Many people struggle to keep their weight in check and spend their lives on countless diets, trying new exercise fads and other weight loss solutions. But there’s no miracle solution. Whether you consider it the hard way or not, taking regular exercise and eating a healthy diet is the only way that effectively helps you to manage your weight.
You need to burn off more energy than you take in and choose healthy, nutritious foods, not junk food which is void of nutrients and goodness. You should eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and whole grains and healthy sources of protein such as lean meats, fish and nuts. Limit your intake of saturated fats but be sure to include plenty of healthy fats which you will find in nuts, seeds and oily fish. Limit salt and sugar, and keep your alcohol intake sensible. Alcohol is a toxin and can’t be used by the body for energy, so it’s usually stored as fat, especially around the abdomen.
A lot of us kid ourselves about what we eat, but you can’t outdo a bad diet, it catches up on you. So how can you stick to a healthy food routine in everyday life? Always have healthy foods to hand. Keep healthy snacks in your cupboard at home or in your desk drawer so you aren’t tempted to eat badly when hunger strikes. Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry and have a list to stick to. When eating out plan ahead as much as you can and don’t allow yourself to get too hungry before you go so you don’t overeat. Make sure you aren’t just thirsty instead of hungry. The thirst and hunger sensors in the brain are close together, so sometimes you can mistake one for the other. If you feel peckish, have a glass of water first then only eat if you still feel hungry.
What makes a healthy diet?
Healthy eating shouldn’t be about restriction, being thin or always being on a ‘diet’. In fact, the word diet usually just makes us think about food 24/7! Healthy eating should make us feel good, give us more energy and keep us free from illness. There is a lot of information out there about what a healthy diet is. A lot of it is contradictory. Take the example of coffee. One day it’s in the news for causing high blood pressure, anxiety and the jitters. Then the next day people who drink coffee have less chance of getting Parkinson’s disease. Some of this might be true, all of it might be true; but it certainly illustrates why so many of us get confused about how to eat healthily.
Master healthy eating
Here are some top tips to follow to cut through the confusion and get yourself on track to healthy eating;
Take small steps- you don’t need to make huge changes to be healthy. There’s no need to cut out food groups or live on lettuce leaves. Make one healthy plan that’s easy to stick to then build on it as you go. You could add an extra portion of salad to your lunch for example.
Take time out to prepare your meals- this reduces the chance of you having to rely on takeaways or convenience foods. If you make the food yourself, you know exactly what’s gone into it.
Make smart food swaps- replace unhealthy fats with healthy ones, use sugar substitutes or use naturally sweet foods.
Don’t just count calories- think about nutrition, freshness and variety. All calories are not created equally.
Learn to read labels- check for saturated fat, sugar and salt. The new ‘traffic light’ system helps us decipher whether something is good for us or not.
Stay hydrated- even mild dehydration makes us tired and gives us headaches. Drink water to get the added benefit of healthier skin too.
Eat food in its natural form- do this as much as possible. Food that is not processed will be much richer in nutrients.
Eat everything in moderation- a healthy diet is about balance. Don’t think of foods as good or bad, but consider portion sizes and the overall balance of your diet.
Watch the portions- serving sizes are bigger these days. Fill your plate with veg instead of with pasta and rice which are easily overserved. As a guide, a serving of meat, chicken or fish should be the same size as a deck of cards, and half a cup of pasta, rice or mashed potato is plenty.
Take your time when eating- the stomach takes about 20 minutes to start signalling to the brain that it is full, so it’s little wonder that many of us eat when we are not really hungry. Chew your food properly and don’t eat while watching TV as you will most likely consume calories mindlessly.
Eat breakfast- a nutritious breakfast fires up your metabolism in the morning and can keep your energy levels steady throughout the day. Not eating breakfast is a false economy as you will be more likely to overeat later.
Cut back on sugar- there is a huge amount of sugar in the western diet. It is a leading cause of obesity, diabetes and mood problems. We all think of cakes and chocolate when we talk about sugar but what about the hidden sugar in foods we don’t expect to find it in, such as bread, cereals, soup and pasta sauces?
Eat healthy snacks- snack on nuts and seeds, fresh fruit or fruit loaf to curb a craving for something sweet without adding to your waistline.
Eat a rainbow- include plenty of fruit and vegetables in your diet, and opt for a variety of colours. The brighter the colour, the more nutritious it is in general. Fruit and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre. They fill you up for relatively few calories. You can make sure you get your five a day by adding berries to your cereal and yoghurt, swapping a starchy side dish for a salad and snacking on vegetables such as carrot sticks for natural sweetness.
Eat plenty of fibre- this helps your digestive system stay healthy, keeps your weight steady and lowers your risk of heart disease. Fill up on foods like wheat cereals, whole grains, carrots, apples and pears.
Eat whole grains- choose whole grain or brown versions of rice, bread and pasta as these keep you feeling fuller for longer. White processed carbohydrates cause your blood sugar to spike then dip, meaning that you get hungry more quickly.
Eat calcium for healthy bones- you may think avoiding dairy will help you lose weight, but you’re missing out on some bone friendly nutrients if you do. Eat yoghurt, leafy greens and cheese and drink milk, opting for the lower fat versions where possible.
Get plenty of protein- people on diets don’t tend to take in enough protein which is a mistake. Protein is the building block of our body. It keeps us fuller for longer and keeps us lean. Eat plenty of chicken, fish and beans.
Eat healthy fats- fat doesn’t make you fat, at least not if it’s the right kind of fat. Good fats are essential for regulating our mood, keeping our heart healthy and keeping our skin in good condition. Avocados, nuts, seeds and oily fish are all great sources of healthy fats. You should cut down on the fats found in processed foods, such as margarine, cookies or cakes.
Cut down on salt- too much can cause high blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease. A lot of foods, especially canned foods and ready meals contain hidden salt. Use herbs and spices to add flavour to dishes instead.
Sugar is not so sweet
Sugar has replaced fat as the new health baddie. It is a leading cause of obesity and diabetes, and it is unbelievably addictive. When you eat too much sugar, your pancreas produces insulin to deal with it. This is okay if this occurs now and again, but as sugar is such a huge part of most western diets now, the pancreas can become overwhelmed and unable to deal with the intake of sugar. When this happens, the excess sugar is left to float around the bloodstream as glucose, causing damage to the body’s cells. This condition is called insulin resistance and can eventually lead to diabetes, bringing with it a whole host of other health problems and complications.
As well as causing weight gain and chronic illnesses, sugar is bad news for your immune system. Your body’s white cells are the cells whose job it is to fight infection. A prominent study demonstrated that the white cells were less effective at doing their job for up to 6 hours after consuming sugar.
Sugar has even been shown to be a cancer risk. Sugar depletes the body of essential vitamins, minerals and the antioxidants that mop up the free radicals that cause diseases.
Sugar has been proven to cause, and worsen diabetes, heart disease and ADHD. Many people turn to artificial sweeteners, which are not as healthy as they are made out to be. There is no solid evidence of their safety at certain levels in the human body.
How can you reduce sugar in your diet?
Have you ever seen these ingredients listed on a food label; sucrose, glucose, maltose, corn syrup? The list is much longer than this but these are some of the most common guises in which sugar appears. If a food is high in sugar, it has over 22.5g of sugar per 100g. If it is low in sugar, it has less than 5g. The traffic light food label system is helpful in determining exactly how healthy an item of food is. A ‘green’ item can be enjoyed freely, an ‘amber’ item in moderation and a ‘red’ item should be limited. How can we limit sugar in our daily diet?
Opt for porridge or wholegrain cereals rather than sugary ones. Add dried apricots or chopped up fruit to porridge and cereal instead of sugar to sweeten it. Try low sugar jam if you have it on your toast.
Lunch and dinner-
Eat less ready meals and convenience foods. Ready-made pasta sauces and ready meals contain a lot of sugar for taste. Takeaways should be kept for a treat but when you do have them, avoid dishes like sweet and sour and sweet curry sauces, like korma, which is full of cream and sugar. Watch out for condiments such as ketchup, which can be full of sugar. Get reduced sugar versions where possible.
Fresh, frozen or even tinned fruit is a good choice and nuts or plain popcorn are a good savoury option.
Make smart swaps-
If you want healthier substitutes for your usually sugary snacks, here are some great ideas.
- cereal bars – they are often marketed as being healthy, but some of them can have as many calories and as much sugar as a chocolate bar! Opt for bars made with natural ingredients or protein based bars.
- chocolate – have a low fat hot chocolate drink to curb a craving.
- biscuits – switch them for oatcakes or rice cakes and add a nutritious topping.
- cakes – try eating malt loaf or a fruit scone for a hit of tasty sweetness.
A lot of the sugar we consume comes from fizzy drinks that rot our teeth and expand our waistlines. Try switching these for water, milk or no added sugar cordials. Gradually reduce the sugar you put in your tea and coffee, and limit fruit juices. Fruit juices can be 1 of our 5 a day, but they are high in sugar, albeit natural sugar. If you find water boring, liven it up a slice of lemon or lime.
Enjoy them on special occasions, as you will enjoy them so much more. Choose desserts sweetened by natural foods, such as fruit and natural yoghurt. Better still, find some deliciously tasty sugar free recipes to satisfy your sweet tooth!
Tasty and healthy sugar free recipes
Skinny chocolate & cranberry muffins
These gorgeous muffins are low in fat and use Stevia, a healthy sugar substitute.
250g self-raising flour
1 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tbsp. Stevia
85g dried cranberries
25g dark chocolate, chopped
125g tub low-fat yogurt
125ml skimmed milk
3 tbsp. sunflower oil
- Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Line a muffin tin with some cake cases.
- Put the flour, cocoa, baking powder and cinnamon into a bowl. Add the Stevia and cranberries and stir.
- Microwave the chocolate for 1 ½ minutes and set it aside.
- Mix the yoghurt and milk with the oil and egg. Make a well in centre of the dry mixture and gently stir in the liquid mixture. Drizzle half the chocolate over the mix, gently fold in until swirled, then repeat with the remaining chocolate. Spoon the mix into the muffin cases and bake for 15-20 mins until risen and firm to the touch.
High-Protein, Low-Sugar Chocolate Granola
Add a chocolatey twist to granola, plus an extra 7g of protein! Eat it as a cereal, put it on yoghurt or snack on it plain.
6 cups rolled oats
1 cup sliced almonds
½ cup non-fat dry milk powder
¼ cup sugar-free Nesquik chocolate powder
2 scoops chocolate protein powder
¼ cup brown rice syrup
1 tbsp. oil
½ tbsp. Stevia
½ cup water
¼ cup mini chocolate chips
- Mix the oats, protein powder, milk, Nesquik and almonds in a bowl. Stir well.
- In another bowl, mix the water, oil, brown rice syrup and Stevia.
- Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, stirring well.
- Put the mixture into a pan and bake at 250 degrees until golden brown, stirring every 10-15 minutes.
- Once baked, stir in the chocolate chips and allow to cool completely before transferring to a storage container.
Healthy Oat and Yoghurt Fruit Pizza
Yes, you did read that right, the words healthy and pizza in the same sentence! Fruit pizzas are a popular addition to dessert menus but they are usually made from cookie dough and are frosted with high calorie cream cheese. This recipe uses Greek yoghurt and organic peanut butter for the frosting, Stevia is used in place of sugar and all whole grains and oils used are 100% natural. The crust is made from whole wheat flour and rolled oats. Walnuts and flaxseed are added to give you a boost of healthy fats. Applesauce is added to keep the pizza moist, to reduce the amount of oil needed. Grapeseed oil is used in place of butter to add some healthy fats and antioxidants. Varied colours of fruit make the pizza look pretty, not to mention extra nutritious!
For the frosting:
2 cups Greek yoghurt
2/3 cup peanut butter (organic)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tsp natural honey
For the oatmeal cookie crust:
1/3 cup grapeseed/coconut oil
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat flour
¾ cup rolled oats
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. flaxseed
½ cup walnuts
As desired: Fresh fruit to top the pizza: strawberries, kiwi, bananas, raspberries
- Mix the frosting ingredients in a medium bowl and stir until combined. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a pizza pan with greaseproof paper, extending over the edges. Set aside.
- Mix the oil, Stevia, eggs, applesauce and vanilla in a large bowl.
- Add the flour, oats, baking powder, cinnamon and flaxseed and mix well until combined.
- Stir in the walnuts.
- Transfer the dough to a pizza pan, smooth it out to the edges with the back of a wooden spoon.
- Bake for 15 mins until slightly brown.
- Cool for 15 mins on a cooling rack.
- Take hold of the edges of the greaseproof paper and lift it out of the pan.
- Let it cool completely. Tip it onto a serving plate and remove the paper.
- Turn the crust over.
- Frost the crust with the chilled yoghurt frosting, spreading evenly. Arrange fresh fruit on top, working for the outside edge to the centre.
Healthy eating does not have to mean deprivation, and it is possible to maintain your weight and enjoy tasty foods without that healthy enemy, sugar. Try our tasty recipes for yourself! Combine healthy food swaps and regular exercise for a healthier, happier you!