Let's Eat

New year, new you – in moderation

No need for a total overhaul this month — our experts share how tiny tweaks can reap big change


Photo: Getty Images

Here we are again — doughnuts done, festive fizz finished — followed by the inevitable few extra pounds when you stand on the scales.

If the thought of taking to the treadmill or starving on salads leaves you colder than a January morning, here are some top tips from experts on how to make small changes that can deliver huge rewards for your health:

Chow on cholent

Laura Southern of London Food Therapy is a big fan of the slow-cooked Shabbat stew, even giving it superfood status. She explains it’s a wonderfully fibrous food packed with plants — beans, pulses, herbs and spices — which means plenty of gut-friendly bacteria. Southern also explains that slow-cooking the meat means it’s easier to digest and recommends switching up your recipe regularly with different herbs, spices or veg to further increase the benefits.

Talk turkey

Not all meats are equal. Southern suggests mixing up your Friday night dinner by interspersing your regular roast chicken with turkey. She says the bigger bird contains three times more vitamin B1. Turkey is also rich in amino acid, tryptophan, which helps us make the “happy hormone” serotonin — the mood-regulating neurotransmitter that helps us sleep and boosts our mental health. Southern says she regularly cooks plain turkey schnitzels (without a crumb coat) and suggests slow-cooking turkey drumsticks with hoisin sauce to make fake Chinese duck – find Anne Shooter’s Turkey Fake Duck recipe at

Early finish

One of Southern’s key pointers is to stop eating by 6pm and to fast until 8am — a 14-hour break. “When my clients balk at this, I remind them that they can do it every Kol Nidre. Just brush your teeth and, if you need, sip water or herbal tea.” Even if you can’t commit to it every day (she acknowledges it’s a big ask on Shabbat), you’ll benefit from the fast on four or five days a week. “Fasting gives your body a break from sugar peaks and troughs, which can result in insulin resistance,” she says. And she stresses that to benefit you need to avoid even tea and coffee during that time. “Caffeine can spike your sugar levels, especially if you drink it without eating.” And finally, she explains that although you will derive benefit from starting later in the day, studies have shown that it’s most effective the earlier you start in the evening.

Take it slow

If a life without sugar/challah/chocolate makes your heart sink, don’t feel you have to go cold turkey. “Some people take an all-or-nothing attitude, but others may be better doing things gradually,” says Edgware-based nutritionist Esther Donoff. “So, instead of totally stopping your sugar, you could add less to your tea or reduce the number of biscuits you eat. On Friday night, go for just one slice of challah instead of your usual four and reduce the number of kneidlach in your chicken soup.”

Food first

Nutritional therapist Ian Marber recommends looking to our food for vitamins and minerals rather than immediately reaching for pills and powders. “Always think food first. Most people I see who are taking supplements are significantly doubling up on the vitamins they’re taking.” He says that not only are they wasting their money but they may also be harming their health, explaining that you might get too much of certain vitamins and that some minerals affect the absorption of others. If you do feel the need to take supplements, he suggests a  assessment of what you take once a year with a professional.

Back to basics

With the hyper focus on the minutiae of health and nutrition that we’re seeing in the media, Marber suggests we’re in danger of overlooking the fundamentals. “The basics of following a simple macro of proteins, complex carbs carbs, healthy fats and fibre seem a bit dull and pedestrian and the food groups are being overlooked in search of something magical.” He advises concentrating on getting the right amounts of those basic food groups which will be different for each person.

Nutritionist Dr Michelle Braude also suggests keeping things simple: “Avoid packaged, highly processed foods as much as possible. This means eating whole, natural foods that are close to, if not the same as, their natural state - for example fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, eggs, dairy products, fish and poultry — if you’re not vegan / vegetarian. The shorter the list of ingredients on a package, the better it is!”

Scratch it

Marber also has a common-sense approach to the issue of ultra-processed foods. “The idea is growing that anything you eat out of the home is going to be ultra-processed. But there have always been baddies in our diets — sugar; saturated and trans fats; processed foods are just some examples. Making food from scratch generally means that you’re going to be minimising those. So, if you get your diet right 80 per cent of the time, it allows you room to eat processed foods, restaurant foods and convenience foods when appropriate — maybe at celebrations.”​And don’t panic if the very idea of cooking a meal has you in a tizz: “Maybe start by cooking a meal a couple of times a week and make things easier by buying chopped or frozen vegetables for example” suggests Donoff.

Try something new

Marber and Donoff both recommend switching up your menu repertoire for better nutrition. “We generally stick to cooking the same recipes, yet you can completely transform the flavour of a familiar dish by using different spices. Keep your palate interested and increase variety by adding even one ingredient a week” says Marber. Donoff agrees: “Maybe add a new vegetable to your shop each week when you go to the supermarket.”

Perhaps try using barley instead of couscous or replacing spinach or kale with cavolo nero

Water water everywhere

Donoff recommends keeping a reusable bottle or glass of water by your desk or in your bag so you can stay hydrated. “It’s easy to confuse thirst with hunger. If you don’t enjoy water, you could add flavour with sliced apple, lemons or orange.” Southern agrees — “the best thing you can do for your health is to replace fizzy, artificially sweetened drinks with water.”  And Dr Braude suggests that we “drink plenty of water throughout the day, as well as one big glass of water first thing in the morning, and one before every meal or snack you have.”

Laura Southern

Esther Donoff

Ian Marber

Dr Michelle Braude

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