5 ways to improve your diet that aren’t about weight loss

Almost 40 percent of Brits who made New Year’s resolutions this year have resolved to improve their diet, according to YouGov research. A common New Year goal is weight loss, but a healthy diet has many other benefits. Here are five diet resolutions that could boost health.

1. Eat fermented foods

Ferments – foods that have been transformed by the activity of living microorganisms, including bacteria, yeast and moulds – are believed by scientists to be good for our health. They include yoghurt, kefir and some cheeses.

Some of these microbes, when ingested as part of fermented foods, travel through your digestive tract to support the trillions of microbes already living in your gut, according to research. Studies have linked a healthy composition of gut microbes to the working of the immune system, the body’s metabolic functions and many other aspects of health.

Not all fermented foods contain live microorganisms though, so it’s important to check the label. For instance, sauerkraut and kimchi can be made with vinegar, or pasteurised, which kills the bacteria, and of course many cheeses are pasteurised.

If you’re up for making your own ferments in 2021, all you need is a vegetable, such as cabbage, salt and water (and flavours from herbs and spices, if you like). After two or three days, during which you get to ‘burp’ the jar every now and again to release gases, there’s a pot of nutritious, delicious and thrifty food, such as kimchi or sauerkraut. Try kombucha, a fermented tea, too.

Make your own fermented foods

2. Make changes to your shopping basket

If you’re longing for new experiences while being locked down at home, trying different foods could be just the thing. We eat a relatively small number of foods, with just 15 plants providing 90 percent of the world’s calories, even though there are more than 7,000 edible plant species. Eating a wide range of plant-based foods is believed to be good for your gut microbes too.

Half of the UK’s vegetable intake is made up of peas, tomatoes (yes, we know this is technically a fruit), onions and carrots, according to The British Nutrition Foundation. These four veg do pack a punch when it comes to nutrients, but different veg provide different amounts and combinations of nutrients, so variety is important.

Rice, noodles and pasta are firm favourites. But pearl barley, spelt and quinoa are also easy to cook (and are grown by farmers in the UK).

Many people in the UK don’t eat the recommended two portions of fish per week, one of which should be oily fish. Fish not only provides protein and several vitamins and minerals, but oily fish – including salmon, mackerel, sardines and fresh tuna – contain long chain omega-3 fatty acids, which research suggests are important for brain function.

It’s a good idea to vary your snacks too. Nuts are a high-protein, nutrient-rich option that will keep you feeling fuller for longer.

3. Boss batch cooking

If you’re short on time, savvy batch cooking can be the key to eating nourishing home-cooked meals all week.

It’s easy to double up the ingredients when cooking a curry, soup, stew, chilli, lasagne or cottage pie, and all these dishes freeze well. But be sure to label everything before putting it in the freezer, so you know what you’re defrosting.

Food writer Hattie Ellis takes batch cooking to the next level by cooking just once a week, for about three hours, and then storing the meals in the fridge or freezer. “Choose your best time, download a podcast or turn on the radio, then chop, stir and taste”, she writes.

Best batch cooking recipes

4. Get your five a day

Less than a third of adults in England were eating five fruit and veg a day in 2018. The average daily intake is just over three and a half portions, so one more might be all it takes reach your goal.

One portion is roughly 80g – a handful of heavier veg, such as broccoli and tomatoes, or two handfuls of leaves such as spinach and kale. You can combine different fruit and veg to make a single portion, so it’s worth including small amounts in light meals and snacks.

You might be surprised by some of the ingredients that count towards your five-a-day. Beans and legumes are included, but no matter how many you eat, they never count as more than one portion because although they are a good source of fibre, they contain fewer nutrients than other fruit and veg. This means beans on toast and hummus contribute count.

Dried fruit contibutes to your five-a-day because it contains plenty of fibre, but the recommended portion size is 30g due to the density of calories and sugar. A portion (150ml) of fruit juice or smoothie also counts, but no matter how much you drink, it is never more than one portion because it is low in fibre and high in sugar.

Potatoes don’t count, due to their starch content, but they do still contain nutrients, especially in the skin. However, sweet potatoes are on the five-a-day list, so mash away!

A top tip is to make a veg-packed breakfast or add fruit to porridge or overnight oats for a delicious five-a-day friendly start to the day.

5. Cook from scratch

More than half the food bought by families in the UK is ultra processed, according to a report published by Cambridge University Press. There are lots of reasons why we turn to ready meals.

If you feel you can’t afford to cook from scratch, BBC Food has a budget recipe page packed with money-saving tips, thrifty family favourites and savvy recipes for students.

If you’re new to cooking, try these easy recipes for beginners and how to cook videos. If you know what you want to cook, use the recipe search bar above to look for it. If you want simple recipes, type “easy” into the search bar. These 5-ingredient dinners are another good place to start.

If you’re short of time, there are quick recipes. If you dislike washing up, there are one-pot meals. If chopping onions makes you cry, buy them frozen or don’t use them.

Cooking is flexible – find what works for you and don’t worry about what doesn’t.

5-ingredient meals