I’m sure all of us, however healthily we strive to eat, have our food downfalls. For me, these tend to happen in the evenings. During the day I’m very busy, so don’t really think about food much, but when I sit down and relax, I get bored! And when I get bored, I get the munchies. My Achilles is cheese – extra mature cheddar cheese on toast, artisan sourdough toast though. I’m also quite partial to a bag of cheesy Wotsits, I’ve loved them ever since I was a child, not forgetting the odd Wagon Wheel, like the ones I used to buy from the ‘shop on wheels’ that would come around our estate. Oh, the excitement of taking my pocket money and buying a Wagon Wheel in the paper sleeve from the shop on wheels…!
When it comes to junk food, I am sure most of us, at one point or another, have treated ourselves to an on-the-go burger, a takeaway pizza, or even got into the habit of including a chocolate bar in our work packed lunches. It can taste good, give us a ‘boost’, feel indulgent and also be very convenient. However, the taste and the convenience of junk food can mean that we end up reaching for it too often. These kinds of foods can trap us in a cycle that leads to cravings that are hard to resist, similar to that of an addiction.
I always say anything in moderation is OK, but the reality for many is that junk food is their everyday diet. And it is precisely this diet, lacking in the fundamental basics of nutrition, which is contributing to the worsening UK and global obesity rates and rise in non-communicable diseases (namely those you can’t catch but which develop, in-part, because of diet-induced and lifestyle factors). Junk food is dead, devitalised food that won’t be feeding your gut bugs – it’s more likely killing them off – and don’t get me started on ultra-high processed food (that’s a rant for another day) but suffice to say that something is driving the increase in digestive cancers, including oesophageal, stomach and bowel cancer, and the link has to be diet and lifestyle. Remember, if it contains more than five ingredients, don’t eat it, that’s the general rule of thumb.
So how can we realistically break the junk food cycle? It’s a monumental task, particularly in the current climate, with the nation gripped by the cost-of-living crisis. I’m sure there are more households than ever turning to cheap ultra-processed foods as a means of survival, but do they need to when in Aldi, for example, you can get a bag of carrots, a bag of potatoes, a head of broccoli, a large cauliflower and a bag of Brussel sprouts for less than £5 – enough to feed a family of four. Jamie Oliver has some great, healthy, budget-friendly recipes.
With the need to save the pennies at the forefront of everyone’s mind, here are a few economical ways to eat healthily, and not have to reach for foods that are processed and loaded in saturated fats and sugar.
Fibre-rich foods to the rescue
Without getting too scientific, here are three things you need to know about fibres:
- Fibres are one of the three types of carbs. The other two are sugars and starches.
- Eating fibres yields no calories. That’s because your body doesn’t absorb them.
- Fibres are either soluble or insoluble. They both play a crucial role in dieting and in keeping you healthy overall.
Soluble fibres slow down digestion of food. Insoluble fibres promote healthy bowel habits. By slowing down the metabolism, you achieve two things:
- You stay satiated for longer. Therefore, you are less susceptible to hunger pangs.
- You prevent sugar spikes in the blood. Having a high amount of sugar in the blood will result in your body storing all this excess ‘energy’ as fat.
Tip: Ditch the sugary cereals, and start your day with oats – a bowl of fibre-rich porridge is a great dish to start the morning right and avoid cravings later in the day.
Fibre also plays a key role in feeding the friendly bacteria in your gut. It’s easy to incorporate more fibre into your diet – just load up your plate with more vegetables, as well as lentils, chick peas, kidney beans, quinoa, and seeds, to name a few fibre-rich superheroes!
If you’re not a fan of these fibre-rich foods, or feel as though you are not consuming enough fibre on a regular basis, you can top up your fibre levels through supplementing with our Fibre tablets.
Healthy snack tips
Start by eating healthy fats – one of the most common nutrition myths is that fat makes you fat. In fact, your body needs fat! However, there are many different types of fat. You should limit saturated fats, and focus on heart-healthy fats like avocados, oily fish, seeds and nuts, which will help you feel full and reduce cravings. Have a handful of mixed nuts as an afternoon snack.
If you love sweets and your go-to food is a bag of brightly coloured, sugary gummy snacks, you can try dried fruits as a healthier alternative. Dried fruits may not taste the same as your favourite sweets, but they’re much healthier! It’s important to know that dried fruits, although healthy, contain a concentrated amount of sugar due to the dehydration process, so if you fancy eating them straight from the bag, mix them with some nuts and limit yourself to a few handfuls per day.
Dark chocolate – are you surprised to see dark chocolate on this list? Perhaps not, as it’s well documented that a small piece dark chocolate per day is good for you. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants and is rich in minerals like magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper. In addition, it helps lessen heart disease risks or blood pressure risks as it can increase your body’s blood circulation. A small, good quality bar with a minimum 70% cocoa content may be more expensive than many of its cheaper milk chocolate counterparts, but you only need a square or two to fulfil your craving and do your body some good too! A worthwhile investment, surely?
Eat enough protein
Protein makes you feel full (you can read more about the Effects of Increased Protein Intake on Fullness in this study, often more so than other macronutrients like carbs. Fill your diet with healthy sources of protein including fish, beans, vegetables, and nuts. When you’re full, there’s less room – and less desire – for junk food.
Think about junk food differently
A 2013 study showed that when people were trained to look at and interpret one of their most-craved junk foods in a negative light, desire for it lessened. Participants were asked to view the craved food as if:
- they were already feeling very full
- they just saw the food item sneezed on
- they could save the item for later
- they were told about negative consequences of eating the food (stomach ache, weight gain)
Your mind is much more powerful than you might think. It can’t hurt to experiment!
Read more about this fascinating study here.
The convenience of eating on the go, and the kick that a sugar hit gives you while you’re out and about can result in poor food choices, so try to anticipate this if you know you’re going out. Pack your lunch ahead of time for a meal that’s just as convenient, but without the negative effects.
Simply turning our attention to what and how we’re eating can make a big difference. According to a 2018 study, there is a link between the practice of mindful eating and the reduction of food cravings. Read more about it here.
Make sure that you eat mindfully, and focus on the textures, taste and smell of the healthier food you eat, and you might find a reduction in how often you reach for those mindless snacks.
Toxic food causes a toxic gut, and this creates toxic thoughts. Making incremental changes to your diet and nurturing healthier habits helps to ensure your gut is well balanced, and this in turn will reduce cravings for junk. When you are eating well, mental health improves, you don’t feel as fed up, so it’s a win-win.