There is an opportunity cost that comes from food conveniences. Often the more processed foods are the more nutrient losses that food will sustain. Nutrient loss to our bank balance of health combined with the metabolic (blood sugar) consequences of poor food choices are a recipe for disaster.
Here’s 10 ways to improve your metabolic health by adding nutrient dense foods to your daily diet.
#1 Choose Olive Oil over seed and vegetable oils.
Olive oil is a superior choice when it comes to oils for cooking. Yes, it can be more expensive on a litre for litre comparison, however, the health benefits of Olive Oil are well documented. Olive oil forms a key element of the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet.
Olives are a rich source of quality monounsaturated fats (oleic acid 50-70%), saturated fats (SFAs 12-18%) and essential polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs – linoleic acid (omega-6, 11-26%) and linolenic acid (omega-3, approx. 1%). Olives and olive oil products also contain antioxidants known as polyphenols as well as being a source of vitamin E and carotenoids.
Want to learn more about the health benefits of Olive Oil? The Olive Wellness Podcast by the Olive Wellness Institute is a wonderful resource.
#2 Choose Organic Butter over spreadable butters and margarine spreads
Have you ever wondered if spreadable ‘butters’ are worth the convenience? At roughly the same dollar value to purchase, what are the nutritional differences?
A spreadable butter is just butter blended with up to 30% of canola (or vegetable) oil which allows it to be less solid in cooler temperatures (ie. straight from the fridge). A typical ingredient listing may look like this;
Butter (65%), Canola oil (29%), water, salt (occasionally with added vitamins, like Vitamin D).
Whereas when you choose a high quality, grass-fed, organic butter the ingredient listing is far more modest; simply organic cream and salt. That’s it.
Organic butter is a naturally rich source of dietary fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. By choosing an organic, grass-fed butter, you’re selecting a premium source with the highest concentrations of these important nutrients, created just the way nature intended. Much like humans, when dairy animals eat a superior, natural diet, the nutritional composition of their milk products is superior in quality.
The ingredients listing in margarine spreads is a much longer list with a typical ingredient profile looking like this;
Vegetable oils 60% (containing 48% canola oil, full hydrogenated palm oil), water, salt, emulsifiers (E471, E322 (from soy)), milk solids, preservative (E202), acidity regulator (E270), natural colour (E160a (iv)), vitamins A & D, natural flavour.
Margarine production takes a lot of processing to produce it and it contained a lot of numbers (preservatives, colours etc). They also have to artificially add the nutrients that would normally be found in natural butter (Like vitamin A and D) in. In this way it’s easy to see that natural butter, is by far the superior choice.
TIP: If you need your butter to be spreadable from the fridge, try blending it with a little extra virgin olive oil and refer back to point #1 about all the health benefits of olive oil.
#3 Focus on Adding Protein and Vegetables to Your Breakfast.
Cereals and toast are a breakfast borne of speed and convenience. Focussing on ways to incorporate protein with, or before cereal and toast, actually can have a pretty significant impact on your blood sugar. Without any protein as part of your daily cereal and toast habits, over time, you’re going to wear down your insulin response and this can have long-term metabolic consequences.
Change the trajectory of your long-term health outcomes by giving your breakfast a daily nutritional boost. Adding protein into your breakfast prevents your blood sugar from having a spike, followed by a crash and sustains your blood glucose for longer. This means you will feel satisfied for much longer and be less likely to be looking for snacks before your next meal.
If you’re worried about the extra time this may take in the morning, you actually don’t even have to give up cereal or toast for this to work.
Some great ideas include:
- Sprinkle your toast with some nuts or seeds (slithered almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds are yummy on toast!)
- Switch to a nut butter, like almond spread instead of sugary jams
- Have an egg alongside your cereal or toast
- Toast with avocado and tomato or sprouts
- Boiled eggs with dipping toast
- Blend some protein powder into the liquid you add to your cereal
Of course, if you can cook a higher protein breakfast, it’s worthwhile. One of the fastest ways to have a quick protein hit at breakfast is to have all your add-ins pre-chopped in the fridge and then whip up a quick omelete with a range of ingredients – such as – leftover meats or vegetables from last night’s dinner, capsicum, cheese, ham, tomato, onion etc.
#4 Ditch Soft Drinks for Good!
There’s no nutritional value obtained from soft drinks and science is showing that sugar-free soft drinks are not a ‘healthier’ choice either, as the artificial sweeteners in them can actually alter your microbiome!
So if you’re craving a fizzy hit – what can you do instead?
Sparkling water can be a great alternative, if you miss the flavour of your favourite fizzy beverage, experiment with adding coconut water, fruity teas, blended fruit or a squeeze of lemon or lime, or a splash of apple cider vinegar! All of these will build your hydration status, rather than subtract from it.
#5 Cut Down the Dairy
Most of us consume dairy milk products daily – often in cereal or our daily cuppa. This can quickly add up to ½ – 1L of milk or more consumed per person, per day. (Even more again if you’re also using it in milkshakes or smoothies).
What many people may not realise is that dairy could be affecting their health. The fundamental purpose of milk is to feed infant humans and animals enabling them to grow to more than double their birth size in a short amount of time. The ongoing consumption of milk has been raised as a potential metabolic disruptor when consumed into adulthood. Virtually all children have the ability to digest lactose, a necessity to derive benefit from mothers’ milk however, by adulthood only about 35% of the population have the ability to continue to digest lactose efficiently.
There are many alternatives to try over milk. Depending on your medium of consumption, varying your choice in place of milk gives you the opportunity to experience a wider range of nutrients. Try a dollop cream in your coffee, or ‘bulletproof style’ with coconut oil or ghee. You could try mixing coconut water in your cereals or smoothies, or try nut milks and soy milks. When it comes to your coffee, try to get used to enjoying it black, which is where the true health benefits can be found.
#6 But first, coffee
Who lives by this cheeky little motto? If you usually start your day with a coffee, try committing to 2-4 weeks choosing food, BEFORE the coffee.
That’s right, eat breakfast first. Most people find that this one simple change results in less coffee/stimulating beverage consumption throughout the day and more balanced moods and cravings – making better health choices easier for the rest of the day.
Don’t take our word for it though. Try it for yourself!
#7 Three Vegetables Per Meal
Something as simple as selecting meals with at least three vegetable sources at every meal will help you meet your daily nutritional needs for many vitamins and minerals, but also help to provide your microbiome with the fibre they love to grow healthy and strong.
Vegetable consumption can be a huge predictor of long-term health outcomes. Make vegetables a priority every day, ideally at every meal. Choose from a variety of colours to maximise your antioxidant exposure. As a general rule of thumb, vegetables capable of staining your fingertips are often some of the highest in antioxidants – think carrots and capsicum!
#8 Switch Out White Rice or Pasta
You could add a whole extra cup of vegetables to your day by making your weekly spag bol with vegetables instead of pasta and switching to cauliflower rice on stir fry night!
If you haven’t tried making curly ‘zoodles’ made from zucchini or carrot, give it a try! You might be surprised how lovely the texture is. And, it takes seconds to cook – so you’ll spend less time slaving over a hot stove!
If you’re not into zucchini noodles, another personal favourite is steamed broccoli or cauliflower cut into small florets and drenched in bolognaise sauce. Super delicious, and adding more brassica vegetables to your day powers up your antioxidant enzymes; glutathione, superoxide dismutaste and catalse.
If brown rice isn’t your cup of tea – try making a 50:50 blend of white and brown rice. The benefits to your wholegrain consumption, fibre intake and blood sugar response won’t be as marked as brown rice alone, but it will still support the body better than a bowl of plain white rice.
#9 Plan Ahead to Put An End to Sugary Snack Bars
Museli bars and other portable snack bars or items are usually a good source of hidden sugars, preservatives and unhealthy fats.
Plan ahead and keep some healthy snacks on hand to reach for when the cravings hit.
Try these ideas:
- pre-made greek yoghurt, berry and chia seed pots in the fridge
- a batch of vegetable-loaded frittata to heat and eat
- make a big batch of yoghurt/dark chocolate/nut/berry bark and stash it in the freezer for when the cravings hit
Or one of natures best snacks has got to be the humble apple. Apples, when eaten whole, have a range of nutrients and importantly fibre – which helps keep sugar cravings in check and again, fuel that microbiome we want to nurture.
#10 Stock the Spice Cabinet
Here’s another dietary addition to your diet, where you don’t have to swap, switch or take something away. Herbs and spices are some of the richest sources of plant polyphenols. Adding them to your regular meals has the ability to add antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
One study exploring the benefits of adding herbs and spices to foods and published in 2005 in the British Journal of Nutrition, found that the impact of increasing the number and variety of vegetables to a salad impacted nutrient density and antioxidant capacity, but interestingly when herbs were added to that salad, the antioxidant capacity of the salad increased exponentially.
So spice up your meals with herbs and spices. Add cinnamon, turmeric and honey to your dressings, sprinkle rosemary on your meat as you barbeque it and add some mint leaves into a summer salad to give it a hit of flavour. Herbs and spices are concentrated nutrient powerhouses – experiment with them in your cooking to jazz up some existing dishes and give them a new spin.
Making healthier food choices doesn’t always have to be about deprivation. Have fun with changing things up and planning variety into your meals.
- Marengo K. What are the benefits of grass-fed butter? Medical News Today. June 2019.
- Suez J, et al. Personalized microbiome-driven effects of non-nutritive sweeteners on human glucose tolerance. Cell. 2022 Sep 1;185(18):3307-3328
- Lukito, W. Malik, S. Surono I, et al. From ‘lactose intolerence’ to ‘lactose nutrition’. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2015;24(1):1-8.
- Ninfali P, et al. Antioxidant capacity of vegetables, spices and dressings relevant to nutrition. Br J Nutr. 2005 Feb;93(2):257-66.
- Archibald A. Herbs and Spices: The Secret Weapon of Genomics. April 2020.