Healthy Eating

15 Nutrition ‘Nudges’ That Can Improve Your Eating Habits

It’s a simple question to ask, but a controversial one to answer. Last month saw a public row over the efficacy of so-called ‘fat shaming’, after US late-night TV host Bill Maher called for it to “make a comeback”. His remarks, that “shame is the first step in reform”, led to a rebuttal from fellow host James Corden, who dedicated a segment of his show to demonstrating the result of fat shaming. “It makes people feel ashamed, and shame leads to depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior,” said Corden. “Self-destructive behaviour like over-eating.”

There could be an easier answer. According to a review of 96 healthy eating studies published this week, one of the best ways to change people’s eating habits and promote healthier eating is with a gentle “nudge” in the right direction.

Researchers looked at various methods focusing on improving food choices and eating habits. These included descriptive nutrition labels, using pictures and graphics to help people to see the best choice, improving convenience by having vegetables pre cut, altering portions to include more healthy food, and using “hedonic” language and imagery on packaging.

“These different categories appeal to people in different ways,” said Romain Cadario, who conducted the study. “Some appeal to people’s voice of reason or judgment, others play on their emotions and some focus directly on changing behavior.”

“It’s so important to think about how behavioural science can help you to change your habits,” says registered dietician Laura Clark. “Essentially, it’s about making the best choice the easy choice.

“Putting pressure on ourselves or expecting perfection generally leads to more negative self talk and worse eating habits as a result. It’s usually far more successful to say “I will try” not “I must” when you’re trying to get into healthier habits.”

With that in mind, we asked nutritionists and dieticians for their top tips and tricks to give us a gentle nudge in the right direction…

Make sure to have healthy recipe books as well as a book stand on show; it’ll encourage you to experiment with healthy recipes. You could even write out a weekly meal plan, using at least one new recipe during the week, and have this on display for all of the family to see.

Keep your blender out on display for smoothies; you’ll be less likely to use it if it’s tucked away in a cupboard. Frozen banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter and milk is quick to make and is an ideal breakfast when you’re on the go. Get into the habit of adding a handful of greens before you blend – smoothies aren’t just for fruit, they’re for veg too. Adding leaves such as spinach, iceberg lettuce and kale doesn’t alter the taste but simply adds fibre as well as nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K.

Make sure to keep the eye-level shelves of your fridge filled with healthy, ready to eat foods such as boiled eggs, plain yoghurt, small cubes of cheese and grapes, pre-cut veggie sticks (in see through containers or clear food bags) and dips such as hummus, salsa or home-made guacamole. Pre-cut fruit salad and slices of chicken or turkey are also good. Make sure that your healthy food – whole foods that are rich in nutrients – are both easy to see and easy to eat.

Tinned salmon is much richer in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids in comparison to tinned tuna or white fish such as cod or haddock. We should aim to eat two portions of fish a week, one of which is oily and tinned salmon, as well as mackerel, pilchards and sardines, all count as being ‘oily’. Tinned salmon is also cheaper than fresh salmon. If it’s in the cupboard, you’re more likely to eat it.

Add your own toppings and flavourings instead. Natural yoghurt can be a great source of probiotics – aka friendly live bacteria that have beneficial affects on gut health – in addition to being high in protein and providing minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. Buying plain yoghurt means that you’re not paying for added refined sugar and you can control exactly what goes in it. Try cinnamon and banana, strawberries and flaked almonds or baked apple pieces and raisins.

Eat a wholesome breakfast with fruit – healthy choices breed healthy choices, so it’s a great way of “tricking” your brain into a positive cycle.


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