It’s a new year, and before you rush to set your resolutions and decide 2024 will finally be the year you completely overhaul your diet and fitness (for good, this time), we’re here to remind you that making small, sustainable changes over time is often more effective than attempting drastic alterations (which, often, can’t be sustained).
With stats showing that 92 percent of people fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions and 80 percent of us will have already failed by the second week of February, we’ve come up with a series of easy food changes – or micro changes, if you will – to help you make 2024 your healthiest yet. Because, if you can figure out how to make your goals easier, you’re more likely to succeed.
These tiny tweaks are brought to you by a whole host of nutrition experts and doctors, who show that while there’s nothing wrong with aiming big, we can help ourselves by starting small.
Easy food changes for 2024
1. Build your meals with plants first
At the risk of preaching to the choir (aka, WH readers), you don’t need us to tell you that to optimise your diet, you need to hit your five fruit and veg a day target. But how many of us actually do? According to the UK’s NHS, only 55.4% of adults aged 16 and over eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables on the regular.
An easy food change for 2024? Make sure you’re eating at least one plant with every meal.
“Plants include whole grains, pulses, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices,” says Dr Federica Amati, nutrition topic lead at Imperial College School of Medicine.
“It’s important that we get a variety of these in our diet to maximise our intake of nutrients, plant protein, polyphenols, and fibre, which support our gut microbiome and overall health and wellbeing.”
READ MORE: 10 Health Benefits Of Pomegranate Seeds And Juice, According To Dietitians
2. Aim to eat 30 different plants a week
In fact, if your New Year’s resolution is to eat more veg, why stop at five-a-day, when many experts now believe that adding a variety of fruits and vegetables to our diet is just as important?
Orla Stone, nutritionist and gut health specialist, says the best way to fight the January blues is by eating various plant fibre.
“We now know that your gut bacteria need a variety of fibre to thrive so you can’t just rely on the same foods day in and day out,” she says.
“Given how important healthy gut bacteria are for supporting your mood and mental wellbeing, try to eat 30 different plants per week. Easy ways to support this include adding frozen mixed vegetables or a can of mixed pulses to your regular dinner.”
3. Try to eat more fermented foods
With recent studies looking at how fermented foods can affect everything from our gut health and immune system to our cholesterol levels and risk of type 2 diabetes, fermented foods are back in vogue. And making this easy food change is so simple.
“Eating three to five portions of fermented foods regularly is linked to improved health outcomes,” says Professor Tim Spector, co-founder of ZOE, the personalised nutrition company and author of Sunday Times best-selling Food for Life and Spoon Fed.
“Different fermented foods contain different types and strains of beneficial bacteria, which contribute to a more diverse and healthy microbiome. Some examples include live yoghurt (unsweetened), kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha.”
4. Don’t skip breakfast
Breakfast is often cited as ‘the most important meal of the day’, and for good reason. Added to the list of easy food changes? Eat your breakfast.
“Most people know that a good, hearty breakfast is important for managing your glucose levels and providing essential nutrients to set you up for an energised day. However, what is often overlooked are the psychological benefits of a healthy breakfast,” says Pilates teacher Sarah Emblow.
“Breakfast seems to influence our metabolism more so than lunch or dinner, and so by starting your day with a nutritionally balanced breakfast, you are more likely to make healthy choices for the rest of the day, encouraging strong, and improved habits.
“When that 3pm crash happens, your body is programmed to crave the type of food you ate first in the day, so if you had eggs and avocado for breakfast, you are going to crave something savoury later in the day when your body needs to refuel.”
READ MORE: 12 Of The Best Vegan Protein Powders You Can Buy Right Now
5. Add seeds to your breakfast
One of the easiest food changes you can make for your gut is to add fibre-rich seeds to your breakfast each morning.
Jessica Sepel, clinical nutritionist and founder of JSHealth Vitamins says her favourite way to do this is by prepping a batch of her mum’s famous seed mix.
“Simply combine 1 cup of each of the following: chia seeds, sunflower seeds, ground flaxseed or LSA mix, pumpkin seeds, plus 2 tbsp cinnamon, which is then ready to go for the week,” she says. “I enjoy it most mornings with berries and Greek yoghurt. Delicious and satisfying. I also take it with me when I am travelling.”
6. Focus on the quality and timing of your snacking
Ever found yourself *accidentally* devouring an entire ‘family sized’ bag of chocolates or ‘to share’ bag of crisps simply because? That would be, er, all of us, then.
Dr Sarah Berry, a reader in Nutritional Sciences at King’s College London and chief scientist at ZOE, says if there’s one thing you can focus on in 2024, it’s the quality – and timing – of your snacks.
“The type of snacks you eat are really important for maintaining your energy levels, avoiding blood sugar dips and improving your health,” she says.
“Try to eat good-quality snacks based on whole foods, such as nuts, whole fruit, and vegetable sticks with hummus. Avoid snacking late into the evening after 9pm, as our ZOE research has shown that this is linked with poorer cardiometabolic health.”
7. Snack on nuts once per day
And, actually, if you fancy a snack, Dr Sophie Medlin, consultant colorectal dietician, recommends reaching for nuts above all else.
“Nuts contain micronutrients such as selenium, zinc and magnesium which are harder to find elsewhere in the diet,” she says.
“They are also full of fibre and protein so are great for keeping you full between meals. I recommend to my patients to set an alarm for a 3-4pm snack, so they have something before they get too hungry and can’t resist the biscuits in the office.
“Having an afternoon snack also helps you to make better decisions at your evening meal. So you’re more likely to prepare a balanced evening meal rather than reaching for food delivery apps,” she adds.
READ MORE: How To Add More Vegetables To Your Diet, Even If You’re Busy
8. Chew slowly
“So many of us are fixated on which foods to include or exclude to support our health, and in return, we often overlook just how important the way we eat is for our health,” says Harley St. London-based nutritionist Clarissa Lenherr.
“Digestion begins with our senses and in our mouth. When we miss this crucial stage of digestion – whether it is because we are shovelling in our food quickly between meetings, distracted by our phones, or eating whilst we work – we might be left with bloating and indigestion.”
It takes 10-20 minutes for signals from our gut to tell our brain we are full and satiated, she adds. “So when we don’t focus on our food and eating habits, we can miss this signal and end up over-eating and feeling dissatisfied”.
Brea Lofton, nutritionist and registered dietitian at Lumen, agrees. “Eating slowly and savouring your food instead of eating too quickly can help you recognize when you’re full and satisfied, and help prevent unintended overeating.”
Some sources have suggested 32 bites per mouthful as a magic number, but this isn’t backed by science. So instead, Lenherr suggests simply putting your fork and knife down in between each bite. “This will help you slow down your eating,” she says. “Take a meeting with your food, dedicate 10 minutes to a meal to eat slowly.”
9. Drink more water
So we’re not exactly reinventing the wheel with this tip. But a survey from The State of Nutrition in South Africa 2021 suggests that 41 percent of South African people don’t drink enough water a day. The daily recommended amount? Six to eight glasses of H2O every day. So perhaps 2024 is the year you finally commit to drinking more water…
“Try to limit sugary drinks and excessive consumption of caffeinated beverages, as these can contribute to dehydration,” says nutritionist Brea Lofton.
And, remember, when your activity is higher, you are losing water through your sweat. “This means that on days your exercise sessions are more intense, it is a good idea to drink more water,” says Lofton.
If you struggle to drink enough water, Meghan Foulsham, nutritionist, suggests adding a straw. “Switching to using a bottle with a built-in straw allows you to drink more water without thinking about it. We can take more liquid through a straw, as we don’t need to “gulp”, and it makes the drinking process more pleasant and smooth overall.”
10. Choose wholemeal for a fibre boost
The current recommended WHO guidelines say adults should eat 25g of fibre a day. Yet, according to one source, most women are only eating an average of about 16g a day.
“Most people get 60% less fibre than they should,” says Dr Macarena Staudenmaier, chief medical officer at JERMS. “Fibre is crucial for a healthy diet. It prevents constipation but also diabetes, heart issues, and bowel cancer. Fibre is also a power food for the good bacteria in your gut.”
Her top tip to up your fibre game? “Choose whole grain options like bulgur wheat, spelt bread, wholemeal pasta, or rye crackers over white versions.”
READ MORE: Healthy Alternatives To Fried Chips
11. Watch out for ultra-processed foods
The terms ‘processed’ and ‘ultra-processed’ have been thrown around a lot over the past year. New research links diets high in ultra-processed foods to increased risks of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and depression.
To identify ultra-processed foods, nutritionists say it’s best to check the label. “For 2024, try to cut back on foods and beverages high in added sugars,” says Brea Lofton. “You can make a plan to learn to read food labels to help you identify hidden sources of sugar and make positive changes to your nutrition.”
12. Avoid large gaps in between meals
When it comes to eating a healthy diet, it’s not just what and how much you eat that plays a role. When you eat can make a difference, too. Especially if you’re trying to balance your blood sugar levels.
Jodie Relf, registered dietician says that when we don’t eat for hours on end we end up feeling ravenous. From there, we’re more inclined to reach for larger portions of foods to satisfy that hunger. “Or foods that are high in sugar and energy to quickly satisfy our hunger. This can cause large spikes in blood glucose levels”.
“Blood sugar crashes can leave you feeling tired, irritable, hungry and anxious,” she adds. “Eating regularly, including protein and healthy fats with your meals/snacks, and prioritising sleep and reducing stress can all contribute to maintaining balanced blood sugar levels.”
13. Cook double for easy meal prep
We’ve all experienced that sinking feeling after a long day at work. You’ve come home to an empty fridge and then ended up ordering a takeaway instead of going to the shops and cooking something healthy from scratch. The answer? Double up on portion sizes when cooking your dinner.
“Save the leftovers for an easy lunch or a quick and healthy dinner option for evenings you’re more on the go,” says nutritionist Meghan Foulsham. “It doesn’t require any extra work, but it saves you time and likely money further down the line, as you don’t have to opt for convenience foods.”
An easy 2024 goal? Allocate a couple of hours at the weekend or on a quiet evening to fill your fridge with delicious, healthy meals. This will help eliminate the temptation of a takeaway.
14. Eat your kiwis
When you think about boosting vitamin C, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Eating more oranges? Adding a supplement to your diet? What about kiwis?
Kiwis are powerhouses when it comes to vitamin C – and new research, published in Foods, found that eating two kiwis a day for six weeks increased vitamin C intake by 150 mg per day.
“Vitamin C is an essential vitamin to support proper immune function, and isn’t made or stored in our bodies,” explains Meleni Aldridge, nutrition consultant.
“More importantly, it’s absorbed and used up 30-90 mins after ingestion. This means we need to replenish our levels regularly through the day with vitamin C-rich foods that don’t spike your blood sugar, supplements or functional drinks.”
Other than kiwis, Aldridge suggests eating bioflavonoid-rich foods like peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and spinach. These enhance the absorption of your vitamin C. “Bioflavonoids pack a super antioxidant punch too and are often called ‘vitamin P’ for their multiple health benefits,” she adds.
15. Cycle sync your diet
According to 2024 wellness trend forecasts, there’s going to be (finally) an increased conversation around the female cycle – with hormone-balancing foods at the forefront.
“Eating essential fats from foods like olive oil, avocado, nuts, and oily fish is key for female hormone production, as essentially our hormones are made from cholesterol,” explains Rachel Butcher, head of nutrition at Third Space.
“Likewise, carbohydrates are the main source of energy for our bodies and therefore not getting an adequate amount of carbohydrates because of a low- or no-carbohydrate diet will likely lead to fatigue, changes in mood and changes in your female sex hormones, which can disrupt your menstrual cycle.”
Her tip for 2024? “Focus on getting good-quality, complex carbohydrates into your diet from foods such as rice, oats and potato, as well as beans and lentils,” says Butcher.
But remember, some research highlights that our nutrient needs change across the cycle. “Becoming aware of your cycle, and the physiology at that point, will enable you to understand how you might adjust your nutrition accordingly,” she adds.
This story was first published by Alice Barraclough on womenshealthmag.com/uk More