4 healthy habits to start doing now

We all want to live a healthy life free from illness and disease, and are constantly looking for the secret to making this happen. The truth is though, that there is no secret pill to good health. Good health is achieved by: eating a diet filled with real food including ample fruit and vegetables, getting regular and varied physical activity, using our brains and having stimulating conversations, getting adequate sleep, drinking enough water, and choosing to be happy and enjoy our lives, which also means enjoying the foods that we are eating.

Changes towards a healthier life can often seem daunting, especially when we've been living a certain way for so many years and changing an ingrained habit is hard. There is good news though, and this is that you don't have to try and do everything at once. Sure, living off green smoothies and doing yoga for 2 hours a day might seem like an amazing idea for the first week or two, but chances are you won't stick to it and before you know it you'll be back to your old lifestyle, with the attitude that being healthy is all too hard. The best approach to living a healthier lifestyle is to make small positive changes, which will build up the momentum needed to make the bigger changes towards your health goals. Below are 4 healthy changes you can implement straight away.   

1- Place your mushrooms in sunlight to enhance your vitamin D consumption. When mushrooms are exposed to the sun, they naturally generate vitamin D. We know vitamin D plays an essential role in human health, including helping to maintain healthy bones. Leaving your mushrooms in the midday sun for an hour or so can produce enough vitamin D to meet your daily requirements (per 100g serve). With nearly a third of Australian's over the age of 25 being affected by vitamin D deficiency, this is an easy and cheap way to ensure your vitamin D needs are being met. 

2- Swap your sandwich loaf for a sourdough made with rye or whole grains. Wholegrain breads are higher in fibre and nutrients than refined breads, such as white and even wholemeal bread. Furthermore, the lactobacillus used in the fermentation process involved in making sourdough bread lowers the glycemic index (GI) of the bread, meaning that you will have a steady increase in blood sugar instead of a spike. These breads are also denser and more filling than sandwich loaves, making them harder to over eat than the white or wholemeal variety.

3- Use Avocado on your toast instead of butter. Now i'm not saying butter is a "bad" food, it's not, in small amounts. It's minimally processed, made from churning nourishing cow's milk, but it does have very high levels of saturated fat, and most of us are eating too much of it. Saturated fat raises both LDL ('bad' cholesterol), and HDL ('good' cholesterol), but it is not just the levels of LDL that matter, it is the size of the LDL particles. Smaller, more dense LDL particles have been identified as being more strongly involved in atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. While a reduction in dietary saturated fat intake is shown to decrease LDL levels, this appears to be specific to the larger, more buoyant particles. But wait a second, if butter is high in saturated fat, and a decrease in saturated fat isn't shown to decrease the harmful LDL particles, doesn't that mean butter is good? Not exactly. Just because it isn't harmful, that doesn't mean it's beneficial.

Instead of eating foods because they don't cause harm, we should focus on eating foods that provide positive health benefits. At this time, the most solid evidence is that monounsaturated fats, as found in avocado, olive oil and nuts, are associated with improved health outcomes by lowering levels of small dense LDL, these health outcomes include: reducing coronary heart disease (CHD), lowering blood pressure and improving lipid levels. So you can start enjoying avocado on your sourdough bread on breakfast straight away.  

4- Opt in for meat-free Monday. With only around 5.5% of Australian's having adequate usual intakes of both fruit and vegetables, eating more veggies is something we could all stand to do. Fruits and vegetables contain a wide range of nutrients including, dietary fibre, vitamins minerals and phytochemicals, which are all associated with good health. One easy way to increase vegetable consumption is to choose a day full of vegetables in replace of your meat on Monday's. You can replace your breakfast bacon with mushrooms and tomato, your chicken at lunch with eggs and stir-fried veggies, and your evening steak with a hearty lentil and pumpkin soup. Vegetables are really versatile, and can be used in replace of meat in most dishes, so get creative in the kitchen and start eating more veggies on Monday.            

The take home message with this is to structure your diet around foods that provide positive health benefits, and then enjoy eating the neutral foods (foods that aren't doing much good or harm) in moderation. I'm not saying don't eat butter, or whatever else it is that you like to eat, but save it for special occasions and really enjoy the taste and the experience. 


References: (that haven't been linked to in-text) 

Daly RM, Gagnon C, Lu ZX, Magliano DJ, Dunstan DW, Sikaris KA, Zimmet PZ, Ebeling PR, Shaw, JE. Prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and its determinants in Australian adults aged 25 years and older: a national, population‐based study. Clinical endocrinology 2012; 77 (1): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22168576. 

Phillips KM, Rasor AS. A nutritionally meaningful increase in the vitamin D in retail mushrooms is attainable by exposure to sunlight prior to consumption. Nutrition & Food Sciences 2013; 3 (6): http://omicsonline.org/a-nutritionally-meaningful-increase-in-vitamin-d-in-retail-mushrooms-is-attainable-by-exposure-to-sunlight-prior-to-consumption-2155-9600.1000236.pdf