After a very tough year, a new one has thankfully arrived. You want to start 2021 healthier, not only to reinforce your integral health and lose weight but to also boost your immune system to fight viruses and sickness! No miracle here, no secret diet. The key is to eat a healthy and balanced diet, get a good amount of physical activity, and your body will thank you with improved health.
Let’s start with exercise. Moving is as important as eating well. It will not only provide many health benefits, but it will also have a positive impact on your emotional well-being by increasing hormones like dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. Start with moderate exercise for as little as 10 minutes a day, then slowly increase the intensity and/or time and your body will naturally ask for more. For instance, if you can’t fit in one 30-minute walk during the day, try a few five-minute walks instead. Any activity is better than none at all. What’s most important is making regular physical activity part of your lifestyle. Limit time sitting, even if your work is mainly on the computer. Try to stand, walk and stretch. The more hours you sit each day, the higher your risk of metabolic problems.
There are 2 types of exercises: aerobic and strength. These can be combined or done separately to add some diversity to your routine. Aim for 150 minutes a week (or 20-25 minutes a day) of moderate or vigorous physical activity, and try to do more if you plan on losing weight.
Here are some suggestions: Aerobic exercise: Brisk walking, swimming, running, aerobic dancing and even mowing the lawn. Strength training: Use weight machines, free weights, your own body weight, resistance tubing or resistance paddles in the water, or activities such as rock climbing.
Healthy eating options are more abundant than ever, but avoiding junk food may be difficult. Eating processed sweet, fatty or salty foods (like cookies, chips, hamburger, french fries, mayonnaise, processed meat, pizza, soft drinks etc.) makes you crave more of the same. Particularly sugar because it directly influences our dopamine level, creating high tolerance and craving for higher quantities of sugar. Therefore, avoiding junk food can be difficult at first but if you can resist it for several days, at one point you will no longer feel the desire for it. One key result of cutting out junk food is the positive effect it has on your gut flora. Gut flora are the microorganisms including bacteria, among others that live in our digestive tracts and help us in many ways and impact whole-body health. A healthy gut contributes to a strong immune system, heart health, brain health, improved mood, healthy sleep, and effective digestion. It may also help prevent some cancers and autoimmune diseases. To simplify, bacterias also need to eat and are constantly craving their favorite food. An unhealthy gut will crave for sugar and/or saturated fats, for example, and a healthy one will prefer healthy food rich in fiber.
Pillars of a healthy diet:
1- Feed the right intestinal flora – get your fiber and polyphenols, add some prebiotic, probiotic and bitter food.
2- Follow a low inflammatory diet, rich in nutrient dense foods, whole foods and food rich in antioxidants like vegetables and fruits.
3- Avoid or limit inflammatory substances like processed food and food high in added sugar, sodium, glutamate, saturated fat, trans fat, refined carbohydrates or refined grain, including liquids like soft drinks or processed fruit juice that are generally rich in sugar and poor in fiber.
4- Get your essential nutrients: vitamins, minerals, omegas and amino acids.
5- Get your balanced calories and macronutrients: fat, carbs and protein.
To adapt to these pillars, focus on the following foods and food groups:
Dark green vegetables (unlimited) such as bok choy, kale, spinach, broccoli, etc., and add other types of veggies like mushrooms, tomatoes, asparagus, carrots and more. Having varied and colorful vegetables and fruits, will provide a variety of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds and fiber. Some fruits can have more sugar than others (berries contain less sugar), so look for diversity. If you are not a big fan of veggies, discover healthy and delicious recipes on our platform. Veggies are not just for salads on a small corner of your plate. They can be deliciously prepared!
For a healthy fat intake, Omega-3 fatty acids are important for reducing inflammation. Diets rich in polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are primarily found in fatty fish, such as sardines, cod, herring, salmon, tuna and anchovies. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) comes from olive oils, avocado, nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnut), seeds (squash, sunflower, flax, sesame) and leafy vegetables.
Nuts and seeds are good sources of protein like legumes, eggs, fish and lean meats. To feel sated by your meal, think about whole grains, oat groats, buckwheat groats, wild rice, quinoa and millet. In regard to dairy, limit cheese and choose plain or greek yogurt that has probiotics like kefir.
Don’t forget herbs and spices. They’re a great way to season your dish, reduce salt consumption and have many anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, like polyphenols and flavonoids that help support a food web for the trillions of microbes in the large intestine, and help to reduce oxidative stress in your cells. Oxidative stress can increase the risk of inflammation and contribute to a range of diseases. Herbs and spice are nutrient dense! Use plenty of basil, parsley, coriander, rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, ginger and turmeric. For even more flavor, combine them with garlic and/or onion.
Here are some examples of a healthy menu for your day. Don’t worry about skipping one to increase your time of fasting between two meals, (like intermittent fasting as it has many health benefits), but balance your sources of essential nutrients that you need daily.
For breakfast: Look for a source of animal protein like an egg. It promotes the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that will stimulate your alertness and motivation for the day. For plant-based protein options, try soy yogurt, chia seeds, oilseeds (almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc.). A healthy source of fat, like nuts, walnuts and some almonds will do. A fruit, not a juice, to keep the fiber and reduce the glycemic peak. For satiety and carbohydrates if needed, whole grain bread goes well with fatty fish or some oatmeal to go with nuts, seeds and fruit. Green tea will provide a lot of antioxidants and less caffeine than coffee. It can be a good option!
For lunch : Rather than pasta or rice, aim for veggies. Remember to season your vegetables with 1 tablespoon of rapeseed, camelina, flax or walnut oil, in order to benefit from these oils rich in Omega-3. Add a source of protein like fish, poultry, eggs, tofu or cooked legumes (lentils, chickpeas, etc).
Dinner: At least 3 hours before sleep, have a vegetarian dinner, without meat, fish or eggs. This type of dinner will help soothe and optimize your sleep. You can distribute your dinner with 50% vegetables, 50% legumes and / or whole grains. Season your vegetables with one to two tablespoons of oil, favoring oils rich in Omega-3: grapeseed, walnut or carmelina oil. Walnuts and yogurt contain tryptophan that favor sleep.
For snacks: Nuts and seed, dark green vegetables or some raw veggies with dip like peanut butter or hummus. Try to avoid snacking if possible.
Adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle will make 2021 a good year indeed.
« How Much Exercise Do You Really Need? » Mayo Clinic, McAuley, Edward, et David Rudolph.
« Physical Activity, Aging, and Psychological Well-Being ». Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, vol. 3, no 1, janvier 1995, p. 67‑96. journals.humankinetics.com, doi:10.1123/japa.3.1.67.
Lubans, David, et al. « Physical Activity for Cognitive and Mental Health in Youth: A Systematic Review of Mechanisms ». Pediatrics, vol. 138, no 3, septembre 2016. pediatrics.aappublications.org, doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1642.
Hamedinia, M., et al. The Effect of Eight Weeks of Aerobic , Anaerobic and Resistance Training on some factor of Endocannabinoid System , Serotonin , Beta-Endorphin and BDNF in Young Men. 2017. Semantic Scholar, doi:10.13005/bbra/2562.
Dagfinn Aune, Edward Giovannucci, Paolo Boffetta, Lars T. Fadnes, NaNa Keum, Teresa Norat, Darren C. Greenwood, Elio Riboli, Lars J. Vatten, Serena Tonstad. Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality–a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. International Journal of Epidemiology, 2017; DOI: 10.1093/ije/dyw319
Friedman M. Analysis, Nutrition, and Health Benefits of Tryptophan. Int J Tryptophan Res. 2018;11:1178646918802282. Published 2018 Sep 26. doi:10.1177/1178646918802282
Jenkins TA, Nguyen JC, Polglaze KE, Bertrand PP. Influence of Tryptophan and Serotonin on Mood and Cognition with a Possible Role of the Gut-Brain Axis. Nutrients. 2016;8(1):56. Published 2016 Jan 20. doi:10.3390/nu8010056
Nichols PD, McManus A, Krail K, Sinclair AJ, Miller M. Recent advances in omega-3: Health Benefits, Sources, Products and Bioavailability. Nutrients. 2014;6(9):3727–3733. Published 2014 Sep 16.