Just One Change week two - fill your diet with nuts
Over the next few weeks we're giving you one small, manageable change you can make to your diet each week, that over time will add up to a big difference to your health. This week we're talking snacks.
In week one we suggested you quit fizzy drinks, sports drinks and fruit juices. For week two we get into the snacks, replacing all the junk with nuts, a much healthier alternative. Here's why:
Is it wrong to snack between meals?
There's actually no major consensus on this. Most personal trainers will suggest you eat little and often throughout the day if you're on an intense workout regime, supplementing your meals with healthy snacks to keep you building muscle. The brilliant Nerd Fitness blog comes down on the size of quitting snacking altogether - though he also doesn't eat anything before noon, which we can't say we'd recommend! There's also general agreement that snacking overnight is definitely not ideal, but what about snacks during the day?
Personally, we'd say it's probably better to focus on changing your habits to fresher, less processed foods rather than forcing yourself to go without any food for hours when you're not used to it.
What's wrong with the usual snacks?
Here's something you'd never expect to hear - chocolate and crisps are not very healthy. Yeah, bombshell.
We know there's not that much value in hammering home something so obvious. Everyone knows crisps and chocolate aren't healthy, but we eat them anyway because, well, all that salt and sugar gets right to the pleasure centres.
The thing is, because a lot of us know these are bad for us we do seek out alternatives. Chocolate made of organic ingredients and containing superfoods like chia seeds, for example, or all natural crisps, ones made with corn instead of potato, and so on.
However, it's worth remembering that these still tend to be high carbohydrate foods, and most of us don't need more carbs in our diet. Meanwhile low fat options tend to contain more salt and other "healthy" or premium range ones might have a lot of sugar.
That's not to say that there aren't any healthy snack bars and crisps around - and maybe that's one we can delve into a bit deeper in a future post! By and large, though, we'd say you can't do better than a whole food like a nut.
What nuts can do for you
Nuts are absolutely rammed with nutrition. So much so, that just a handful a day can reduce your chances of heart disease and cancer. Nuts are also a central plan of the Mediterranean diet - and people who eat this diet are known to typically live longer than other people. Here's what else you can get out of them.
Yes, nuts are a great source of protein. If you're a vegetarian that makes them extra important, but anyone can benefit from reducing their meat portions and having some nuts instead - not to mention it's great for those gym gains. All that protein also makes a great snack because it will make you feel full and satisfied. Some of the nuts highest in protein include walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pine nuts and hazelnuts.
Nuts are full of mostly unsaturated fats - these keep your cholesterol levels down and are great for your heart.
Vitamins and minerals
Plenty of nuts are high in vitamin E, which is great for your heart and eyesight, especially almonds. You'll also find B vitamins in many nuts, especially chestnuts, which will keep you energised throughout the day. The copper and iron content in many nuts provide you with healthy blood and keeps your immune system and bones working properly.
Why don't we already eat nuts all the time?
Given that they're so very healthy, you'd think we'd constantly be knocking them back, but most of us don't eat all that many.
That's because for a long time we were all told to steer clear because of the high fat content. For decades we've believed that the main reason we gain weight is eating too much fat. Increasingly dieticians are arguing now that the real problem is sugar, and this advice has been depriving us of important and very healthy food groups like dairy products, eggs, olive oil and nuts.
That's all starting to change, and nuts are now top of the list of food groups we should all be eating more of. So for now - start with a handful a day, cut out the other snacks, and let us know how it goes!