Eat Well – Don’t ‘diet’

In Britain many of the population are already overweight or obese and many more are likely to become overweight in the years to come. Our current lifestyles make it easy for us to develop poor health or gain weight, with so much food available to us and little need for physical activity in our day-to-day lives.

We can improve our health if we eat well and undertake some activity on a regular basis. Eating well is not about starting another ‘diet’ and is not just about losing weight. Eating well is not something that you start and then finish in a few weeks. Eating well is about making choices that can be maintained throughout your lifetime.

When we choose to eat well it may be for one of many reasons:

  • to limit further weight gain
  • achieve modest weight loss
  • get into a regular eating pattern, which might make it easier to resist tempting, high calorie foods
  • balance the variety of food that you eat
  • reduce your tendency to overeat

When choosing to eat well, part of the challenge is to overcome the barriers that may make eating well more difficult. For example, you might find it difficult to eat differently to your friends or you might think that healthier choices are more expensive. Look for advice on overcoming your barriers to eating well.

Weight concerns

Generally, overweight results from eating more than we need on a regular basis.

We eat more than we need when we underestimate the amount of calories in our food and overestimate the calories burned during the activity that we do. While factors like genetics, glands, metabolism, and ageing may contribute to weight gain for a small number of people, these factors can still be overcome with careful eating and regular activity. Overweight and obese people are at a greater risk of developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease and more, so eating well can be an important step to long-term health.

Check reliable websites like NHS Choices to determine if you might be overweight – checking your waist measurement or Body Mass Index (BMI) will give you a rough indication in most cases. If weight loss is your aim then it is generally recommended that you aim for 1-2 pounds (0.5-1 kg) a week weight loss with an overall target to lose 5-10% of your current body weight.

Take some time to learn how to Eat Well

Over many years you may have developed habits that have lead you to a point where you are now unhealthy or overweight. Learning new, healthy habits will take time. Make just one change at a time, in order to establish a new habit. For example, choose wholemeal bread instead of white bread and establish that as a permanent change before making another change to your eating habits. There is no need to put a time limit on developing changes that will last a lifetime – the important thing is to keep making changes to your habits with the goal of improving your health in the long term.

Eating well for better health will involve:

  • sticking to a regular eating pattern
  • getting a healthier balance/variety of foods
  • reducing the quantity of food that you eat

Your health may also benefit from:

  • reducing the amount of time you spend sitting down
  • increasing your everyday activity – eg: walking to school or work
  • doing more organised activity – eg: team sports or activity classes

To make changes to your lifestyle, you need to have knowledge, skills and the motivation to change. Look for reliable websites that provide healthy eating advice. Think about the skills you might need to develop to assist with your goals – for example, learning how to avoid ‘comfort eating’.

Consider how motivated you are to change. Is it important to you that changes are made? What happens to your health if you don’t make changes? How confident are you that the changes will be successful?

Goal setting

Consider setting goals that are very specific, rather than a general goal. ‘I want to be healthier’ or ‘I want to lose weight’ are not useful goals because they are too vague.

Think in terms of behaviour change goals rather than a target weight. You can no more guarantee yourself a certain weight than you can a certain blood pressure or cholesterol reading.

Behaviour change goals might look like this:

  • Week 1 – use wholemeal bread instead of white bread
  • Week 2 – use semi-skimmed milk instead of full-fat milk
  • Week 3 – take a walk at least 3 days a week
  • Week 4 – stop putting butter on vegetables
  • Week 5 – stop adding sugar to fruit
  • Week 6 – have one meat-free day every week – Meat-free Monday is easy to remember
  • Continue…and tweak…there are always more changes you could make…

Eating well can be simple and inexpensive. Choose simple, nutrient-rich, everyday foods for better health. Over time you will have established healthier habits that enable you to eat well without really thinking about it.

Choose Good Food for Good Health


Fibre: Improving your digestive health

Fibre. If I had a chance to say just one thing about fibre it would be ‘eat more’.

Fibre was traditionally known as roughage. Dietary fibre is the part of plants that can be eaten but which is resistant to digestion and absorption in the small intestine. Fibre is associated with digestive health and studies show that there are other health benefits, but 80% of people in the UK fail to eat enough fibre for good health.

Simply put, fibre consists of two different types of plant material based on its water solubility:

  • Soluble fibre – this type of fibre can be partially digested, forming a thick gel in the gut. There are health benefits because it helps food move along, lowers cholesterol by binding to it in the gut, and slows down the rate at which sugar enters the bloodstream. Sources: oats, barley, lentils,beans, pulses, fruits and vegetables
  • Insoluble fibre – this is fibre that the body is unable to digest and it promotes satiety (it fills us up which may help with weight management). It can also prevent constipation because it soaks up water as it passes through the gut, bulks out stools and increases transit time. Sources: wholemeal bread, brown rice, bran cereals, wheat bran, skins lentils, seeds of fruits, vegetables, nuts

In the UK it is recommended that we eat 18-25 grams of fibre a day, including soluble and insoluble fibre. To do this we can eat a variety of foods, especially grain and cereal foods and fruits and vegetables (tip: eat the skin for extra fibre). Also, we can check the nutrition label on food packets to make sure that the foods we think are wholefoods (like breakfast cereals) contain at least 3 grams of fibre per 100g. Choose foods containing more than 6 grams of fibre per 100g for food that is high in fibre. Rather than eating more food, simply swap your current choices for a higher fibre option (such as choosing wholemeal bread instead of white bread).

If our diets contain insufficient dietary fibre we may suffer symptoms of digestive discomfort, including abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea, flatulence, irregularity and constipation. In the longer term this discomfort may result in poor physiological and psychological well-being and intestinal ill-health.

It may be necessary to build up your fibre intake slowly. Too much fibre, particularly soluble fibre, may cause wind and bloating, though such symptoms are likely to be temporary (about 2 weeks). Excess insoluble fibre (such as extra bran on cereal) can interfere with the absorption of iron and zinc. Also, when increasing your fibre intake be sure to drink plenty of fluids – at least eight cups a day. People with any digestive problems, including irritable bowel syndrome, should seek advice from a specialist healthcare provider, such as a Dietitian or GP.

Having just checked my cupboards I was glad to see that my breakfast foods are high in fibre – muesli 9g/100g and shredded wheat 7.5g/100g. The bread I use for lunch has 9.7g/100g. In addition I eat fruits and vegetables throughout the day so I should be getting plenty of dietary fibre.

So say ‘hello’ to fibre and goodbye to digestive discomfort. Simply eat lots of fruits and vegetables (skin on) and keep an eye on the nutrition labels of your food packets, remembering to try to choose some higher fibre options (at least 3g/100g) next time you go to the supermarket.

Adapted from information published by BDA and SACN. See NHS Choices for more information.

Bowel Cancer Awareness month (April 2015)

Healthy choices: Breakfast options

Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day. Whether you are a breakfast-eater or not, I think it is necessary for most of us to eat regularly throughout the day to maintain our energy levels and obtain all of the nutrients we need from a range of foods.

I like to eat breakfast because it gives me enough energy to start the day and stops me from looking for snacks later in the morning. During the week I have a sugar-free cereal topped with dried fruit and served with semi-skimmed milk. For me this is an easy choice that I like and that fills me up. On the weekend I am more likely to consider other breakfast options – to provide my taste buds with variety and give me more of the nutrients I need.

For breakfast, or even brunch, there are so many delicious and nutritious choices:

  • Muesli with oat flakes, dried fruit, nuts and seeds – the oat/fruit combination provides both fast-release energy, to get you going, and slow-release energy, to maintain energy levels. It also provides fibre that helps digestion. The nuts and seeds provide protein and important vitamins and minerals. Serve with milk or yoghurt for more protein, vitamins and minerals.
  • Eggs on wholemeal toast – providing protein and slow-release energy, vitamins and minerals.
  • Bagel with smoked salmon – provides omega-3 fats for a healthy heart as well as vitamins and minerals
  • Homemade pancakes with fruit – served with fruit for fibre, vitamins and minerals
  • Lightly smoked kippers – rich in omega-3 fats acids, protein, vitamins and minerals
  • Fresh fruit smoothie – fruit for vitamins and minerals, milk or yoghurt for protein, vitamins and minerals – add a spoonful of nut butter for extra protein, vitamins and minerals
  • Yoghurt and fruit compote with oats or muesli – yoghurt for protein and calcium, fruit for fibre, vitamins and minerals, oats or muesli for fibre and slow-release energy
  • Baked beans on wholemeal toast – baked beans count towards your 5-a day goal and provide fibre, the toast provide slow-release energy and together these foods provide a full complement of amino acids (a ‘perfect’ protein meal)

When  thinking about a balanced meal, try to choose from at least three of the following four food groups (below). For example, serve your choice of breakfast with vegetables, like grilled tomatoes or mushrooms, or follow with fruit, fruit juice, milk or yoghurt for a balanced meal

  • Fruits and vegetables – including fruit juice (150ml/day maximum)
  • Carbohydrates – bread, bread rolls, bagels, hot or cold cereals (choose wholemeal or wholegrain if possible)
  • Dairy – milk, yoghurt, cheese
  • Protein – eggs, lean meat, fish, nut butters

Some breakfast choices can be high in sugar (breakfast cereals, breakfast bars), high in fat (pastries like croissants, kedgeree) or both (baked goods like sweet muffins or pain au chocolat). When cooking breakfast, try to grill or poach rather than fry foods.

Healthy breakfast choices can be delicious. Just choose your favourites and enjoy!