Want to improve your health? Incorporate one health swap at a time.
Extreme makeovers make for exciting reality television, but they’re hardly practical or sustainable in real life. Try these quick health swaps instead. They’re simple but not inconsequential, adding up to big enhancements to our health, well-being, and ability to live life to the fullest.
Start with conscious dinnerware choices
How our eyes see our food plays a significant role in hunger and meal satisfaction, according to research. For example, bigger plates encourage us to put more food onto the plate, and we in turn end up eating more—even if less food would have satisfied our appetite. This is big news for those of us watching our diet. Simply using a 10 in (25 cm) plate instead of a 12 in (30 cm) plate could help us reduce our calorie intake by 22 percent.
Pay attention to dinnerware colour, too. In another study, scientists found that plates with high colour contrast between the plate and the food on the plate—think red chili stew in a white bowl—encourages us to eat less. Low colour contrast between the dish and the food encourages us to eat more.
Support your local farmers’ market
Head to a farmers’ market instead of an ordinary grocery store. Research shows that farmers’ markets offer fresher, less processed, and more nutritious food. Local produce is not only good for the body, but also good for the planet.
Eating local reduces food’s already extensive carbon footprint—the average Canadian’s meal travels 745 miles (1,200 km) from the farm to our home. It’s even healthy for our local community’s economy. For example, farmers’ markets in BC add more than $170 million in annual economic benefits to the province.
Stand up while you work
In a University of Minnesota study, researchers found that people who stand at their desks burn significantly more calories than those who just sit. “It takes more energy than you think to hold yourself up,” explains certified personal trainer Henry Halse.
“While it still doesn’t count as intense exercise, you are doing it for eight or nine hours per day and that adds up over time. With the increasing popularity of standing desks, there is really not much of an excuse to be sitting down at work.”
Ditch the sugary drinks
In the Canadian beverage market, sales data show that soft drinks are almost tied with coffee as our beverage of choice. The Canadian Sugar Institute estimates that Canadians consume more than 1 3/4 oz (50 g) of added sugar every day, and a lot of that comes from fizzy, sweet soda.
Drinking just one sugary drink a day increases the risk of heart attacks in men by 20 percent, raises our risk of type 2 diabetes by 26 percent, increases the risk of gout in women by 75 percent, and causes an extra pound of weight gain every four years. Switch from soft drinks to sparkling water to get your fizzy fix. Or, try green tea, which may help boost metabolism and burn fat.
Clear the air with plants
Did you know that many air freshener products sold in Canadian stores contain nerve-deadening chemicals that keep our sense of smell from working properly? The average air freshener releases dozens of toxins, but manufacturers don’t need to list them on the label.
Ditch air fresheners and try Mother Nature’s alternative: live houseplants. Plants filter chemicals out of the air through their roots and foliage, adding life and oxygen to a room. For example, dwarf palm trees work well for removing airborne formaldehyde, while spider plants are excellent at filtering out carbon monoxide.
Take another look at grains
Whole grains may reduce asthma risks, reduce cancer risks, and improve healthy weight maintenance, among many other benefits. But those benefits vanish once grains get highly refined and processed.
When shopping, always choose the organic whole grain version of any breads, cereals, crackers, and other foods. Case in point: substituting brown rice for white rice in a study reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by 16 percent.
Aim for high intensity cardio
You don’t need to spend hours in the gym. Trade your long cardio workout for short-and-sweet high intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT is simple: just alternate high intensity cardio with bouts of low intensity cardio.
For example, after warming up, do 30 seconds of sprinting then 30 seconds of walking. Repeat eight times. Compared to traditional cardio, HIIT burns more fat, trains your body to recover faster, ramps up the release of healthy hormones, and saves you a lot of time.
Eat the real deal
Health Canada’s food guide currently equates 1/2 cup (125 mL) of fruit juice with a single serving of fruit, but if we take that at face value, we’re missing out. Swap that fruit juice for the whole fruit instead.
This simple switch increases fibre, ramps up vitamin and antioxidant intake, and reduces calories. For example, eating an apple instead of drinking the equivalent apple juice saves us almost 60 calories while increasing our dietary fibre by more than 30 percent.
Go dark at night
Approximately one in seven Canadians have problems sleeping. “Swap watching late-night TV for sleep,” suggests Carol Michaels, an award-winning personal trainer.
In fact, ditch any type of electronics usage—smartphones, tablets, MP3 players, and more—for reading a book or similar low-light activities. The glow from electronics disrupts the body’s biological clock. “Lack of sleep triggers a number of hormones that influence cravings and a tendency for weight gain,” warns Michaels.
Butt out the butter
Instead of smearing butter or trans fat-rich margarine on bread, switch them out for a healthier spread.
Try avocado. It tastes rich and satisfying, but in a 3 1/2 oz (100 g) serving compared to butter, avocado saves you more than 550 calories and more than 60 g of fat. Plus, much of this fat is heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Other bread spread alternatives include hummus and Greek yogurt. a
Joshua Duvauchelle swapped out jogging for HIIT and has never looked back.