When Waitrose contacted me back in January and asked if I'd like to take part in their Healthy Food Swaps challenge I said yes.* Of course I said yes - it was January and I was all over kale and kicking that awful post-Christmas slump. I had a couple of conditions though - no crazy dieting or cutting out meals.
Thank goodness the good folk at Waitrose know that a happy and healthy diet doesn't mean skipping meals, just eating smarter. So the objective of the Healthy Foods Swaps is to make small but concious changes to your current diet. Subbing in healthier alternatives to current, less-beneficial foods. So mayonnaise for avocado, or fudge for medjool dates (this seriously works, must try!). Little, but important changes to make your body happier and healthier.
But besides the Christmas indulgence, I considered my diet to be in pretty good condition. I avoid takeaways, drink in moderation and generally cook up pretty healthy stuff. But with a little scrutiny, I noticed I was a habitual eater. I love to make my favourite no-yeast pizza on a Saturday, and eat mostly vegetarian food throughout the week. Sure, my comfortable routine isn't the end of the world, but it did mean I wasn't getting enough of certain foods. So with a little thought I have managed to swap out foods high in refined sugar, salt and carrying added preservatives. During the Healthy Food Swaps challenge I (mostly) consumed things that made my stomach, health and instagram feed happy. Triple win.
I first addressed the elephant in my diet (excuse the painful metaphor) - refined sugar. Without even realising, I was consuming a load of refined sugar that can actually be easy to avoid. Sneaky food producers manage to wedge sugar into a lot of our daily food items. Take your morning cereal, full of fiber and wholegrains but is probably also packing a punch of unnecessary refined sugar too. Luckily changes in the breakfast department can be delicious and exciting. Go for porridge bedecked in fruit, amazing protein pancakes or if you're feeling more adventurous then you could even whip up your own granola as I did a couple of weeks ago.
By making your own breakfast dish you know exactly what is going in, not to mention you can customise it to your taste. And refined-sugar free breakfasts have been wonderful. I don't tend to crash mid-morning after a sugar-high. Also, granola is just oh so pretty to instagram. What's not to love?
Secondly I tackled the lack of dark, leafy greens in my diet. Great sources of leafy greens include spinach, broccoli and kale. But if I'm honest I find eating them a bit of a chore and I'm not a fan of the ever-trendy kale. Whilst I had no desire to start eating kale salad (and am still baffled by people who insist it's delicious) I started to whizz up kale into my lunchtime soups. It packs a great punch of flavour and substance. I particularly like this alkalising green soup. I've been making a batch on Monday and enjoying it throughout the week.
Similarly with spinach I would put a large handful into a smoothie and blitz. It made no difference flavour wise, but I was getting another fix of greens. I'll be giving Popeye a run for his money any day now.
Finally, as my diet consisted of mainly vegetarian food with the odd chicken or beef dish, I wasn't getting nearly enough fish in my diet. This meant I wasn't reaping any of the benefits that come with omega 3, which include promoting heart health, bones and teeth health and lower cholesterol.
This Fish-in-Foil recipe that I posted last week is ridiculously easy and was so simple to add into my routine, not to mention delicious! I'm now consciously endeavoring to eat fish at least once a week and I'm enjoying mixing up my cooking repertoire.
So, did the healthy food swaps work for me?
Short answer: yes!
Waitrose had challenged me to stick with the Healthy Food Swaps for just one week, but as the changes were small, gradual and delicious, I found the swaps were sustainable and actually enjoyable. Whether it's a placebo effect, or my new found consumption of linseed is actually making a difference to my health, I feel great. I feel full. And most of all, I feel glad that I am balancing my diet and eating consciously. I urge anyone who feels stuck in a diet or lifestyle rut to trial Healthy Food Swaps.
And congratulations if you've reached the end of this post! We'll end with a picture of a good stack of blueberry pancakes, topped with honey and linseed. Simply because a happy and healthy life also includes balance and finding joy in what you eat. This, I believe, is essential.