One of my life’s pleasures is food. I love cooking and more importantly, eating. I am also concerned with healthy eating. Whilst I am not a health fanatic, I do like to ensure that I feed myself and my family as well as possible in terms of putting wholesome and nutritious food on the table and attempting to eat five-a-day.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the odd fish & chip takeaway or bar of chocolate with a movie and I cannot resist a bowl or crisps or salted nuts if they are put in front of me (especially when I have a glass of fizz in hand!) I certainly believe that we shouldn’t deprive ourselves of treats!
I would say I follow the 80/20 rule in terms of healthy eating. During the week I have lots of veg and salad, with fish or chicken. Whilst at the weekend, I’m much more relaxed about what we eat. The kids are much trickier however – they don’t eat salad, their vegetables are limited to a repertoire of around 3 and they are not very adventurous. So if I learn about a healthier option to one of the foods we usually eat as a family, then I will be sure to try it.
My 8 year-old daughter is mad for bread. She also suffers from quite extreme mood swings. I knew that white (or simple) carbohydrates convert very quickly to sugar in our bodies. So some time ago I switched to wholemeal bread. She didn’t like it a first, but now accepts it and even likes the dark, rye bread I often bake in my bread maker.
Five additional food swaps I have made are listed below, with expert input from Liz at Nutritiously You about the actual benefits (or not) of the food swap. (More info about Liz at the end of the post!)
1) Pasta for wholemeal pasta
Club Forty: I switched to wholewheat pasta a long time ago as I knew that the wholemeal flour in the pasta meant it would be a slower burning carbohydrate, and was less processed. My family didn’t notice the swap at all. I just wish that all varieties of pasta shapes were available as wholewheat and not just quills or twists!
Nutritiously You: I would 100% support this swap. It’s easy to do and my kids actually prefer the taste now. Not only does wholewheat pasta provide less of a spike in blood sugar levels it is also high in B vitamins which are important for the nervous system and energy metabolism. In addition to B vitamins it contains minerals such as copper, selenium, magnesium and manganese, which white pasta doesn’t. Being wholewheat, the fibre content is good which benefits digestive health keeping you regular and also helps lower blood cholesterol and maintain blood sugar levels.
2) Plain flour for spelt flour
Club Forty: I discovered spelt flour at one of the healthy eating workshops run by Nutritiously You. I hadn’t used it before and now I always use it when I make pancakes. At the workshop, I learnt that it will keep my children fuller for longer, so it is a great breakfast alternative to sugary cereals. In terms of taste and colour, the pancakes are darker but they taste pretty much the same as regular pancakes.
Nutritiously You: I love spelt flour and always cook with it. Spelt flour is richer in nutrients and higher in fibre than wheat flour. It is still better to use the wholewheat variety rather than plain. And an important note to anyone who needs to avoid gluten, it does contain gluten.
3) Cous cous for bulgur wheat
Club Forty: I am a salad freak and I love making them interesting with different types of grains. Cous cous is a processed, white grain and I have not been able to find wholewheat cous cous in any of my local supermarkets. I read about bulgur wheat, which is a whole grain, and is easy to cook, just like cous cous. The end result is a slighter larger grain that tastes a bit ‘nuttier’ than cous cous.
Nutritiously You: This is a great swap. Even if you can find wholewheat cous cous, bulgur wheat still contains more fibre, magnesium and zinc than both white cous cous and wholewheat cous cous. However, it is made from wheat so does contain gluten. Quinoa is an alternative for people who are trying to avoid gluten.
4) Olive oil for rapeseed or coconut oil (for cooking)
Club Forty: I think most people are now aware that olive oil loses its nutritional benefits when cooked at a high temperature. So now, I only use olive oil (extra virgin) for drizzling or slow cooking (at a low temperature). Rapeseed oil is much cheaper than olive oil and is perfectly fine for frying. Coconut oil is obviously more expensive so I save it for certain food preparation only.
Nutritiously You: Rapeseed oil has a much higher smoke point that olive oil (the point at which it begins to smoke) therefore is better for higher temperature cooking. This is important because after this point oil changes its molecular structure and can become harmful to us. Coconut oil, and other saturated fats are the best for very high temperature cooking as they are very stable fats and don’t produce harmful toxins at high temperature. I would say if you have something you want to cook at a very high temperature and don’t want the cost of buying coconut oil, don’t be afraid to get out the butter or lard, as long as it’s not everyday!
5) Honey for maple syrup
Club Forty: I used to think that honey was a healthy food. But I later learnt that unless you buy raw honey, standard honey is pure sugar. Maple syrup contains less sugar and so is the healthier option to drizzle over Greek yogurt or pancakes and to use in cooking – and in our house, we think it tastes better too!
Nutritiously You: Yes maple syrup is lower in sugar than honey and also the main sugar in honey is fructose whereas its sucrose in maple syrup. Honey does contain more vitamins than maple syrup but maple syrup contains more minerals than honey. However, I wouldn’t advise using either as a way of increasing vitamin or mineral levels. It is important to remember that both are sugars and despite any health benefits you may read about one or the other, these sugars still act the same way in your body as sugar from a bar of chocolate – so use sparingly and as a treat rather than everyday.
Liz Quinn runs a nutritional health practice called Nutritiously You. Liz is a qualified nutritionist from the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in London. Having struggled with several health issues herself, Liz understands first-hand the importance of realistic advice. She advocates taking small steps to improve your diet that can be incorporated in to how you live your life. In this way you are more likely and able to stick to them and make lasting changes.
You can read more about Liz’s practice and upcoming workshops here.
If there are other ‘health swaps’ you have made to your diet, then I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.