Forget faddy diets and depriving yourself of delicious food - January should simply be about regaining balance in our diets. We’ve teamed up with Dr Jenna Macchiochi – a Hove-based immunologist, lecturer, fitness instructor and keen home cook – to bring you some top tips about why dietary balance is so important, and how to achieve it.
In January, food is a hot topic. Everyone is talking about it and everyone has a nugget of ‘dietary magic’ to share in the pursuit of a perfectly healthy diet. But telling ourselves we'll spend January eating nothing but green juice and celery sticks is a promise pretty much all of us break. My advice when it comes to cleaning up your nutrition post-Christmas is always a “food first” approach. But rather than seeking out the latest superfoods and supplements, there is a growing body of evidence supporting a more broad approach about the overall patterns of food that we are fortunate to choose each day.
Every food exists with its own unique array of nutrients and micronutrients, so to get the full benefits from foods, we need to combine many different foods within our diet. In recent years, nutrition scientists have drawn attention not just to individual foods but to the importance of our overall dietary pattern. What combinations of foods do we choose? Which combinations are particularly healthy? Which are unhealthy?
Here are my 8 top tips for shaping up your overall dietary pattern this January:
1. Prioritise protein. It's not only the most satiating macronutrient which can stop you craving unhealthy food, but it's crucial for building and repairing our bodies. This is so important not only if you have a busy lifestyle, but because our protein needs increase as we age. As we head back to work in January, stay strong and fuel your way through those gloomy days by ensuring enough protein at each meal. Research indicates that it’s the source of protein - rather than the amount - that can also make a difference for our health. Reducing red meat by replacing with lean and nutritious protein from
fresh fish or seafood can help reduce our saturated fat intake (aka the ‘bad’ fat) and is good for the health of our planet, too.
2. Fight the fire with good fats. Too much alcohol, salty, fatty and sugary foods can leave us feeling sluggish. This is also the perfect recipe to send your body into an unwieldy inflammatory state. Omega-3 fatty acids, which we primarily get through eating fatty fish such as salmon, trout and sardines, have long been thought to be good for our health. They play many important roles in the body and importantly they’re used by the immune system to tame inflammation. High intake is associated with a reduced risk of various disorders, and clinical trials have shown beneficial effects in patients with inflammatory conditions. This makes them pretty special - and word is that we don’t get enough of them. The benefits of getting your omega-3s from eating fish extend beyond supplements. One reason for this is the form of oil found in fish is more bioavailable.
3. Sunny D. Vitamin D is a crucial nutrient that we primarily make when our skin is exposed to the sun. But seasonal changes, sunscreen and indoor lifestyles affect the amount we receive, so it's easy to become deficient, particularly in the UK winter where supplementation is encouraged. Although perhaps best known for keeping our bones strong, Vitamin D takes centre stage in arming our immunity in winter. Being low in Vitamin D increases your chance of picking up an infection, plus low levels have been linked to many chronic diseases. Keep your levels topped up by including vitamin D-rich oily fish to your diet several times per week.
4. Fend off seasonal germs with seafood. Shellfish such as mussels and clams are also good sources of omega-3 fats and make a healthy, low-calorie option for getting in those key immune-strengthening vitamins and minerals like zinc and selenium. These help us fend off seasonal bugs and germs so prevalent during the winter months winter. We don't store zinc, so we need to consume enough to support our immunity, particularly when colds and flu are prevalent.
5. Nutrient dense, calorie light. If you do find yourself wanting to shed a few excess pounds in the new year, reducing overall calories is the most effective way to lose weight. When limiting your calorie intake, it's important to choose nutrient-dense foods, which contain ample nutrients for the number of calories they provide. Incorporating fish and seafood into a balanced diet is a highly nutritious and excellent choice if you’re restricting calories.
6. Forgotten fibre. In the past few years, the reputation of carbohydrates has swung wildly. They’ve been touted as the feared food in fad diets, while being associated with lower risk of chronic disease. So which is it - good or bad? The short answer is both, but the quality and quantity count as not all carbs are created equal. Balance blood sugar by combining delicious and protein-rich fish with fibre-rich winter root vegetables, wholegrains, beans or deep leafy greens. All of these are fibre rich which your good gut bugs will thank you for. Our new healthy recipes section includes some which include fibre-rich vegetables, wholegrains and deep leafy greens.
7. Commit to a more sustainable new year. After the excesses of Christmas, don't limit yourself to dietary resolutions. Minimise packaging and reduce unnecessary waste by supporting local businesses that opt for compostable packaging, like the Vegware plant-based paper products and bagasse food labels used by Nutritious Fish. You can also actively reduce your 'food miles' (the distance food is transported until it reaches the consumer) when making your food purchases. Nutritious Fish sources all its fresh fish and shellfish within the UK* and, where possible, offers locally-landed produce - this most commonly includes our cod, haddock, plaice, turbot, grey mullet and squid. When you buy locally - rather than from supermarkets or companies that transport produce across large distances - there is the double-benefit of reduced vehicle carbon emissions and reduced protective packaging. Often it’s dynamic local businesses that take innovative steps towards sustainability - we should all support their courage and resilience by shopping local.
8. Shop local and sass up your season. When foods are in season, the price can go down. Challenge yourself to up your intake of seasonal produce by looking for local businesses and farmers’ markets. And be inventive – eating seasonally forces you to cook more, use up what's already in your fridge and store-cupboard and challenges your creativity: choose a recipe you haven’t tried before, or come up with a dish yourself. Also remember that herbs and spices are an excellent way to increase diversity and variety in your meals; and they often pack a huge phytonutrient punch too.
Here is a quick glossary of some of the terms used above:
Phytonutrients: Phytonutrients (sometimes also known as phytochemicals) is the term for the powerful chemicals found in plants which are believed to be beneficial to human health (Phyto comes from the Greek word for plant). They act as a natural pesticide which helps protect plants from predators. They have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antioxidant properties. Phytonutrients are referred to as non-nutritive – meaning we don’t have a specific recommended daily intake deemed necessary for health unlike vitamins & minerals). There are well over 20,000 different phytonutrients found in fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices, beans and pulses. Some you may be familiar with include curcumin (from turmeric), resveratrol (from grapes and wine) and lycopene from tomatoes. Aside from plants, the rosy-pink colour of salmon and some seafood comes from a phytonutrient called astaxanthin.
Micronutrients & Macronutrients: Micronutrients is the collective name for vitamins and minerals that are required in trace amounts, vital for our health. Macronutrients include proteins, fats and carbohydrates which are required in large amounts in our diet.
Bioavailable: When we consume food, the nutrients contained are released from the matrix, absorbed into the bloodstream and transported to their respective target parts of the body. Not all nutrients are able to be released and utilised by our body to the same extent. Bioavailability refers to the degree to which is can be absorbed by your body.
You can find Dr Jenna Macchiochi on Instagram at @dr_jenna_macchiochi or visit her website at
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*Excludes raw tiger prawns