It's unbelievable that a year has passed since the pandemic started and -more specifically- the #lockdown. The truth is that our lives and our daily routine have changed a lot. Sure, everyone was a little more relaxed at the beginning, but now that a lot of time has passed, I bet that you are trying to make your daily life as close as possible to what it was before. Most people work from home, exercise at home, watch movies, theater, and concerts from home. Many of you, who did not expect this whole situation to last for so long, now probably think that it’s time to pay a little more attention to yourselves and more specifically to your diet, boosting your immune system and starting a healthier and more balanced lifestyle. If this does not happen now that our health has become a priority for good - although it always should be - when will it happen?
So, for those of you who want your food to be more nutritious, more balanced -but at the same time delicious- I found and suggest the following solutions, which will make cooking at home more fun!
1. Cook with spices - reduce salt.
As everything shows, in our effort to make homemade food more delicious, we have significantly increased the salt we add to our food. We have said many times that salt, in addition to the water retention it can cause, is also responsible for weight gain, as well as for the development of other diseases such as hypertension and hypercholesterolemia. This, of course, when consumed daily in large quantities. One (1) teaspoon (less than 5-6 g) is recommended by the WHO as the maximum daily intake for an adult! So…the less, the better. Let me mention that when we talk about salt, we refer to what we add to food, to what foods naturally contain, and to what is added during their processing. For example, even cookies or bread may contain a lot of salt and, many times, we tend to ignore it.
Therefore, we should start using more spices and herbs. Not only can we make different combinations and give our food very special flavors, but at the same time, we will provide our body with more antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. So, what better way than to experiment -even along with our little ones- in the kitchen?
2. Try to consume more plant-based protein.
Speaking of plant-based protein, surely the first thing that should come to mind are legumes. They are definitely a treasure that in case you haven’t made them part of your weekly diet plan - at least twice a week - you should make sure to find various ways to include them. Legumes, especially lentils, chickpeas, and beans, are high in protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber, and low in fat. If you combine them with cereals, you will be able to get all the essential amino acids that the body needs and synthesize a protein of high biological value.
In fact, seeing all these plant-based products in supermarkets, aren’t you a little curious to try non-dairy milks, vegan cheeses, or various spreads, such as hummus or some soy spread? Surely, if you read the nutrition facts labels and try to make complete meals by following the healthy eating plate (which includes complex carbs, lean proteins, and good Omega 3 fatty acids), then you will have the best results, making nutritionally correct and tasty dishes.
However, I can suggest various alternatives such as…Bolognese pasta with lentils or black beans, burgers with a veggie patty, vegan moussaka and baked pasta, meatballs from chickpeas-(falafels). Do not tell me that you aren’t satisfied with all these recipes!
3. Buy the healthiest version of the product you want.
We have mentioned many times that it is very important to learn to properly read the nutrition labels of the products we buy. We should aim to buy products low in salt, sugar, total and saturated fat, as well as not to overdo it with the servings. For example, if a serving contains plenty of calories and they do not come from such a nutritious-balanced meal, you should - not avoid consuming this meal - just make sure that your meal is - as we said above - complete and nutritious by adding salad, vegetables, whole-wheat products, cereals or pseudocereals, as well as good fats from foods such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, or seeds. In other words, every time you choose a meal, you must make sure that it is either the healthiest version of it or just make it more nutritious and think about what may be missing from it! Surely, consuming something that may not be so balanced can happen sometimes! As to what we need to look for at the nutrition labels of products, I have given you some information here.
4. Educate yourself and your family properly!
Just as general education is very important in all aspects of our lives, so proper nutrition education is something that should be part of our daily lives. For example, we should teach children to make proper dietary choices, starting at home… Consider that if we all followed some basic guidelines, if we did not overdo it with the quick processed snacks we can grab and go, if we were more organized and prepared -before being hungry- our meals at home, we would have so many changes as an impact on our health and on our mental health as well. So, talk to a specialist and ask for information. Follow Instagram accounts that give you information based on scientific sources and remember that everyone is different, has different needs and habits, and that the goal is to acquire healthy habits and maintain them in everyday life.
So, what do you think? Is it so difficult for us all to make a promise to ourselves? To make better and healthier choices, boosting our immune system and health as much as possible, and generally starting to cook better and more balanced meals at home? I believe not and that is why I’ll be waiting to see... what you will be making!
This article was written in collaboration with the scientific advisor-sports nutritionist Anna Maria Volanaki, MSc, BDA, SENr, INDI.
The website akispetretzikis.com offers as a service a variety of articles, based on scientific sources. All the articles are provided as general information and no text should be used as a substitute for advice from a physician or another health scientist, regardless of the date it has been published.