Let's Eat

Small changes, big difference

Pick one of these tiny tweaks for a healthier 2022


The television is off, the festive lights have burned out and that last box of chocs emptied. It’s time to focus forward on the year to come. What we eat and how we eat it can make a huge difference to our health, our fitness to fight infection and our carbon footprint. 

Forget the annual calorie count, I’ve asked a few nutrition and fitness experts to help me compile the small tweaks that will add up to a big change for the better. Not only will our bodies thank us, but the healthier we are, the better our immune systems can operate and the more protected we’ll be against that virus that has more than outstayed its welcome. 

Chew, chew, chew 

Don’t eat like you’ve got a train to catch — slow down and chew every mouthful properly so it’s soft and smooth and not lumpy. “Digestion starts in the mouth and if we’re not digesting properly, we’re not absorbing the nutrients from our food fully. Chewing breaks food into small components which are easier to digest and stimulate enzyme production. The enzymes are needed to break food into its smallest components like amino acids and fatty acids,” says nutritionist Laura Southern of London Food Therapy.

Bless your food

Those who make a blessing before tucking in are doing their digestion a favour. A pause before eating — perhaps to say a bracha — is really beneficial. You’ll see the food and smell it while you’re waiting, which will get your digestive juices flowing. It can also help you to be more mindful and relaxed when you eat. “When we’re in ‘fight or flight’ our body diverts attention away from digestion which can lead to stomach cramps, bloating and not feeling full,” says Southern. 

Up your water rates

Without exception, every expert I spoke to stresses the importance of drinking enough water. If you change one thing this year, drink a glass or two of water before every meal or snack. “So many body systems rely on adequate hydration” says nutritionist Heather Daniels. “Aim for two litres a day — which includes sugar free hot drinks and soups.” 

Dr Michelle Braude, author of The Food Effect, agrees: “Water helps your kidneys flush out excess toxins and chemicals, which may be slowing down your metabolism, and better kidney function also means you’re better equipped to help clear a virus from your system sooner. If you have difficulty drinking enough plain water, herbal teas, green tea and lemon in hot water are all just as good!” And fitness coach and founder of the Fitbuddie weight loss and exercise regime, Gemma Hirsch, advises that keeping water consumption up will help you avoid overeating. 

Stock check 

Fill your freezer with a range of fruits and vegetables says Hirsch, “Frozen vegetables are generally vine-ripened before undergoing minimal processing prior to freezing. The vitamin C content in vegetables such as red peppers and tomatoes is at its peak when they’re picked and they’re more likely to retain their nutrient density than fresh vegetables exposed to light, heat and air during shipment and storage.” You’ve also got them to hand whenever you want to cook a healthy meal. 

Hirsch also suggests keeping cupboards stocked with tinned veggies, pulses and fish. “They’re economical and the basis of a healthy meal even if the fridge is bare.” Best of all, you’ll also be able to give yourself a huge tick on the zero-waste box as the veggies will wait patiently until you need them again and not end up mouldy and in the bin. 

Plants on your plate

Keep little pots of fresh herbs in your kitchen for a nutritional boost. “It’s all about increasing nutrients to our diet” says Southern. “Plant foods provide ‘phytonutrients’, chemicals that can help support immunity and reduce disease risk. Darkly pigmented fruits and veg are very supportive, as are herbs and spices. Add that fresh basil, coriander or parsley (plucked from that pot on the windowsill) to your lunchtime pitta and hummus, or throw it into Israeli-style salads and Sephardi-influenced stews and soups. Variety and consistency are what are important.” 

Throw out the process 

Stop buying ultra-processed foods. These are the current villains of the supermarket shelves and sit squarely on nutritionists’ hit lists. They’re the foods that contain ingredients you wouldn’t add when cooking homemade food, with names you wouldn’t recognise but which may be colourings sweeteners or  preservatives. The most common culprits in the UK are industrialised bread, pre-packaged meals, sugary breakfast cereals and sausages. Biscuits, pasties and pre-packaged  chips plus crisps also sit on the most (un)wanted list of foods to toss out. Even if you ditch just one of these, you’ll be doing your health a favour.  

Supplement your D vits

Ninety percent of the UK population are deficient in vitamin D during the winter. “Vitamin D is critical to our health — it plays a huge role in supporting our immunity as well as our mood” says Southern. Low levels of vitamin D are implicated in numerous autoimmune diseases and have been associated with increased fat storage. Just a few reasons to get your levels up. Author of The Food Effect, Dr Michelle Braude, says that vitamin D deficiency can also cause your brain to issue hunger-signalling hormones which may result in overeating. 

Vitamin D is generated via our skin after sun exposure. The problem is that there’s only enough sunshine in the UK between April to September to keep us topped up and that’s only when the sun is shining. However, it’s very cheap to get tested — either via your GP or by purchasing a home test kit — and easy to supplement. 

Fruity vinegar

Start your day by adding a tablespoonful of apple cider vinegar in a mug of warm water. “Drinking this will hydrate you and cleanse your digestive system. Even though it’s a vinegar it neutralises acid and puts your body in a good pH balance so that your internal systems work well. It can also kill bad bacteria in the stomach and intestine, and promotes good gut bacteria.” Don’t  fancy the flavour? Dr Braude suggests adding a teaspoon or two of natural sweetners stevia or agave syrup. 

Count nutrients not calories

Dr Braude recommends filling up on nutritious yet satisfying meals to stop you reaching for the junk food. Include chunky homemade vegetable soups like krupnik and stews made with beans and lentils (vegetable cholent anyone?) or a baked sweet potato with a delicious healthy filling. Beans and lentils are packed full of B-vitamins, iron and magnesium — all great for energy and immunity. Try to get those portions of fruits and vegetables up each day. Daniels recommends a minimum of five “the wider the variety the better” as part of a varied and balanced diet. Hirsch suggests loading up your plate with vegetables before you add the other food groups: “With half the plate filled with vegetables that will reduce your chances of over eating your carbs, fats and proteins .”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive