Healthy habit hacks

This week we provide you with our top tips for sticking to healthy habits. Changing your habits does take practice, but these tips can make it a little easier!

Do it with others

Having the motivation to make a lifestyle change solo can be hard. But we know from research into behaviour change that making the change with others really helps. So can you and a friend commit to having some fruit or nuts while you are watching a film rather than that massive bar of dairy milk? Or could you set up a weekly running club with your colleagues, and put it in the diary – much harder to duck out once it’s in the diary!

Remove the temptation

In behavioural science this is called ‘environmental restriction’ – but in reality it just means remove the temptation.

 

Here are a few tips to help you remove the temptation:

  • Plan meals and your weekly food shop
  • When food shopping stay away from the snacking aisle and opt for fruit and vegetables instead
  • Monitor your weekly ‘treat’ intake. You may be surprised at just how many time on a weekly basis you are eating chocolate or crisps. The daily morning routine of a muffin or croissant with your coffee adds up. So why not just ‘treat’ yourself on a Friday as a reward for getting through the working week?  Could you and your colleagues agree to only bring in cake on a Friday?

 

Understand what you are eating!

This programme has given you a lot of information on the science behind different food types, and you may be thinking that’s it’s hard to imagine translating all this knowledge into your weekly shop. Food labels can be incredibly helpful, but also quite confusing – and sadly it’s often in the interests of the food manufacturer to make their food appear healthier than it actually is – here are some tips to help you make sure you know exactly what you are eating!

Every food item in the UK will have details on the label about:

  1. The ingredients
  2. Nutritional composition
  3. Allergens
  4. Best-before/use-by
  5. Weight of the product

Also, now in the UK a number of retailers are choosing to add a colour-coded label (e.g traffic light scheme) to help consumers to decipher the nutritional content of the food item, however you may be surprised to hear that this is not mandatory in the UK and so the labelling can still be slightly confusing to understand.

 

Here are 5 useful tips to help you read food labels:

  1.       Check out the Ingredients list first:
  • Start with the ingredients, everything that is in the food item will be listed on the back of the pack in weight order from largest to smallest. So if the first few food items are high in fat or sugar you’ll know that the majority of the food is made up from this food item.
  • For example, the ingredients in a Cadbury dairy milk chocolate bar are: Milk, sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, vegetable fats (palm, shea), emulsifiers (E442, E476), flavourings.
  • Milk is the most common item and the flavourings are the least common. Also, you can also see that the majority of the product is made up of sugar, butter and fats.

 

  1.       Next is the nutritional information:
  • This part of the label includes information on the energy also known as calories – on the label it is listed as kcal. The label will also include information on fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, of which are sugars, protein and salt. There may also be some additional information on vitamin and mineral content as well. It can be hard to know what this means – so below we’ve included some guidelines to help you interpret these numbers.
  • Every food label provides the nutritional composition as per 100 gram and some manufactures choose to detail the portion size as well. We recommend that you focus on the 100g portion, that way you can compare different food items.
  • But also, check the size of the product, as quite often manufacturers provide nutritional information that isn’t reflective of the packet size. For example the nutritional information on the front of sweets is often just 4 sweets! Or you may only be eating a 50g portion and the nutritional information is for 100g, so you therefore need to calculate 50%.

 

  1.    How much fat and the type:
  • 1 gram of fat is 9 kcal of energy and the type of fat can be saturated or unsaturated. Unsaturated fats are found in oils, nuts, and foods like avocado. Saturated fats are the fats found in meat, dairy products, cakes and biscuits. Research suggests that too much saturated fats can increase cholesterol and increase our risk of developing heart disease.
  • On a food label you will find total fat and saturated fats, here are some useful guidelines to work out if a food is high on low in fat:
    • Total fat
      • High: more than 17.5g of fat per 100g
      • Low: 3g of fat or less per 100g
    • Saturated fat
      • High: more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g
      • Low: 1.5g of saturated fat or less per 100g

 

  1.    Now let’s look at Carbohydrates:
  • Carbohydrates are made of up sugars, fibre and starches. A balanced diet usually constitutes of 40-50% carbohydrates and this should be mainly fibre or starches, but it is actually the sugar content we need to look out for. Underneath the carbohydrate label you’ll see: ‘of which is sugar.’ If this is at a similar level as the carbohydrate then you’ll know that the majority of the carbohydrate in the food is sugar, so it would be better to find a similar food with a lower sugar content.
  • Here are some useful cut offs to use when looking out for sugar:
    • Low sugar means: 5g or less per 100g
    • High sugar means: 22.5g or more per 100g

 

You will also see fibre on the label, the current guidelines in the UK are to eat 30g per day. Fibre slows down absorption of food in the stomach, so it makes you feel fuller for longer.  Good sources of fibre include fruit, vegetables (especially the skins) oats, beans and wholegrains. Try to eat around 30g of fibre per day from a number of food sources.

 

  1.       And finally, Salt.
  • Salt is added to a number of everyday food items, including bread, packet soups and many ready meals. In the short term, too much salt can make you thirsty and in the long term if you consume a high salt diet it can increase your blood pressure, here are some guidelines to focus on when looking at salt on a label. Also, confusingly, salt can sometimes be on a food label as sodium, so to help we’ve included the sodium guidelines as well.
    • High: more than 1.5g of salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium)
    • Low: 0.3g of salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)

Your change for the week

  • Use one of more of our healthy habit hacks:
    • Can you make a social commitment to be healthy with your others?
    • Can you change your environment to remove that temptation?
    • Can you spend some time understanding the nutritional content of food you frequently buy?