This week I’m going back to basics with healthy eating. I’ve been helping people to lose weight and eat more healthily for some time now. One thing that I’ve noticed is that many people are confused as to what healthy eating actually is. There’s a lot of information about diet on the Internet and TV and much of it is based on opinions or theories rather than reliable scientific evidence. It’s easy to see how you can get mixed up with so many conflicting messages. So here are my eight top tips for good old fashioned sensible eating:
1 – Always start your day with breakfast.
We need to eat regularly throughout every day to give ourselves the best chance to get all the nutrients we need. This starts with breakfast – no matter what time of day you wake up whether it’s 2pm or 4am. Having something small like a piece of fruit or yoghurt is better than nothing. Many of my clients have found that introducing breakfast reduces their snacking later on in the day.
2 – Base each meal on starchy carbohydrate foods.
Don’t believe the hype about high-protein diets, no food group is better than the other as they all provide valuable nutrients. Skipping starchy foods will leave you tired, constipated and irritable. Starchy foods such as bread, potatoes, rice and pasta give us energy and a variety of important nutrients, not to mention providing bulk to aid bowel movements. The key is portion size – try to include at least a handful or two at each meal e.g. 1-2 slices of bread. You may need more if you are quite tall (particularly men) or if you are very active. Most people won’t need more than three portions (handfuls) at their main meal.
3 – Try to include wholegrain foods
Including moderate portions of starchy foods at each meal will give you a nice steady stream of energy throughout the day. Trying to opt for the wholegrain versions e.g. granary bread rather than white, will increase your fibre intake. More fibre helps you feel more satisfied and helps keep your gut healthy.
4 – Get your 5-a-day
We should all hopefully know what this means by now! In case you hadn’t heard, fruit & veg give us vitamins, minerals and fibre and we should be aiming to get at least five handfuls each day. Have a think now – how many have you had so far today? The average intake in the UK is about three portions per day. Don’t forget fruit juice needs to be 100% pure and only counts as one due to having less fibre and more readily available sugars (albeit fruit sugars). Beans can also only be counted as one (they also count as a good source of protein).
5 – Try to include a decent source of protein twice a day
If you’re the kind of person that has to have meat at every meal then you’ll have no problem with this one. However think about your portion size; again a portion is about a handful e.g. a chicken breast, one sausage or half a tin of beans. All foods contribute some protein apart from pure alcohol, pure fat or pure sugar. We don’t actually need a huge amount of protein and it all adds up over the day. Protein, fat and carbohydrate all provide a source of energy and any excess energy no matter where it comes from will be converted to fat for storage.
6 – Include calcium-rich foods such as dairy or alternatives
The easiest way to get enough calcium is to have a pint of milk or equivalent each day. This means three portions of dairy foods, e.g. a 200ml glass of milk, a yoghurt and a matchbox sized piece of cheese. If you don’t eat dairy foods there are plenty of calcium-fortified alternatives out there e.g. soya or rice ‘milk’. Remember that more than three portions each day is not necessary for most people so if you regularly have more than that, it could be contributing to excess weight.
7 – Limit the treat foods
It’s not necessary to banish all junk and treats, but it is important to look at how often you have them. This includes crisps, chips, chocolate, cakes/biscuits, puddings, ice-cream and sweets. These foods provide little nutrition, mainly fat and/or sugar, in other words just energy. While useful for people trying to gain weight, these leave us feeling unsatisfied so it is easy to end up taking in much more energy than we need in quite small amounts. Try to avoid having these foods every day, maybe aim for no more than a couple of times per week. Don’t forget foods such as cooking oil (even olive), butters/spreads, jam and sauces such as mayo or ketchup also count in this group. If you have these foods every day, you’re not leaving much room for the obvious treats.
8 – Drink plenty of fluids
The recommendations are to aim for around two litres (four pints) per day – more if you are bigger, more active and depending on the temperature! This doesn’t have to be just water though, pure fruit juice, milk and tea/coffee can contribute too. The caffeine in tea/coffee can cause you to pee out more than you’re putting into your body, but usually above five or six cups per day (depending on the strength) – so two or three cups could add to your fluid intake. The important thing to remember is to sip regularly throughout the day rather than downing large quantities at once. Also don’t forget to think about the energy content – sugary/alcoholic drinks unaccounted for could be the cause of your excess weight. We often confuse hunger and thirst as the feelings can be similar – next time you think you are hungry try having a drink first.
Why not try keeping a diet diary to record everything you eat and drink and see how it compares to these key points. You might be surprise by the results!