Diet Facts

Ultimately, it’s an excess of calories that makes us pile on the pounds – and it really doesn’t matter where those extra calories come from.

In fact, more often than not, it’s the fat we add to carbs that boosts the calorie content, such as butter on toast, creamy sauces with pasta and frying potatoes to make chips.

Go for high-fibre carbs such as brown rice, wholemeal bread, jacket potatoes and wholewheat pasta. They contain more fibre than the ‘white’ varieties and so will help to fill you up. Don’t add too much extra fat to them though, for example, serve pasta with a tomato-based sauce and top jacket spuds with cottage cheese.

Many people believe that eating in the evening makes the body store more fat because it is not burned off with activity. In reality though, it’s not eating in the evening that stops you losing weight.

In fact, it’s consuming too many calories throughout the day that will be your dieting downfall! Providing you eat less calories than you burn each day you’ll lose weight, regardless of when you consume those calories.

Get into the habit of planning ahead and always make sure you have enough calories left for dinner and any snacks you want during the evening. The only thing that will stop you losing weight is if the calories in your evening meal added to the calories you’ve eaten during the
day equal more than the calories you’ve burned during the day.

Scientists have been working hard to identify genes that have the potential to make us fat. And it does seem there may be a genetic link – but only in a small number of people.

Making lifestyle changes such as exercising more and eating a healthy diet will help
everyone in the family shift those pounds – so get everyone involved rather than going it
alone.

Ultimately, if you take in fewer calories than you need, your body starts to use up its fat stores to get the extra calories it needs to keep functioning properly. Over time, this will result in weight loss.

The key is to follow a moderately restricted diet rather than an extreme diet that bans favourite foods, only allows a limited number of foods or is so low in calories it leaves you feeling hungry.

You’ll be far more likely to ‘give up’ if you follow a diet that has too many restrictions and end up telling yourself that the ‘diet didn’t work’.

Make sure you follow a well-balanced diet plan that enables you to include your favourite foods, and never try to lose more than 1-2 kg a week.

To lose 500g fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you consume – it’s easy to shift 500g in a week simply by reducing your calorie intake by 500 calories a day.

Dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt are actually packed with essential nutrients that help to keep us healthy. As well as being good sources of protein, zinc and some B vitamins, dairy products are packed with calcium, a mineral that helps to build strong, healthy bones – and the stronger bones are, the less likely you’ll be to suffer from the bone thinning disease, osteoporosis, in later life.

Dairy products don’t have to be ‘fattening’ either – there are loads of low-fat products available such as skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, low-fat yoghurts and reduced-fat cheeses.

Switching to low-fat dairy products doesn’t mean you’ll get less calcium either. In fact, skimmed and semi-skimmed milks actually contain slightly more calcium than full-fat milk.

But best of all, research shows that low-fat dairy products can help us to lose weight thanks to the calcium they contain.

If you want to lose weight, choose low-fat dairy products – aim for three servings each day such as a glass of skimmed milk, 1 small pot of low-fat yoghurt and a matchbox-sized piece of reduced-fat cheese.

With so much written about wheat-free diets, it’s easy to think an intolerance to wheat is to blame for those excess pounds. However, experts suggest that less than 0.1 percent of the population suffer from this condition.

Support for the idea that weight gain – or difficulty in losing weight – is caused by a wheat intolerance stems mainly from people who’ve followed a wheat-free diet and found they’ve lost weight as a result.

Unsurprisingly though, most experts believe any weight loss that occurs is due to a reduction in calories and fat, thanks to cutting out not just bread, pasta and many cereals, but also biscuits, cakes, pastries, pizza, puddings and processed foods such as battered fish or breaded chicken. In other words, if you stop eating wheat, you also de-junk your diet and fill up on healthier and lower-calorie alternatives such as fruit, veg, lean meat, fish and low-fat dairy products.

Don’t just cut out wheat on a whim. If you really believe you are intolerant to wheat, keep a food and symptoms diary to see if there’s any connection with what you eat and the symptoms you suffer with – then see your GP for a proper diagnosis.

In the meantime, cutting down on high-fat, processed wheat products will certainly help you lose weight. Instead, choose high-fibre wheat products such as wholegrain breakfast cereals, Granary bread and wholewheat pasta.

Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables can be just as nutritious as fresh ones, if not more so. Frozen or canned fruit and veg are often packaged within hours of being picked so they don’t lose many nutrients.

On the other hand, fresh fruit and veg can sometimes lose many of their vitamins if they’ve travelled long distances and are stored for days on end before reaching the supermarket shelves.

Regardless of whether you buy fresh, frozen or canned fruit and veg, aim for five different servings each day – they all count! But look for canned veg that are in unsalted, unsweetened water, and fruit that’s in juice rather than syrup.

Often hailed as a healthy alternative to butter, margarines aren’t always a better choice. To start with, ordinary margarines contain just as much fat and as many calories as butter and so offer no real slimming benefits. Worse still, they may also contain hydrogenated vegetable oils, which create trans fats – and these are thought to be as harmful to our heart health as saturates.

Ironically, it’s the processing of pure vegetable oils – a good source of heart-friendly polyunsaturates – that creates these trans fats! In the meantime, low-fat or reduced-fat spreads contain less fat and fewer calories than butter or ordinary margarines, making them a better choice if you’re counting calories – but they may still contain hydrogenated fats.

If you like the taste of butter there’s no reason why you can’t include it in your diet, providing you count the calories.

Leave it out of the fridge so you can spread it thinly and use it on just one slice of bread when you make a sandwich so you get all the taste but half the calories.

If you’re worried about the trans fat content of margarines and low-fat spreads, you’ll need to scour the ingredients list for hydrogenated fats or hydrogenated vegetable oils. If a product contains either, it will almost certainly contain trans fat. Bottom line: if you’re trying to lose weight, whether you choose butter, margarine or low-fat spread, you should use them sparingly as they’re all high in total fat.

Thanks to modern breeding programmes and new trimming techniques, red meat is now leaner than it’s ever been. For example, pork has dropped from being 30% fat in the 1950s to just 4% in 2005. Meanwhile, lean beef is now as low as 5% fat and lamb, 8% fat.

Better still, while most of us think that red meat is packed with artery-clogging saturates, around half the fat in red meat is actually heart-healthy monounsaturates. In particular, red meat contains oleic acid, the same type of fat that’s found in olive oil.

Added to this, red meat is packed with a wide range of vitamins and minerals, especially iron. Around 40% of women aged between 19 and 34 have such low intakes of this nutrient that they’re at risk of suffering from anaemia, a condition that causes extreme tiredness, lack of energy and shortness of breath when exercising.

Choose lean cuts of meat, trim off any visible fat before cooking and opt for cooking methods that don’t require extra fat to be added, such as grilling, griddling or dry roasting. This will help to keep fat intakes really low, while ensuring you benefit from all the nutrients in red meat.

Cereal bars might sound like a healthy alternative to chocolate but check the ingredients and you’ll often find more than just oats, cereals, nuts and dried fruit.

It’s true they’re usually lower in fat than most bars of chocolate (unless they’re packed with nuts and seeds) but they often contain just as much sugar, which might appear in the ingredients list as rice syrup, maltodextrin, glucose-fructose syrup, raw cane sugar, fructose, honey, or a mixture of these.

For a sweet snack, you’d be better off choosing fresh fruit. But if you fancy a sweet treat, check out the nutrition information first before spending your calories on a cereal bar. You might find smaller chocolate bars such as a Ripple, a Flake, a Crème egg or a tube of Smarties actually contain fewer calories than that healthy-sounding cereal bar!

As is the case with diets that include meat, some vegetarian diets may contain fewer calories, less fat and more fibre. But if they’re not properly planned, more often than not, they’re equally high in fat and calories as a meat-eaters diet.

It’s just as easy for vegetarian diets to include fatty and sugary foods such as chips, crisps, cakes, sweets, chocolate, biscuits and fried foods!

Whether you eat meat or follow a vegetarian diet, it’s important to stick to your daily calorie allowance and follow healthy eating guidelines: base meals on high-fibre, starchy foods; fill up on five fruit and veg each day; choose low-fat dairy products; include low-fat sources of protein in your diet such as beans, eggs (if you eat them) and soya; and keep fatty and sugary foods to a minimum.

Foods that are described as ‘low-fat’ or ‘fat-free’ aren’t automatically low in calories or calorie-free. In fact, some low-fat products may actually be higher in calories than standard products, thanks to them containing extra sugars and thickeners to boost the flavour and texture.

Some people also mistakenly believe they can eat more if they’re choosing low-fat products. But this is rarely the case. In reality, two low-fat biscuits, for example, will probably contain more calories than one standard biccie!

Always check the calorie content of low-fat foods, especially for things like cakes, biscuits, crisps, ice creams and ready meals. You might be surprised to find that there’s little difference in the calorie content when compared to the standard product.

Don’t be fooled by foods that claim to be a certain percentage fat-free either. If a product says it’s 90% fat free, this means it still contains 10% fat or 10g fat per 100g – and that’s a fair amount!

Honey contains around 75% simple sugars and 25% water. It’s actually higher in calories than sugar making it a less appealing option for slimmers – 1tsp of honey contains 25 calories, compared with 16 calories in 1tsp of sugar! Plus it’s just as likely to cause tooth decay.

Nevertheless, the darker varieties contain good amounts of naturally-occurring plant chemicals called flavonoids, which act as antioxidants and may help to lower the risk of heart disease.

If you like honey, use it in small amounts. Opting for runny honey means you’ll be able to spread it more thinly on toast and therefore keep calories down.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that all salads are healthy, but if they contain lots of high-fat ingredients they may well contain more calories than a steak and fries!

Croutons, crispy bacon, mayonnaise and oily dressings are usually the worst offenders. They considerably boost the calorie, fat and salt content of salads, but add few vitamins and minerals, making them a poor choice for slimmers. And while cheese and nuts contain more nutrients, they can still add a lot of calories to a salad!

Always read the menu carefully. To keep calories down, look for salads made with beans, grilled chicken, tuna, prawns or egg and ask for the dressing to come on the side so that you can choose how much – or how little – you want to add. And if all the salads look packed with high-calorie ingredients, you might be better off opting for the steak and fries after all!

This might be the case for some products, but not all. Many ‘healthy eating’ products focus mainly on cutting the fat content – and pay little attention to the calorie, sugar or salt content. In fact, some products in healthy eating ranges contain the same amount of calories, if not more, than the standard versions.

Meanwhile, some products simply cut calories and fat by providing a small serving size with the result that hunger kicks in soon after you’ve eaten, leaving you reaching for a calorie packed snack.

Fortunately, many of the bigger brands are starting to control the calorie, sugar and salt content in their ‘healthy eating’ ranges, as well as the fat content. But always check the nutrition information carefully, especially the calorie content, before parting with your cash – you might find it helpful to compare the calorie information with the standard product.

It’s easy to think a diet based on organic foods is healthy, but this isn’t automatically the case. The term ‘organic’ refers to the farming methods used to produce a food, not its nutrient content. So while organic foods might be better for the environment, eating more of them doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a lower-calorie diet. For example, organic biscuits, chocolate and cakes normally contain just as much fat, sugar and salt as their non-organic counterparts – and it’s often harder to find ‘healthier’ alternatives.

If you prefer to buy organic, you still need to remember the basic rules of healthy eating and, if you want to lose weight, stick to your daily calorie allowance. That means checking labels for calories, fat, sugar and salt.

Although nuts are high in calories and fat, most contain heart-healthy monounsaturates rather than saturates and have a low glycaemic index. This means they help keep blood sugar levels steady and leave you fuller for longer after eating them.

Nuts also contain protein, fibre and many other vitamins and minerals and so can contribute to a healthy diet. Better still, research has shown that a diet containing a moderate amount of fat – which includes peanuts and peanut butter – can actually help you lose weight and lower the risk of heart disease!

There’s no reason why you can’t eat nuts when you’re trying to lose weight. Just have small amounts, remember to count the calories and choose those that are unsalted to keep salt levels down.

In fact, the reverse is true – the heavier you are, the more calories you can have to lose weight. This is because your body has to work harder to move more weight around and so burns off more calories as a result. It really is that simple!

As you lose weight, your calorie needs will also drop slightly as you’ll have less weight to carry around. If you’re aware of this, you can adapt your calorie allowance accordingly,