Being ‘healthy’ can be overwhelming. We are bombarded with falsehoods, fear-mongering and conflicting ideals from the diet ‘experts’. Culture Trip is here to reassure you that gluten is not the devil (unless you are actually wheat-intolerant or coeliac), and there is no such thing as clean and dirty foods. What is healthy for some people might not be healthy for you. Check out Culture Trip’s 30-Day Health Challenge, and explore minor daily changes to create positive steps towards a healthy way of life.
1. Chew each mouthful 30 times
Digestion starts in the mouth. Amylase is the first digestive enzyme your food comes across, and it’s made in the salivary glands and the pancreas. To get this enzyme going, chew at least 30 times per mouthful. This will help slow your intake down, and will make food easier to digest once it reaches your stomach and beyond.
2. Don’t eat after 7pm
You need food to convert calories into energy, but if you’re just going to bed, there is no need to eat a lot when you have nowhere to burn the energy. You’ll also find sleeping easier because your digestive tract won’t be active.
3. Eat vegetables with every meal
This tip is pretty self-explanatory! Vegetables are both low-fat and nutrient-rich. Make sure you get at least five a day. A salad is an easy way to get your suggested recommended portions.
4. Cook at home
When you cook at home, you control exactly what goes into your food. You’ll also increase your knowledge of food and cooking skills, save money, and feel the satisfaction of creating something while you can enjoy with family or friends.
5. Focus on your posture
Tune in to your body and be aware of how you’re sitting or standing today. Proper postural alignment puts less stress on the body, and reduces fatigue levels as well as the strain on your spine.
6. Laugh and smile
Forcing a laugh or a smile has been scientifically proven to help reduce stress. So beam throughout the day, and keep faking it till you make it!
7. Take the stairs
Swap out using any elevators and escalators you may encounter and let your legs do the work instead. Getting your heart rate pumping even slightly above normal releases endorphins.
8. Walk to work
Or cycle, or run if you’re feeling adventurous. You’ll be able to appreciate surroundings you might miss on your regular commute, discover new places you haven’t seen before and get some exercise while you’re at it.
9. Get 8 hours’ sleep
When you’ve missed out on sleep, you’ll find it harder to concentrate, your mood with deplete, and your problem solving skills with decrease. When you’re sleeping your damaged cells heal, you recharge your cardiovascular system, and it keeps your metabolism at the correct place.
A good stretch when you wake up is the perfect way to start the day. It loosens tight muscles and increases blood flow, which help your body relax. Plus, a flexible, well-stretched muscle is far less likely to become injured.
11. Avoid salt
Salt makes your body retain fluids, and too much salt raises your blood pressure. Avoid adding any extra salt to your food, and be aware of sodium levels already added to what you’re eating (for example, the extra sodium in cured meats, cheeses and some seafood). Nutritionists recommend a maximum of 2.4g (0.1 tbsp.) sodium per day, which is equal to 6g (0.3 tbsp.) salt.
12. Avoid foods with refined, hidden or added sugars
Too much sugar can cause metabolic dysfunction, weight gain and high blood pressure. Refined sugar is ’empty calories’ – it contains no nutritional value whatsoever. Many packaged or processed foods – especially in the US – contain sugar as one of the prime ingredients; it’s even added to some ‘healthy’ foods like soups, gravies and salad dressings. Always read the label to see if sugar (or fructose, a kind of sugar) is one of the ingredients. Be mindful of hidden sugars, too: fruit juice may sound like a healthy option, but it is loaded with fructose and lacks the fibre that makes fruit good for you in the first place.
13. Drink water all day
Our bodies are made up of 60% water, so keeping hydrated is key to them functioning properly. Plus, drinking water is good for your skin as it flushes out waste and helps keep you hydrated (unlike tea, coffee and alcohol, which are diuretics and cause dehydration). It is recommended to drink 1ml (0.2 tsp.) of water per calorie you eat, so if you eat 2,000 calories, you should also be drinking 2 litres (8.3 cups) of water per day.
14. Eat what your body is asking for
Are you craving cheese? Got a hankering for bacon? If you are craving a certain type of food, it could be a sign your body is asking for nutrients it is deficient in. For example, craving red meat could mean you have an iron deficiency; a hankering for cheese could mean you may not be getting enough calcium.
15. Eat 6 small meals instead of 3 large ones
The claim is that frequent snacking (as long as it’s healthy), keeps your metabolism going at an even pace, staves off hunger and controls the blood sugars. It will also be much easier to digest, so you should feel less lethargic after each meal.
16. Find a supplement you might be lacking
Take a trip to a health store or pharmacy and pick their brains over which supplements are popular. Tell them any ailments you have, whether it’s fatigue, flaky nails or acne-prone skin, and let them help you find a vitamin to improve your health in that area.
17. Stop weighing yourself
Muscle is heavier than fat, and weight is not always an indication of good health. So step off those scales and step onto the streets and pound those pavements.
Don’t deprive yourself of anything uselessly. There is no such thing as ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’ foods when it comes to diet. Give yourself a break, make your fries a large order and enjoy that second helping of ice cream. And, most importantly, don’t feel guilty about it!
19. Avoid saturated fat for a day
Fat is good for you, and essential for the functioning of the body. However, when it it is saturated fat (the kind of fat found in animal products such as meat and dairy) or trans fat (imitation animal fat made with hydrogen atoms and vegetable oils that is added to food to give it a longer shelf life), it leads to increased cholesterol in the blood. You can find fats that maintain healthy cholesterol levels in vegetable oils such as olive, rapeseed and sunflower, and in natural foods such as avocados, fish, nuts and seeds.
20. Drink herbal tea instead of coffee
Although coffee has many health benefits, we’re all familiar with the jittery restlessness and irritability it can cause. Swap out your cup of joe with a herbal tea, such as green tea, which gives you a small caffeine boost and creates a gentler, more steady source of stimulation.
21. Try a new exercise
We’re 17 years into the 21st century, and exercise classes are getting more and more niche. From the better-known salsa and pole-dancing lessons to newfangled offerings doga (yoga with your dog), ravercise (an energetic rave without the drugs) and hula-hoop, there is no excuse not to find a type of exercise you enjoy.
22. Buy a herb plant
Buy a plant you can use in your cooking, such as basil, mint or parsley. It will nourish you and improve the quality of the air.
23. Avoid processed food
If it didn’t come out of the ground looking like that, give it a miss. Pre-made, pre-packaged foods contain lots of added sugars, salts and fats.
24. Use an SPF
Even if it’s cloudy, the sun’s harmful UV rays can still damage your skin, so make sure you cream up! Top tip: many moisturisers and foundations already contain SPF.
25. Take a cold shower
One for the brave! A cold shower increases alertness, refines hair and skin, improves circulation and can help relieve depression.
26. Make your own granola
Having fasted all night, it is important to eat to fuel your body with energy for the day in the morning. A total of 31 million Americans skip breakfast each day, so it helps if you have something quick and healthy prepared in advance. Get creative with oats, honey, nuts, dried fruit and spices such as cinnamon.
27. Eat until you’re satisfied, not full
Feeling full is the result of your brain reacting to chemicals released when you put food or drink in your stomach. Your brain takes around 20 minutes to register these chemicals, so eat slowly and expect to feel even fuller for up to 30 minutes after you stop eating!
28. Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry
If you shop when you’re hungry, you’ll make unhealthy choices. Research has shown that grocery shopping when hungry means you will select higher-calorie foods and quick sugar fixes.
29. Eat wholegrain carbs
Wholegrain carbs are absorbed slower into the bloodstream, meaning spikes in blood sugar levels are avoided. Avoid refined, processed carbs such as white rice, pasta and bread.
30. Eat with pleasure!
Enjoy your food. It’s there to nourish you, and to enrich your life and body – it’s not your enemy. Mealtimes shouldn’t be a battle, but a celebration.
If you enjoyed this challenge, check out 10 Easy Health Tweaks Everybody Should Make by Heath & Wellness Editor Esme Benjamin.