We are bombarded with healthy eating tips but it’s so easy to take a wrong turn. Our writer shares the six most common mistakes and how to avoid them.
We need to dramatically reduce the “free sugars” in our diets (that includes sugar added to food and the kind that’s naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices), the World Health Organisation says. It recommends that less than 10 per cent of our daily calorie intake should come from free sugars, the equivalent to around 12 level teaspoons.
No wonder then that products labelled as having “no added sugar” or “100 per cent natural sugar” look like the sensible choice. Yet beware, as these claims don’t necessarily mean the product is low in sugar. Ingredients such as honey, fruit juice, agave syrup, rice malt syrup and maple syrup (which count as free sugars) could actually mean the product is high in sugar, so consumption should be limited.
“Always check the ‘of which sugars…’ value on nutrition panels, even on products labelled ‘no added sugar’,” says registered dietitian Helen Bond. “If a food contains less than 5g sugar per 100g and a drink less than 2.5g sugar per 100ml, then you can be sure you’re choosing a product that’s low in sugar.”
CUTTING OUT FAT
If you do the maths, cutting back on fat is a good way to cut back on calories, too. After all, fat provides 9kcal per gram, compared to just 4kcal per gram from protein or carbohydrate. Yet trying to go fat free isn’t the best route to good health. Choosing low-fat foods doesn’t mean they are healthier.
“When going for a low-fat food you need to choose wisely,” warns Helen. “Always question what they’ve replaced the fat with. Check the nutrition label to ensure they haven’t just added extra sugar.”
When going for a low-fat food you need to choose wisely
Helen Bond, dietitian
Remember some fats are essential for our bodies to function properly. Omega-3 fats (the type found in oily fish), for example, are important for keeping our hearts and brains healthy, which is why experts recommend we eat one portion of oil-rich fish a week.
Plus the fat in some natural foods comes packaged with fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, nutrients that are vital for staying healthy. Vitamin A, for example, is important for skin and eye health. The key is to choose foods that contain the right sort of fat (unsaturated) as well as a good dose of other nutrients, foods such as avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil.
Cakes, biscuits, chocolate, takeaways and pastries should be limited as they’re often high in cholesterol-raising saturated fat but low in vitamins and minerals. Be selective about the low-fat foods you eat. Animal fats contain a high proportion of saturated fat so it’s advisable to choose reduced-fat dairy products and lean meats.
Limit all processed foods or “treats” such as chocolate biscuits, even those marked “reduced fat”, if the sugar content has been hiked up, they’re often just as unhealthy as the full-fat versions.
FALLING FOR THE LATEST FOOD FAD
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of the latest “miracle diet” that promises good health as well as weight loss. You follow the rules to the letter, avoiding certain foods and, more often than not, massively restricting your overall intake.
Once the pounds start to fall off, which invariably they do, you feel great. However, the limitations grow tedious and the diet unsustainable, so you find yourself back where you started, or possibly even worse off. Research suggests that cutting out or severely restricting a food group ultimately leads to cravings and over-consumption and weight gain.
“By their very definition, diets have a start and end point, after which we are likely to slip back into our old eating habits,” says Helen. “It’s much healthier to follow a more manageable eating plan which you can stick to in the long term.” While sustainable healthy eating and weight-loss plans differ from person to person, restrictive diets mess with everyone’s health.
BLENDING AND JUICING EVERYTHING
Recent years have seen liquid diets popularised by weight-loss success stories. For example, in the film Fat, Sick And Nearly Dead, Australian Joe Cross consumed nothing but fruit and vegetable juices for 60 days. For him it worked as it kick-started a new, healthy lifestyle. Yet living on nothing but juice for extended periods is generally ill advised.
“While juices are great for supplementing our diets with extra nutrients, it’s not wise to replace all meals with juices,” says Helen. “Not only will you miss out on fibre from not eating the solid food but also on chewing, which is vital for satiety.” Plus drinking large amounts of fruit-based juice can pack sugar into your diet. Good health isn’t just about what we feed our bodies, either. “Being able to sit down for a meal with family and friends is just as important for wellbeing as the food we eat,” says Helen.
Juices can be an easy way to boost our fruit and vegetable intake, but they only count as one of our five-a-day, no matter how much we drink. Stick to a maximum serving of one 150ml glass a day.
GOING DAIRY FREE
Cow’s milk has been blamed for causing many health conditions, from cancer and heart disease to allergies and catarrh. But most experts agree that rather than being bad for us, dairy products are an important part of a healthy diet, owing to the nutrients. “Ditching dairy means you’ll miss out on a range of nutrients including B vitamins, phosphorus and protein,” warns Helen. “Plus milk, cheese and yogurt are the main providers of calcium in our diets, which is vital for strong bones.”
National figures show five per cent of men, eight of women and 14 per cent of teenagers have calcium intakes below the minimum recommended. The National Osteoporosis Society reveals that three million people in the UK have osteoporosis, a condition where bones are so fragile that they can easily break. A low calcium intake, especially in childhood and teenage years, is thought to be a key contributor, as bones are unable to reach their full strength in adulthood.
If you do decide to stop eating dairy, make sure you eat plenty of other calcium-rich foods: tinned fish with edible bones (such as sardines), beans, nuts, green leafy vegetables, oranges and calcium-fortified soya products.
DENYING YOURSELF ALL TREATS
You’ve decided to control your weight by never eating “naughty” foods again. Yes, there will be some things you can live without but for most of us being able to enjoy the odd treat is a more sustainable strategy than total deprivation.
“It comes back to the mantra: everything in moderation,” says Helen. “I’m a believer in the 80/20 rule, whereby if 80 per cent of the time you eat a healthy diet, you can enjoy treats 20 per cent of the time.” Eat treats mindfully, focus on what you’re eating and savour each mouthful. This way you’ll be less likely to overeat.
Published: Jun 23, 2015. By ELLEN WALLWORK
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