Nutrition - starting to make small changes

Tuesday 08 May 2018

I was prompted to write this blog after reading Robyn’s blog that she posted recently. 

In her blog she writes about the small changes that she is trying to make to her diet to improve her health. 

The emphasis here is of course on ‘small changes’. 

It is well understood that with nutrition even the small changes will make a big difference in time, so if you find the prospect of change overwhelming then start small and you will be surprised how positive this will be for your health and your confidence to move forward with other changes.

Start with small changes

Whenever I talk to groups or see individuals I cannot emphasise enough that when you do start to make changes to the way that you eat, small steps is generally the best way. 

In my experience people that make sweeping changes all at once never sustain these changes. 

Sweeping changes can add to the stress load as it takes a great deal of energy and commitment at a time when perhaps energy is needed in other areas.

Also the body responds better to small changes. Drastic changes generally cause the body to react adversely and can lead to many side effects that may put you off changing at all.

There is a great deal of evidence to support eating healthily and making positive changes however small.

How can dietary changes help when you have cancer?

Recent evidence based guidelines summarised that healthy eating helps our bodies to function at their best. 

That it can really impact on a cancer patient’s outcome.

The guidelines recommended a diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes (peas, beans and lentils) and low in saturated/damaged fats, and limited alcohol consumption. 

As part of this a person should work towards achieving a healthy weight. 

These recommendations are based on strong scientific evidence from large clinical trials, showing that dietary changes can really impact cancer recurrence and outcomes. 

Eating healthily not only helps to keep up our strength and fight infection. 

It may also help to cope with treatment better and with treatment side effects. 

In fact there is evidence to suggest that some cancer treatments work better on people who are well nourished.

Small changes are best but what, why and how?

1. Increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet.

Why: They contain an abundance of vitamins and minerals that support the immune system and they are also rich in phytochemicals. 

Many have been researched and have been shown to have anti-cancer properties.

How: Think colour and variety when choosing.

Start the day with some chopped fruit or berries with your breakfast. You could even add some cinnamon sprinkled over to add another flavour.

Try to have some fresh soup at lunch time. Obviously homemade is best but failing that buy the fresh chill soups from the supermarket chill counter. 

Avoid the rich creamy ones and focus on the vegetable/lentil ones.

If you have a sandwich at lunch time make sure at it contains some salad ingredients. An easy way to boost vegetable intake.

Try to slowly increase the amount of vegetables with your evening meal. Eventually trying to make 50% of your plate vegetables only.

Seasonal vegetables are often cheaper and more nutritious.

Frozen fruits and vegetables are an excellent standby so stock up the freezer for days when you cannot shop or are in a hurry and food preparation time is limited.

2. Try to include some protein food at each meal and snack

Why: Mainly because it helps to sustain an even blood sugar. Proteins also supports the immune system, helps with the repair of tissues and aids healing, All enzymes, antibodies and many hormones are made from protein. Protein helps to retain muscle mass and energy.

How: Begin the day with an egg or some live natural bio yogurt or some ground nuts sprinkled over cereal or added to a smoothie.

Make the most of tinned fish, so quick and easy at lunchtime in a sandwich or with a salad.

Swap your usual snack with some unsalted nuts and seeds with some dried fruit. Or eat some oatcakes and cashew nut butter or almond nut butter.

Use tinned peas, beans, chickpeas and lentils as a cheap quick option to add protein to a meal. i.e. add some tinned lentils to a soup or mix in with cooked rice, use chickpeas over a salad, add kidney beans to a soup or casserole to increase the protein content.

3. Rehydrate.

Why: The human body is 60% water so it is important to keep hydrated. Fluid will help to flush out toxins and support the liver. Keeping a good fluid balance will also help with energy. The darker your urine the more dehydrated you are.

How: If you are an avid coffee drinker try to cut down slowly and replace the coffee with other drinks. Coffee is dehydrating. Try freshly squeezed lemon in hot water first thing in the morning. Add fresh slices of cucumber and mint leaves, lemon and or lime to fresh water. Fruit teas are available in abundance and they are good hot or chilled.

If you are poor at remembering to drink, leave a bottle of water and a glass in a conspicuous place and every time you pass it have a small amount.

Remember that fruits and vegetables also contain water.

4. Swap white carbohydrate foods for brown carbohydrate foods.

Why: Brown varieties are unrefined and therefore will take longer to break down in the digestive system which will allow the sugar to be released more slowly. This will have less of an impact on blood sugar and insulin levels. Brown or whole grain varieties are rich in B vitamins needed for good metabolism and for nervous energy. They are more filling that their white counterparts. They are higher in fibre which is essential for good digestive function.

How: Start by changing from white bread to whole meal. Very simple but very beneficial.

Use wholegrain rice. As it takes longer to cook, try cooking a large batch and then freezing it in portion sizes in small bags. It is easy to reheat by pouring boiling water onto it or adding it frozen to a soup.

Use wholemeal flour when baking or at least 50/50 with white flour.

Plan your shopping

Remember that any change however small will take a little planning for particularly when shopping. A bit of planning will go a long way to help in your new approach.

I hope that you try a few of these ideas. You may even have some of your own that you would like to share.

Blog originally written by Caroline - February 2016 - links updated March 2021

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