The smallest changes to your usual routine can have a big impact on your health, so get swapping, says Michele O’Connor
SWAP Your dinner plate for a smaller one
People eat 22% less when they replace 12in dinner plates – now the average size used in the UK – with 10in plates, which were most commonly used a decade ago.
Psychologically, it’s better to have a full smaller plate than a half-empty large one.
SWAP Bags for life for separate food bags
We may be saving the planet by reusing plastic bags, but we could be risking our health, warns hygiene expert Dr Lisa Ackerley.
A recent US study found large numbers of harmful and even life-threatening bacteria in reusable bags.
“When food shopping put your poultry, meat and root vegetables in one bag, keeping potentially harmful bacteria away from ready-to-eat foods,” she advises.
SWAP Toothpaste for dry brushing – for the first minute, at least
This is more effective for removing plaque, according to a study published by the American Dental Association, resulting in a 67% reduction in plaque build-up over six months.
It seems we brush better – and for longer – without the foam and taste of toothpaste.
Add toothpaste after the initial 60 seconds.
SWAP Checking texts for playing a game
If you must look at your smartphone constantly, brain-training games actively engage your brain where social media doesn’t.
This boosts memory and potentially reduces your risk of dementia, according to a study by Cambridge University. Try free apps such as Luminosity, Peak and Elevate.
SWAP White potatoes for sweet
Sweet potatoes are lower in calories, have far more fibre and are packed with immune-boosting vitamin E. Try a mash of sweet potato and parsnip – with butter, ground all-spice and cheddar cheese on top.
SWAP Your shoulder bag for a messenger (cross-body) bag
Carrying a heavy load on one side of your body causes an imbalance in the muscular structure, triggering neck, shoulder and back pain.
Distribute the weight across the body with a diagonal shoulder bag (or get into the habit of switching shoulders).
SWAP Your static bike lights to flashing lights
Using a flashing rear light makes you 2.4 times more visible and, with eight out of 10 cycling accidents occurring in daylight, keep them switched on day and night.
SWAP Low for high-temperature washing
“Crank up the temperature to at least 60C for towels and bed linen to kill bacteria, viruses and fungi,” advises Dr Ackerley.
“For pants and socks that can’t stand the heat, add a laundry sanitising additive, such as Dettol Antibacterial Laundry Cleanser (£4.50) to a lower temperature wash.”
SWAP Your ‘mains’ for ‘sides’
We tend to view vegetables and pulses as an accompaniment to meat. Instead we should make them the main event, say experts.
Substitute mince for lentils, chicken for tofu, or meatballs for falafel and make vegetables the star attraction on your plate. Try roasted sweet potato, aubergine, courgette, mushrooms, pepper and onion with pesto and crumbled feta.
SWAP Walking in silence for walking to music
Healthy adults who walk slowly are twice as likely to die from heart disease as those who walk at a more brisk pace, a recent study found.
Downloading an upbeat playlist will encourage a faster pace because walking to a song of 100 beats per minute has been shown to dramatically increase motivation, performance and also serves as a good distraction.
SWAP The floor for the hook in toilets
A study by Initial Washroom Hygiene found that 20% of handbags swabbed had more germs than the average toilet flush handle.
Leather handbags were the most at risk because the spongy material is a perfect breeding ground.
Avoid putting your bag on the ground in public loos – use the hook on the back of the door. And get into the habit of using anti-bacterial wipes to clean your bag.
SWAP Fruit juice for fruit
Fruit juices are full of sugar and are not as satisfying as eating whole fruit. Fresh fruit is also full of fibre and much more filling.
SWAP Brushing your teeth after breakfast for brushing before
Dentists warn that the acid in food and drink causes tooth enamel to soften. As a result, brushing teeth straight after meals simply wears away the weakened enamel.
Because it takes an hour for the mouth pH to rebalance after eating, it’s better to brush teeth before breakfast and freshen up with mouthwash.
SWAP Milk chocolate for dark
“The higher the percentage of cocoa the better,” says health coach Olly Leicester. “For instance, 85% dark chocolate has about 10% sugar content, compared to 50% or higher that goes into milk chocolate.”
Nutrients such as copper, phosphorous, magnesium, iron and manganese are also more plentiful in dark chocolate.
SWAP Wine for sparkling water in a wine glass
Ailsa Frank, hypnotherapist and author of Cut the Crap and Feel Amazing, says: “The wine glass will give you the feeling of drinking an ‘important’ drink but the water is healthy and calorie free.
“Jazz it up with a sprig of fresh mint or rosemary and a slice of lime or pink grapefruit. This will help you to take back control of your drinking.”
SWAP The first aisle for the last during a supermarket shop
“By walking the opposite way around you will have to make conscious decisions about what you buy rather than going into autopilot putting the same items in your trolley,” says Ailsa.
“This will allow you to purchase healthier food options.”
SWAP Sitting for standing
“Instead of taking phone calls at your desk, get up and walk around,” suggests Aroosha Nekonam, personal trainer at body experts Ultimate Performance.
“It may sound trivial but daily activity and movement are vital to good health.”
SWAP ‘Greek-style’ yogurts for authentic Greek yogurt
It’s thicker and has less natural sugar, twice as much protein and half the carbohydrates and sodium of regular yogurt.
Greek-style yogurts, however, may contain cream, gelatine, gum blends, stabilisers, preservatives and added milk solids to thicken up the yogurt and quicken the straining process.
SWAP Ibuprofen for a Chinese herb
Sigesbeckia orientalis isn’t the catchiest name but has gained a traditional herbal registration from the UK’s Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency for the relief of backache, minor sports injuries, rheumatic or muscular pains, as well as general aches and pains in muscles and joints.
All this and without the gastric side effects of conventional NSAID drugs such as ibuprofen. Try Phynova (£19.99 for 60 tablets, Holland & Barrett).
SWAP Spreads for butter
Butter is a nutritional powerhouse of vitamins A, D, and K. It is also rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has been shown to help lower body fat percentage.
SWAP Squatting over public loo seats to sitting down
Hovering causes you to “push” urine out, increasing the risk of pelvic prolapse. Additionally, the bladder doesn’t empty properly, increasing the risk of infection, urologists warn. (Besides, studies show the average loo seat is cleaner than a keyboard…)
SWAP Lighting a paraffin wax candle for a soy wax one
The new Government Clean Air Strategy identified scented candles as an environmental hazard. Swap paraffin candles for natural wax versions made of beeswax or soy, with a short wick made of cotton.
SWAP Gloves for mittens when it’s very cold
In very low temperatures, the body switches off the blood flow – and therefore heat – to extremities such as the fingers, toes and nose to protect the vital organs.
And mittens decrease the surface area from which heat can escape from – four instead of 10 digits.
SWAP Your dishcloth for a paper towel and antibacterial spray…
…when cleaning up after handling raw chicken, meat or vegetables, suggests Dr Ackerley.
“That way you don’t collect bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter on your cloth and spread them around the kitchen.”
SWAP Your fingers for the back of your hand
It’s a common way to pick up cold and flu viruses, warns Dr Ackerley.
So, if you have an urge to rub your eyes, your knuckles are bound to be less dirty than your fingers. (Better still, use a clean tissue!).
SWAP Shop-bought salad dressings for homemade ones
Most are packed with preservatives, additives and sugar so simply drizzle salad with extra virgin olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar and mustard for added flavour.