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Your genius 8-step guide to better health

Fired up to get fit and healthy but it all feels a bit overwhelming? These hacks will get you moving and munching healthily – no sweat! (Well, maybe a little.)

One small thing: Keep a jug of water in the fridge or on your desk, and aim to drink between one and two litres a day – add slices of lemon, cucumber or strawberries for added flavour.

With a little legwork and planning, you can start to reach your healthy-living goals sooner than you think. Here’s how.

1. Prep your kitchen

A pantry- and fridge-staple makeover will help make healthy meals a cinch. Toss out those ageing, almost-empty bags of flour and discoloured bottles of vinegar. Stock up on brown rice, quinoa, wholewheat pasta, oats, dried fruit, unsalted raw nuts, fat-free yoghurt, low-fat cheese, tofu, free-range eggs and lean meat. Fresh or frozen is best, but canned tuna, baked beans, split peas, lentils and veggies are good basics – just remember to rinse off excess brine where possible to lower the salt content, says registered dietitian Leanne Kiezer.

2. Drink your water

Water is not only vital for digestion, it also helps your kidneys get rid of waste products and keeps your brain working optimally. Even mild dehydration can cause dips in energy and concentration, says Suna Kassier, expert in dietetics and human nutrition at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Water also helps you feel full – often when you reach for a snack, you’re thirsty, not hungry. Keep a jug in the fridge and a thermos on your desk, and add citrus, berries, cucumber or celery for extra flavour.

3. Snack smart

Make healthy chips in five minutes! Use a mandolin to thinly slice potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beetroot, baby marrows or sweet potatoes (great for vitamin A and C, says Kassier). Spread in a single layer on a plate, sprinkle with sea salt, herbs or chilli powder, spritz with olive oil (optional) and microwave on high for three minutes. Flip over, do the other side for 30 seconds and repeat until crispy. Dust with Parmesan cheese for extra flavour.

4. Sarmie savvy

Skip the margarine, mayo or butter, and use mashed avocado (high in vitamins and minerals, no cholesterol) or hummus (high in protein and fibre) as spreads instead. Both are high in fats, but the good ones that support heart health and help to keep you feeling fuller for longer, says Kiezer. Go for wholewheat, dense breads, or create breadless sarmies. Wrap or roll wholesome fillings (think brown rice with diced veg and lentils; lean mince with shallots and tomatoes; hard-boiled egg with diced potato and gherkins) in lettuce or steamed cabbage, spinach leaves or kale. Or use grilled portabello mushrooms or thick brinjal slices as “buns” to hold fillings of grilled halloumi cheese, tomato and fresh basil or rocket. Perfect for work or school.

5. Sneak in veg

Having five-plus portions of fruit and veg a day helps to decrease your risk of heart disease, according to the World Health Organization. When making soups, stews or lean mince dishes, sneak in finely diced vegetables of any kind, or line serving bowls with thinly sliced vegetables or leafy greens (kale, chard or baby spinach). When you pour in the hot liquid it will warm them and give your meal a nutritional boost.

Add veggies to pasta dishes, or replace the pasta with veggie “noodles”. Use a julienne peeler to make carrot, baby marrow or butternut ribbons, and sauté lightly in olive oil, suggests Kiezer.

6. Sweeten up

Carrot cake isn’t the only sweet treat that provides healthy nutrients. Slip puréed beetroot or pumpkin into chocolate cake mixes, grated baby marrows or butternut into vanilla ones, and spinach into chocolate brownies. (This might sound odd, but the chocolate covers the bitterness of the spinach, a source of calcium and iron, says Kassier.) You can also make a delicious, convincing chocolate mousse with avocado. Purée 1 large avo and mix with 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1/3 cup low-fat or almond milk and 1 tsp vanilla essence. Sweeten to taste with puréed dates or honey, add frozen berries or toasted nuts for crunch and garnish with dark chocolate. Scoop into individual serving bowls and pop into the fridge.

7. Find a fitness friend

When it comes to winning at workouts, joining an exercise group (such as Run/Walk For Life), roping in a workout buddy or taking your pooch along can really help you keep your eye on the prize while having fun.

8. Keep track

Invest in a fitness tracker – there’s nothing like seeing your progress as you log how many steps you take in a day (aim for around 10 000 ). Third-party apps for your phone, like Fitness Against Friends, let you up the ante by challenging a buddy. Some apps also track sleep patterns, which might inspire you to change your sleeping habits and reenergise your life.

If you have a question for our dietitians, click here, or to find a dietitian in your area, visit adsa.org.za. To get in touch with us, email healthhotline@pnp.co.za.