Forget draconian diets and obsessive calorie counting. A new study shows that it takes only very slight changes to your eating habits to dramatically improve your longterm health. Here nutritionist NICOLE BERBERIAN reveals how…
1 Cut back on the number of times you shake the salt cellar or grind your salt mill. One shake delivers around 1⁄2g of salt every time. So if you shake once less at every evening meal, you’ll save 31⁄2g a week. Most of us consume 9g of salt a day.
A healthy adult intake is 6g, so even the smallest reduction has an impact on your health. Research shows that dropping your salt intake by as much as 3g a day would be enough to trigger a measurable fall in blood pressure, reducing your risk of stroke by 13 per cent and heart disease by 10 per cent.
2 Reduce sugar in your tea or coffee from two teaspoons to one, and you could save yourself up to 30g of sugar a day (if you drink six cups daily). That saves nearly 11kg of sugar a year. At 15 calories per teaspoon, that’s a cut of 32,000 calories a year.
You’d have to run 12 marathons (at 100 calories used per mile) to burn the equivalent of that amount.
3 Avoid products with the words ‘hydrogenated fat’ in the ingredients list – culprits include low-cost cakes, biscuits and pastries.
Studies show that eating even small amounts of transfats – or unsaturated fat – increases your risk of heart disease more than consuming any other food, and that by replacing just 2 per cent of your intake from transfats with different fats you can more than half your risk (by up to 53 pc).
4 Instead of filling your plate with carbohydrates (pasta, rice, potato) and meat, first fill half the plate with salad or vegetables, then split the remaining half between carbohydrates and meat.
Halving the quantity of rice, for instance, like this can cut calorie intake by 200 calories (400 calories for a generous 250g portion of rice compared with 200 for a more modest portion).
Do this once a day and within two weeks you should have cut out enough calories (nearly 3,000) to lose a pound of hard-toshift body fat.
You will also be increasing your intake of low-calorie, health-giving vegetables at the same time.
5 Peeling the skin off your chicken drumstick before you eat it will immediately cut out 4g of fat without any sense of deprivation.
Alternatively, reach for a packet of lean bacon at the supermarket instead of streaky bacon (worse – with rind on) and you’ll be taking on board 10g less fat with every two rashers you eat.
Reducing your saturated fat intake like this not only helps you manage your weight, but also helps to lower your cholesterol (saturated fats clog the arteries) and cuts your risk of heart disease.
6 Make the switch from high sugar fizzy drinks (cola contains eight teaspoons of sugar in every can) to water and you’ll be reducing your sugar intake by 40g of sugar every time.
Because liquid sugar in these drinks is delivered so quickly into your system, sugary drinks can increase your risk of insulin resistance (where the body is not able to effectively metabolise sugar), which in turn increases your risk of developing diabetes.
Studies show that cutting out one fizzy drink a day could reduce your risk of new-onset metabolic syndrome by as much as 45 per cent.
7 Stop yourself nibbling peanuts without thinking. There are 622 calories in a 100g fistful. It would take one hour of swimming to burn off that small, salty snack.
Bombay mix is little better at 150 calories a handful, while fat-free Japanese rice mix will set you back 120 calories.
8 Squirt a slightly smaller dollop of ketchup onto your plate. Each serving contains one to two teaspoons of hidden sugar (up to 10g). So by cutting back to the recommended serving size on the bottle (15g or two teaspoons), you will be more than halving your intake of extra, unnecessary sugar.
Scientists estimate that we each consume half a pound of sugar a day – more than four times as much as we should. The excess leads to weight gain, and all its associated health problems, including a higher risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
9 Never snatch breakfast on the run. A latte (such as a whole-milk grande at Starbucks) could notch up 265 calories, and a croissant adds 400 calories. That’s a nearly 700-calorie breakfast which is high in saturated fat and sugar (a 100g croissant has 20g of fat, most of which is saturated; the latte contains 13.8g of fat, of which 8.6g is saturated).
Get up a bit earlier and make two pieces of toast (ideally using wholemeal bread) and a cup of tea at home, and you will save money and more than 500 calories (two pieces of toast have 148 calories, while tea has 30) a day.
You can add butter and jam and put a teaspoon of sugar in your tea and still lose weight.
10 Stick to one full-fat biscuit rather than thinking you’re healthier with two or three low fat versions.
Most low-fat foods are made palatable by a massively increased sugar content. A low-fat biscuit, for instance, can contain as much as 50 per cent more sugar than a normal biscuit.
And sugar – if it is not burned off through exercise – will be stored as fat.
11 Put your own sugar on your cereal. A bowl of sugar-coated cornflakes contains 15g of sugar, but if you switch to a bowl of standard cornflakes (2.7g of sugar) and sprinkle a generous teaspoon of sugar on top (5g), you’ll halve your sugar consumption.
12 Chop up another onion into your cooking. One 80g onion per person (in stews or Bolognese sauce) counts towards everyone’s five-a-day portions of fruit and vegetables.
Add fruit to cereal, or sprinkle berries over porridge (fresh, dried, tinned or frozen). Most of us struggle to eat an average of three portions a day, never mind the recommended five, and experts know seven or even nine portions provide the best protection against heart disease and certain cancers.
Studies show that by adding one more serving of vegetables a day you may reduce your risk of breast cancer by 21 per cent, while one serving of fruit of day reduces the risk by 17per cent.
13 Be selective in your choice of ready meals and you could halve your calorie intake overnight. Indian and Chinese dishes are usually highly calorific – often more than 1,000 calories per portion.
For example, Tesco’s chicken korma meal for one has 1,130 calories, but Tesco’s lasagne contains a more acceptable 518 calories.
14 Have one less chocolate when the box goes round and save yourself 36 calories each time – just six of those tiny sweets eaten without thinking is equivalent to one bar of chocolate.
Avoid canapés and save 50 calories each time you say no. You’d need to hit the dance floor for a whole hour to burn off the 250 calories you consume by eating just five.
15 When you’re out celebrating your new-found health, make sure you toast your resolve with a glass of champagne.
At 100 calories a glass, it is a far better choice than wine or cocktails (wine glasses are so much larger than they used to be – some contain three units of alcohol) or opt for single measures of spirits (one unit of alcohol each) with a low-calorie mixer.