How to ditch the new-year diet and ‘plantify’ your plate instead

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Are you dieting and ­detoxing this month to compensate for that festive blowout? After gut-rending quantities of booze, mince pies and Quality Street, it’s easy to be lured into rapid weight-loss plans and juice cleanses that promise to “flush out toxins” and “reset your health”. But experts are urging us to rethink this ­annual drive to diet.

The new year can be a very good time to make positive changes to your approach to food, of course. “But it’s also a time when ‘Big Wellness’ tries to cash in on our insecurities with weight-loss plans and detox regimens promoting the idea that being thinner is achievable in the long term with a little effort and the right ‘program,’ ” says registered dietitian Rosie Saunt, co-author of myth-busting nutrition book Is Butter a Carb? (Piatkus, £14.99).

The unfortunate truth is that diets don’t work long-term. For a range of complex reasons, 80 to 95 per cent of people regain most of their weight within five years, Saunt says, and many end up heavier than they were before.

For lots of us, new-year diets are particularly hard to stick to because our natural impulse is to eat more, not less, on long dark winter days. And after the diet’s finished – or when we decide to give up – we tend to binge, resulting in a yo-yo dieting cycle that can impair our relationship with food and even trigger eating disorders.

So-called detox regimes – juicing, herbal teas, pricey supplements and the like that promise nutrition and weight-loss miracles – are a waste of time and money, says Dr Laura Wyness, a registered nutritionist. “There’s no need to do a detox diet, as your body has an inbuilt detoxification system that works every day, 24/7,” she says. “The best way to support your liver and kidneys, which do most of the detoxing, is to eat a healthy and balanced diet. Doing a juice cleanse or drinking a ‘detox’ drink is unlikely to benefit.”

It’s much more effective, she says, to make small changes to your approach to food and cooking, which will make you feel better, more energised and happier about yourself well into 2020 and beyond.

Go big on greens

It’s no quick fix, but one of the most effective resolutions is to eat more fruit and vegetables: numerous studies show a link between increased intake, reduced risk of disease and better health. Five portions a day is recommended and 10 is ideal, but don’t fixate on numbers. “Just think more is better,” Saunt says.

Not so simple to fit in all that veg, you say? In their book, Saunt and co-author Helen West offer tips on how to make it easier to consume more of the good stuff. For example, if sitting down to a bowl of greens doesn’t fill you with joy, finely shred and fold them into stew, pasta, grains, risotto – or whatever’s in your cooking pot. Another idea is to swap half the meat in a dish with beans or legumes – they count towards your five-a-day and are also an excellent source of fibre.

Convenience is key to eating more fruit and veg, so rediscover your supermarket freezer aisle and stock up on frozen produce. Generally, it’s at least as nutritious as fresh, sometimes more so, and there’s a wide range available these days beyond frozen peas and carrots.

Stock up on diced sweet potatoes, celeriac, chestnuts and wild mushrooms to add to risotto, gratins and stews. Or try some oven-ready mixed Asian and Mediterranean veg as a ­simple side to fish. Batch-cooking fruit, vegetables and pulses also makes it easy to up your intake, as you can ­easily incorporate them into lots of ­different meals throughout the week – such as the recipes shared here.

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