Healthy Weight Control and Eating Wisely
Healthy weight control involves:
- Believing (and keeping on believing) that helping your health and well being is important to you
- Eating wisely – to get the nutrients you need and keep calories in check
- Being (more) active in daily life
- Having the knowledge, confidence and skills to keep it all do-able
When it comes to eating wisely, Healthier Weight encourages a balanced approach based on up to date research. In a nutshell this means choosing a variety of foods to provide a satisfying and optimal mix of protein, nutritious carbohydrates and healthy fats along with vital vitamins, minerals and protective antioxidants.It's about enjoying more of the foods that suit your individual needs, and protect and nourish your body. It isn’t about deprivation.
Ongoing extreme restrictions can make it harder to sustain dietary changes, and increases the risk of ‘what the heck’ over-eating and giving up. Instead, ‘flexible restraint’ is linked to better weight management. If not already, then with time the healthy choice will become your natural choice as you reap the benefits. A quick guide to wise eating is to choose a variety of foods from each of the different groups each day in healthy proportions. For example, aim for:
- 5 portions of fruit and vegetables - fresh, frozen, canned, dried and juiced all count
They brim with vitamins, minerals and protective antioxidants. A portion could be: a medium piece of fruit e.g. 1 apple, orange or pear; 2 satsumas/plums; 1 tablespoon dried fruit; 150ml fruit juice (only once a day), 3 tablespoons cooked vegetables/fruit or a cereal bowl full of salad leaves
- 2-3 moderate servings of protein-rich lean meat, fish, chicken, eggs, pulses, tofu, nuts or seeds
A serving could be: 100g cooked meat or poultry, 150g fish or seafood, 2 eggs, 5 tablespoons pulses, 2 tablespoons nuts or seeds. Healthy energy foods such as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, cereals, other grains and noodles. Make them part of meals (to fill about a quarter of your plate), and choose satisfying wholegrain types for extra vitamins, minerals and fibre
- 2-3 servings of reduced fat milk and dairy products (or calcium-fortified soya alternatives)
A serving could be: 200ml milk or fortified soya milk, small pot of yogurt, 30g cheese, 125g cottage cheese
- Modest amounts of unsaturated oils and spreads for vitamins D and E, and essential fats
Keep to small amounts of fatty and/or sugary foods and drinks (as we all know they are more-ish, not great for health if we overdo them and calorie dense)
Plate Proportion: Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables or salad and divide the other half of the plate between a protein food e.g. meat, fish, eggs, beans and healthy carbs e.g. pasta, new potatoes, brown rice, quinoa.
Beware ‘Low Fat’ Claims: ‘Low’ or ‘reduced’ fat foods aren’t necessarily low calorie foods thanks to extra sugars or starches. Always check the calorie content, per portion, before you buy.
Protein is vital for growth, maintenance and repair of body tissues (including muscle, bones and skin) and to build hormones and other messengers that regulate body processes such as immunity. It can also provide energy (calories) for fuel. Protein is made up of building blocks called ‘amino acids’ and of the 20 or so amino acids needed by the body, 9 are ‘essential’, meaning they must be provided by our diet.
Protein can also help to regulate appetite. Studies show that protein is more satisfying than carbohydrate or fat, and protein-rich foods as part of meals and snacks may help with weight management as they help us to feel fuller for longer. Good sources of protein include: fish, seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, low fat milk, yogurt and other dairy foods, pulses (beans, lentils), tofu, Quorn, small amounts of nuts and seeds.
Carbohydrate and Fibre
There are three main types of carbohydrate in food: sugars, starches and fibre. The amount and type of carbohydrates we eat can influence our health.
- Starchy carbohydrate is found in foods like pasta, potatoes, bread, rice, other grains, oats, cereals and pulses (peas, beans and lentils). Wholegrain and wholewheat varieties are the healthier carb choices. Along with pulses, they provide appetite and bowel-regulating fibre, as well as nutrients and protective compounds – giving a helping hand to weight control and long term health.
- Fibre is the largely undigested part of plant foods and comes in two main forms. ‘Insoluble’ fibre is found mainly in bran-based cereals, wholemeal bread and most vegetables. It works like a sponge and soaks up water in the bowel. Not getting enough can lead to constipation. ‘Soluble fibre’ is found in pulses, oats, barley, rye and most fruits. Its gummy characteristics help to regulate the levels of cholesterol and glucose in the blood. Fibre can also keep the bacteria in our bowel in harmonious balance, which helps our bodies stay in better overall balance too. Getting plenty of fibre (and including wholegrains) in the diet has been linked to lower risk of weight gain, heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Fibre-rich foods can also promote satiety (help us feel fuller for longer), thanks it seems to their chewier, bulky nature.
- People eating high fibre diets are less likely to gain unwanted weight
- Weight loss was found to be up to 3 times greater in people eating high fibre, low fat diets compared to low fat alone
Glucose is the simplest type of sugar, and as well as being part of other sugars, such as sucrose (table sugar) and lactose in milk, it’s used to make starch in plant foods (which are then digested to produce glucose when we eat them). It is also the sugar that circulates in the blood and provides energy to exercising muscles and the brain – in fact the every cell in the body.
- Sugars, Health and Weight - The main health problem directly linked to sugar is tooth decay. The amount, and how frequently you eat sugar is what matters. Most people in the UK eat too much added sugar. If we consume too much sugar, particularly at the expense of other foods, our diet can also be less nutritious, as foods and drinks rich in added sugars tend to be higher in calories, but lower in other nutrients such as protein, vitamins, minerals and fibre.
- Scientific studies reinforced that any effect of increasing sugar intake (from food or drinks) on body weight is due to adding extra calories to the diet – not any special weight-promoting effect of sugar (and remember that sugary foods are often also high in fat). Sugary drinks have been in the spotlight because when in liquid form, our appetite signals appear to be overridden, making it easier to over-consume calories
- The 'Yum' Factor -Sugary foods, and in particular foods containing both sugar and fat generally taste wonderful, stimulating feel good chemicals in the brain (opioids), reinforcing our desire to eat them (this effect has led to as yet inconclusive research into what the media often term ‘sugar addiction’). Savoury, fatty and salty foods (think crisps, savoury snacks) are also very more-ish...
We all need some fat in our diet to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, build cell membranes and provide ‘essential’ fats that the body can’t make. We also need some fat stores to insulate and cushion the body, and make vital hormones. You may hear about ‘good’ fats and ‘bad’ fats. This basically means that it’s not just the amount of fat that can affect health, but also the type of fat. Remember though, that while some fats are healthier than others, they are all just as high in calories. All in all, moderation, rather than low fat extremes is the key. Recommended daily limits are 95g fat for men and 70g for women (less if you have reduced your calorie intake).
Fats are made up of building blocks called fatty acids. No food or oil contains just one fatty acid but a mixture of different ones. There are four types that you might hear about:
- Saturates - Our liver can make cholesterol from saturates, so eating too many can raise blood cholesterol levels, which in turn may increase your risk of heart disease. Foods high in saturates include fatty meat, lard, butter, cream, hard cheese, full fat milk, pastries, fried fast food and rich ice cream. Healthy recommended daily limits are 30g for men and 20g for women.
- Monounsaturates - In moderation, monounsaturates have beneficial effects on blood cholesterol levels, especially if used in place of saturates. Foods rich in monounsaturates make a healthy choice, and include olive oil, rapeseed oil, spreads made from these oils, peanut oil, avocados and most nuts.
- Polyunsaturates - Some polyunsaturates are ‘essential’ and there are two families: omega-6 and omega-3s. Both families are needed for growth, building cell membranes, brain development and to help regulate functions such as blood clotting, blood pressure and immunity.
- Omega-6s - Found in sunflower, corn, safflower and soya oils and margarines; and sunflower and sesame seeds. Omega-3s are found in oily fish (these are the best source), liver, eggs, seafood, rapeseed and walnut oil, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, tofu and omega-3 enriched foods. The Department of Health advises that we aim to eat at least two portions of fish per week, including one portion of oily fish.
- Trans Fat - We only get small amounts of these in our diet. Most trans fats are by-products of a chemical process called hydrogenation, which makes unsaturated fats firmer. Like saturates, they can raise blood cholesterol levels, so should be limited. Trans fats are found in hard margarines (most margarines are now virtually trans free) and other foods that contain hydrogenated fats, fast food, pastries, biscuits and cakes.
Phytochemicals and Antioxidants
- Phytochemicals (‘phyto’=plant) are natural plant compounds found in fruit, vegetables, pulses, wholegrains, nuts and seeds. They give plants their distinct taste and colour and seem to protect our health in different ways, helping to explain why these foods are so good for us. There are thousands of different types, but some examples include: lycopene (gives tomatoes and watermelon their red colour), glucosinolates (give watercress and rocket their peppery bite) and beta-carotene (makes carrots and sweet potato orange). Some phytochemicals block the development of cancer cells, others influence chemical reactions that regulate body functions, and many are antioxidants.
- Antioxidants work to mop up excess ‘free radicals’. These highly reactive molecules are by-products of basic bodily processes such as breathing and burning the energy (calories) in food. They are also increased by environmental stresses such as pollution, smoking and too much sun. Free radicals whiz around the body with the potential to damage healthy cells. If left unchecked by antioxidants, this cell damage may increase our risk of a wide range of health problems including heart disease, cancers, cataracts, lung problems, skin damage and speed up the ageing process. Vitamins C and E and the mineral selenium also have an antioxidant role.
- Water - a cheap, convenient, calorie-free way to meet our fluid needs. But we can vary it with other drinks too, for example, sugar free soft drinks and squashes, herbal teas, and tea or coffee, a glass of low fat milk. Many soft drinks and flavoured waters have added sugars, and smoothies are high in natural sugars so as always, don’t be fooled by marketing hype and take time to read the nutritional information.
Some people swear by drinking six to eight glasses of water each day to manage their weight. If it works for you, then fine. Certainly, drinking water before a meal may help take the edge off your appetite, and sometimes people confuse thirst for hunger and eat when, what their body really wants, is water. But the main thing is to drink enough fluid (aim to keep your urine a light straw colour), and make sure you aren’t undoing good efforts by drinking down lots of sugar, and fat, in the process.
- Alcohol - Most of us enjoy an alcoholic drink. However take care as good intentions dissolve in alcohol (and hangovers give you the munchies), it is high in calories, and above the recommended healthy limits there is a continuously increasing risk to your health. If you do exceed them, plan to have one or two alcohol-free days. Daily healthy limits are two to three units for women and three to four units for men. A unit (8g of alcohol) is equivalent to:
- Half a pint (285ml) of standard beer or cider
- Small glass (90-100ml) of wine or champagne
- Pub measure (25ml) of spirits
- 50ml glass of sherry or port
Guideline Daily Amounts
Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) have been developed to help people see how a particular food fits into an average healthy diet. These are listed below, along with corresponding values for an example of a lower calorie intake.
Each Day Men Women Lower Calorie Intake
Calories 2500 2000 1500
Fat (g) 95 70 55
of which saturates (g) 30 20 17
Sugar (g) 70 50 38
Salt/sodium (g) 7/2.5 5/2.0 5/2.0