The smugness is everywhere - this is the month where it’s inescapable. All over Facebook and Twitter, people are decreeing the virtues of being sober. Livers are healing, bank balances are reviving, early nights are winning. We say - good luck to you all, but don’t spoil the benefits by gorging on leftover chocolates; here are some healthy ways to eat that’ll bring you back up to speed (and get you in your favourite trousers) in no time.
Be a Spice Girl (or Boy). If you’re after flavour, put down the salt, and add spice. They do more than perk up your food - they also pack an array of health benefits. Onions and garlic can help lower lipid levels in your blood (they clean it, effectively) and spices like turmeric, garlic and red pepper can help to lower cholesterol levels.
A lot of Indian food contains high-calorie ingredients, such as coconut milk and ghee, a kind of clarified butter. Take it easy on the creamy curries and anything with paneer, and go for tandoori-grilled meats and tomato-based dishes.
From the US:
Bear with us, we’re not taking the mick. The ‘Standard American Diet’ (SAD) is indeed a little bit ropy at times, but many regions of the US have surprisingly good dietary habits - such as San Francisco. This lot tend to feast on locally-grown food - mainly fruit and veg - and as a result, they consume more nutrients and fewer pesticides.
This doesn’t mean you have the green light to chow down on well-known US foodstuffs. That’s right, we’re talking about pizza, chips and anything that comes with a suspiciously neon-looking cheese. A good rule of thumb is the ingredients list - the shorter, the better.
Try being rye-t on. So, Sweden’s not big on veggies - but the Swedes do have other elements of their diet which we recommend. Rye bread is a staple, and it’s the wholegrain flour that makes it such a winner. The loaves contain loads of fibre, and this bread should keep you fuller for longer, unlike its nutritionally-dead counterpart, white bread. The Swedes also eat a lot of omega-3 rich fish, such as mackerel, trout and herring.
Take it easy on the salt. A lot of Swedish foods contains high levels of sodium - traditional Nordic foods such as smoked salmon have very high salt levels.
Want to feel fuller? Get your chopsticks out. Eating with chopsticks can help slow your eating speed, which can reduce the amount of food you take in. Some research has suggested that eating more slowly can have an effect on weight loss.
Chinese food (the takeaways, especially) can contain huge amounts of an addictive chemical called monosodium glutamate (otherwise known as MSG). This ingredient makes food very moreish - and tasty. It’s also been linked to headaches, numbness, chest pain and nausea. Avoid nasty side effects by preparing your own Chinese food at home or by opting for restaurants that don't add MSG to their dishes.
Ever heard of the French Paradox? How can a country that loves its cheese, wine and chocolate have such low rates of heart disease and obesity? The answer is eating for pleasure, not health. So don’t gorge yourself on buckets of ‘low fat’ frozen yoghurt or ‘sugar free’ sweets - just bite the bullet, admit you’re after the real thing, and enjoy a dark chocolate truffle or two.
Forego butter-rich pastries for breakfast. Yes, they’re wonderfully French, but rather bad for you. Instead, stick to wholemeal toast, porridge oats, or just a plain fruit salad. Pastry is great, yes, but do what the French do - and save it for the odd treat.