutrition.com