Dash diet and Mediterranean diet voted as the best overall diets

Saturday, November 5, 2011 14:16
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November 5, 2011. A recent ‘diet ranking’ by 22 experts (under the supervision of USNews.com health section), nominated the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet as the world’s healthiest diets. This is no surprise at all since we have been talking about these diets for a very long time.  In our article last week we explained the real benefits of the Mediterranean diet which go beyond weight loss and DASH diet is included in our ranking for the best weight loss programs.

Both the DASH diet and Mediterranean diet share similar concepts. They are based on the principle of eating healthy food in moderation without exaggerations and by giving preference to lean protein, fruits and vegetables, whole grain and low fat dairy.

The DASH diet can help prevent and lower high blood pressure (hypertension) and was developed with the endorsement of The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).Besides the benefits of lowering blood pressure the DASH diet can also accelerate weight loss in a healthy manner.

On the other hand, The Mediterranean diet is considered as a heart healthy diet, can help prevent cancer, improve mental health and increase longevity. It is not just a diet but a lifestyle which encourages activity and other healthy habits. One of the unique characteristics of med diet is the consumption of wine in moderation and the excessive use of olive oil.

The other 3 diets that made it to the top of the list are:

TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes)– Created by the national health institute and offers more flexibility than other commercial diets.

Weight Watchers Diet – The best diet among the commercial diets

Mayo Clinic – A healthy diet but not very effective for long term weight loss.

In addition to the above list we would add our own Combination Diet which is based on Mediterranean diet principles. It is also flexible and not restrictive. You can read more in our previous post: Lose weight with the Combination diet.

Certainly if you are looking for healthy ways to lose weight the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet are the best you can get, not neglecting the effectiveness of TLC, Weight Watchers, Mayo Clinic and Combination diet.

In general when choosing a diet to lose weight you should always select a diet that you can follow and can fit in your own lifestyle. Avoid restrictive diets and prefer non-commercial diets since these are created for the whole purpose of helping you lose weight and life healthier and not for the intention of making profit.

The real benefits of the Mediterranean diet

Sunday, October 30, 2011 8:15
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mediterranean diet

It is a common claim that people in the Mediterranean live longer and are stronger and healthier. Is it true or is it a claim to help sale olive oil?

The Mediterranean dietary pattern has been linked with weight loss and positive health outcomes. Studies seem to be supportive of following a Mediterranean dietary pattern as a solution for weight loss and obesity.

We already nominated the Mediterranean diet as the best diet in our previous post 5 best weight loss programs for women and we have seen how to lose weight with the combination diet, a diet based on the Mediterranean dietary pattern.

In this article we have gathered a summary of some of the real benefits of the Mediterranean diet which go beyond weight loss.

The Mediterranean diet defined

The Mediterranean diet derives from the countries based in the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. The differences in dietary habits, cooking style ethnic and religious customs make it impossible to give one single definition of what the Mediterranean diet is.

Much of the scientific research originally looked at the benefits of the Cretan diet in Greece. Later studies looked and compared diets in the rest of Greece and Northen Italy. There are common components shared in the dietary patterns in all the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea however, at the same time there is a large diversity.
Therefore, it may be more accurate to refer to a Mediterranean dietary pattern or style rather than a ‘Mediterranean diet’.

Health benefits – cardiovascular disease

One of the main elements of the Mediterranean dietary pattern is the high consumption of foods deriving from plant origin such as fruit and vegetables. Why is this beneficial?

Plant foods are rich in fibre, vitamins minerals, antioxidants and polyphenols, factors which can lead to a number of health benefits. Studies indicate that such elements can have a protective role from cancer and CHD (coronary heart disease). A lot of the characteristic of the plant-derived foods consumed in a Mediterranean dietary pattern such as nuts, fruits, vegetables, garlic, herbs, and red wine contain a large amount of bioactive compounds. These can collectively provide significant health benefits. For example, nuts, are rich in phenols, flavonoids, and phytosterols, fruits and vegetables contain flavonoids, carotenoids, folic acid, and fibre, all of which are important in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Health benefits – cancer and other conditions

The protective benefits of the Mediterranean dietary pattern, against disease, don’t stop only with cardiovascular conditions. Some of the food elements which are part of the Mediterranean dietary pattern, such as aromatic herbs and wild greens, contain antioxidants and other compounds which may have a protective role against cancer and other diseases.

In addition, according to some studies this style of eating has been associated with positive outcomes for insulin resistance (improving insulin sensitivity) and lowering the risk of developing diabetes, inflammation and other conditions.

Drinking wine is a good thing

It is not often you hear the health experts and scientist saying that having alcohol is good. Some of the protective against disease elements of the Mediterranean diet are awarded to the moderate consumption of wine.

The moderate consumption of red wine in particular (1-2 small glasses per day for men and 1 glass per day for women) is suggested to help in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Alcohol contained in the wine is believed to favourably change the balance of fats in the blood which results in production of the HDL (high density lipoprotein) or what people tend to refer to as ‘good cholesterol’. Another benefit of consuming alcohol but in moderate amounts is that alcohol tends to stop the blood from clotting together. Finally, wine can contain antioxidants as resveratrol, quercitin and epicatechin which can have a protective role in the blood vessels.

Some studies argue that in the case of women wine consumption can increase the risk of breast cancer. Although these links are not always clear cut, in general it advised that women don’t consume wine and alcohol in large amounts.

Beneficial for mental health

Some studies have also looked into the benefits of following a Mediterranean dietary pattern in terms of mental health. Although scientific evidence are not as clear studies support there is a link between following a Mediterranean dietary style and reduced risk of developing some mental health conditions. For example some studies have shown that people who follow a Mediterranean dietary pattern show decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Live longer

Studies have shown that people who follow Mediterranean dietary patterns tend to live longer. It is not just an olive oil advert, but it is a scientific fact. I guess it kind of makes sense that if you have fewer diseases you will live longer. Yes that may be one reason why the Mediterranean dietary pattern has been connected with longevity. However, apart from keeping away from diseases which could kill you sooner, elements of the Mediterranean dietary pattern have been suggested to promote longevity.

Variability in the menu

With more than 18 countries based in the Mediterranean region there is plenty to choose from. Each country has its own recipes, customs and styles which can provide the Mediterranean menu with huge variability. Variations are also found within regions of every country so one kind of food may have hundreds of ways by which it can be cooked.

One could argue that you will never feel bored and you can always find something to like in such a huge menu.


Apart from being spoilt for choice the menu can quite palatable dishes. In the Mediterranean regions recipes use plethora of aromatic herbs and spices, wine, and other taste enhancing elements.

The use of such herbs and spices is not only good for the taste but also for health. A lot of these aromatic herbs have protective effects on health. For example rosemary and sage are antioxidants possibly due to the components (such as polyphenols or isoprenoids) they contain.

Weight loss

The Mediterranean dietary pattern has also been praised for helping in weight loss. Mediterranean style diets are believed to offer a healthy balanced option which can be low in calories.

Obviously a dietary style/pattern is what you make of it. For example, vegetables are, in general, low in calories and can contain vitamins and minerals. However, depending on how they are processed and cooked they may provide a meal with high calorific content and very little nutritional value.

The French paradox

Traditionally the French diet is rich in saturated fats, animal products such as cream, meats and they consume high amounts of wine. However, despite following such a diet they used to have low rates of cardiovascular disease and cholesterol and in majority they were very slim.

These statistics have changed in more recent times in which the French follow more westernized diets. A lot of scientists have tried to give different explanations for what they call the “French Paradox” but in general they believe that drinking wine and consuming large amounts of fruit and veg. are some of the main reasons for this phenomenon.

Similarly the Cretan diet can consist of a lot of red meat in some regions, however, the Cretan diet is considered as one of the healthiest.

Chef Silvia’s Advice “Change the recipe – in life and in the Kitchen!

Friday, October 21, 2011 12:48
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Our resident chef, Silvia, has a important words of wisdom for your life and when dealing with recipes in the kitchen……

In order to change anything in your life, change the recipe you’re using. The recipe always involves what you think, believe and do. Examine the ingredients that go into these three areas and continue using the ones that produce the results you want. Replace the ones that no longer work with new ingredients that do. The results will speak for themselves. Keep tweaking the recipe until you’re happy with what you’ve got.

Recipes are a hard thing to write. After having written hundreds of them, it does get easier but not less challenging. That’s because people expect them to be exact and I know there’s no such thing. How can there be when the very nature of a recipe is to merely be a guide? True, baking recipes come closer to being an exact formula, but cooking has another story.

When I give a cooking class, I never hand out recipes until after the class. That’s because I want the student’s attention on what is taking place around them, not on a piece of paper. Though having to create something without step-by-step instructions is enough to make some people quite uncomfortable, I know it’s the only way to learn. They learn by doing, by noticing how something tastes, smells, feels and looks. They learn that a “mistake” often leads to new discoveries and if not, if it’s truly inedible and can’t be fixed…you simply start over.

The reason a recipe cannot be exact is that a recipe is affected not only by the quality and differences of the ingredients used, but by what is expressed from within the cook. I know that to teach someone how to cook is to give them the tools to create a life…along with something good to eat. Cooking is a sacred act. Stirring a sauce with happiness will bring more flavor to it than anything you can add from the spice rack.

The famous chef Thomas Keller said, “A recipe has no soul. You as the cook must bring soul to the recipe.”

So let a recipe guide you to new culinary adventures. Celebrate your mistakes. Share your triumphs. Play with the variety of fresh ingredients available this harvest season…and send me your recipes
Enjoy this season of harvest,

Chef Silvia

Every autumn, as the weather begins to get nippy and the air is crisp, I’m delighted because now I can begin to make soup. And if there’s any recipe that is open to variations, it’s soup. To inspire you, take a look at what I did as a variation of split pea soup.

Split Pea and Tomato Soup with Sausage
1 lb of split peas (rinsed and any small stones removed)
¼ cup of olive oil
1 lb. of your favorite sausage (cut into bite sized pieces)
Half a small onion (or shallot) medium diced
1 fresh garlic clove (fine diced)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Half of a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
Tablespoon or two of chicken base (or bouillon)
8 cups water
Season to taste
Finish with chopped fresh parsley

In a medium/large saucepan, over medium/high heat add ¼ cup of olive oil or just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the sausage and brown on all sides. Add onion and cook until softened. Add the pepper flakes and the garlic. Cook for a few seconds, quickly followed by the tomatoes (this will prevent the garlic from burning). Add the tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes and then add the water. Bring to a boil and add the chicken base. Stir. Lower the heat to a gentle boil and cook for an hour or so or until the peas arrive at your desired level of doneness. Add more chicken base or water if needed and season to taste. Serve in individual bowls and finish with parsley.

Lose weight with the combination diet

Tuesday, October 18, 2011 10:59
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When I was writing the ‘Combination Diet’ book someone asked me if writing a diet book was a wise decision. Their argument was that there are so many diet books out there written by big ‘celebrity status’ names and so called diet gurus, backed up by big companies and advertising campaigns. So they quite rightly asked ‘What makes you think that your book can compete with all these?’

I say a fair enough question and here is my answer. First I am not writing a book to compete with anybody. Secondly if all the weight problems were solved and covered by all these books and diets then why is obesity reaching epidemic levels? From my experience so far I can say that there is a considerable amount of people visiting weight loss websites every day and they all are looking for the same thing; a weight loss solution.

Will the combination diet be the answer to all weight problems?

To put it quite simply, No it will not. Each and every one of us is a unique oddity and we can’t believe that one simple thing will suit each and every one of the few trillion of us around the world. Yes there is such a thing as optimum nutrition or the best recommended diet pattern but let’s be totally honest it is not for everybody. There will always be an ‘X’ diet which works for ‘Z’ amount people and an ‘A’ diet which will suit ‘B’ amount of people.

Dieting is a personal thing; we all have different tastes, different lifestyles, different metabolism, different habits and preferences. To try and fit everybody in one box will be like setting up our self to fail.

What does the Combination Diet has to offer then?

Through our experience in the weight loss field, (the team who some of you may already know through the weight loss articles) we have seen that people are looking for answers. We gathered this experience and all the information you all have passed to us through the time with your contact, comments and questions and we decided to put the ‘Combination Diet’ together. So basically the project was inspired by what people have showed us they want and need. 

Why that diet regime? We looked at our scientific knowledge and we looked at what science says and we put together a healthy, balanced diet which aims to return weight loss results. Our no 1 goal was weight loss and our no 2 goal was health. Our philosophy was try to provide people with a solution which will be easy, practical and above all healthy. As you may know there are numerous ways and diets you can go about losing weight but there are not always healthy.

From the above, and to quote my own self, we thought that not everybody is the same and so the ‘Combination Diet’ had to offer flexibility. Indeed flexibility in terms of food choices and calories to be consumed is the no1 philosophy of the diet.

What else is different?

Weight loss is not always an easy job, as some of you may know. We did not want to just sell a diet to people but put together a lifelong solution. Therefore, we have created the ‘combination diet’ package. The book itself is packed with tips and guidance for every step of dieting whether being with following the ‘combination’ regime or whether being making a lifestyle change, or following any weight loss regime. In addition, we have added an exercise section to further help you tackle and improve abdominal condition.

But it doesn’t stop there…there is actually more added on to it. With buying the combination diet you are actually buying to a membership which entitles you to online services such as calorie counter, food and activities diaries and support from our experts. In other words you are not alone. We are there to guide you and help you in your weight loss steps. Our aim is to continuously update the members’ site with tips, menus, recipes and with whatever else you tell us you need.

More on the diet.

I was looking at the diet 2 days ago with one of my colleagues and I simply said tell me any comments. After going through the diet she said to me I could never eat tuna for breakfast, I would be sick, I don’t like salmon and I think I could only eat eggs for a couple of days. My response to her was ‘What do you like to eat?’ It turns out that she can only eat porridge and although she wants to lose her belly ready for the Christmas period she couldn’t give up her porridge.

I bring this example as I am sure a lot of people may think along similar ways. I would never in a million years want to create a diet which would be a torture for people. This is one main reason why the diet had to be flexible. The diet offers lists of menus for main meals and additional choices which you can combine with your main meals. In that respect you can chose what you want to eat, when you want to eat it and how much you want to eat. There will be choices which you don’t like at all, well then you don’t have to eat them.

The nutritional and calorie information which come with all the choices will further help you to set your own calorie range to follow every day. There is a step by step guide to help you determine how to set your own calorie range depending on how much weight you want to lose. Are you having difficulty to decide how or what to do, then ask us and we will help you.

To go back to my colleagues comments I have added a few weight loss tips to further take with you with the ‘Combination Diet’.

        Tip1.   You do not have to be rigid in following the combination diet. The menus provided are a guide. For some people the choices may suit them just fine for others it may not be all to their taste and preference.

        Tip2.   If the above is the case then make a list of the foods which is no absolute way that you can give up. For Stella it was porridge for breakfast, for you it may be something else. Once you done the list go through it and try to think if you can give it up for a few days, not at all, or if they could comfortably go to a ‘once a week’ category.

        Tip3.   Be realistic with your list. Well if your list includes I can’t give up on chips and pizza, be realistic that this kind of food will not lead to weight loss if eaten every day unless you starve all day just to have chips and pizza for dinner. Well that is unrealistic and unhealthy. If you are willing to eat chips and pizza once a week then this is more realistic and possible.

        Tip4.   Put foods which you can’t stop eating in small portions (bag or container etc). For example: Is it chocolate your biggest weakness? Cut the chocolate in small portions and store it in separate bags. Make an agreement with yourself as to when you will eat a portion of chocolate and stick to it. The agreement could be I will eat one portion a day, or I will eat it only when my friend come around for coffee, it can be as specific or as general as it suits you. Make sure you calculate the calories of a portion of the food of your choice and add it to your daily calorie intake.

        Tip5.   If you are like Stella and you can only have one thing for breakfast then don’t torture yourself trying to give it up. Try to make it as healthy as possible. In the case of Stella I would say that porridge can be high in sugars especially when adding syrup, sugar, jam etc for taste. Avoid the syrup and add a handful of nuts. Nuts can keep you feeling full for longer so you will not be getting the sugar cravings mid day. Or make sure you have a nice protein based snack or nuts if you do feel the mid day cravings. Use our food finder to calculate how many calories are in porridge and add it up. Adapt the diet to your needs and not your needs to the diet.

        Tip6.   Follow the principles of the diet for any other food changes. For example if you don’t like chicken and you prefer turkey then make sure you grill it and not fry it and again use the food finder in the site to find how many calories that food has.

        Tip7.   Be realistic with your weight loss goals and the diet results. Well is needless to say that if you do chose to have a small portion of chips with your dinner every day, because you cannot live without chips then you will also need to be more linear with your expectation. It could mean that losing that extra pound it may take a little bit longer. At the end of the day you will not be losing loads of weight by eating chips. The idea is that if keeping the chips will mean sticking to a diet then that is better than not losing weight at all or resulting to extreme and possibly unhealthy option (i.e. tape warms).


13 Healthy snack ideas for weight loss

Friday, September 30, 2011 6:22
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To help you stay within your weight loss goals we have gathered 13 healthy snacks for weight loss you can safely try out without the risk of gaining extra weight. The usual source of those extra and often unhealthy calories is the ‘snack time’. I like to say that healthy or not if you can avoid snacks then do avoid them all together. If you are following a healthy balanced diet plan then you don’t need to snack; you are providing your body with enough calories and food to take you through the day.

However, I must admit that it is not always that simple. I am the first to put my hand up and say that I forever struggle to have nice, easy, healthy snacks which will not topple my calorie counter.

After long planning, I have collected 13 healthy snacks for weight loss to try out. I am employing a ‘kiss’, ‘marry’ ‘avoid’ system. I am actually stealing this phrase from a British TV series but I think it works great when it comes to choosing foods. So for my version of choosing snacks ‘kiss’ means eat in moderation; it could be that they are either high in calories or may not be as good if consumed in large amounts. ‘Marry’ as much as you like and it is for life (these are the best snacks for weight loss) and ‘avoid’ I think is self-explanatory.

Healthy snack foods for weight loss

1. Vegetables. (Marry)

Vegetables can make a great snack. They are low in fat and depending how you have them they can be very low in calories. There is a huge variety of vegetables and there are numerous different ways in having them as a snack which means that they can cover most tastes. You can eat them raw, cut them into sticks or as part of a small salad or grill them, boil them and so on.

Above all most vegetables are full of fibre, minerals, antioxidants, vitamins and so on. In simple words they can be all around rich in nutrients and can be very beneficial to health.

Why Not…cut carrots, celery cucumber and peppers into strips and have them with homemade salsa (pre-prepared dips can be high in sugars and preservatives).

Why Not… slice courgettes (zucchini) aubergine and peppers and grill them. You can eat them on their own or with some low fat cheese.     

2. A bag of salad (Marry)

Ok technically it is the same as vegetables. This snack is for those who pick and are likely to go for a packet for crisps. Someone will argue that picking on a bag of salad is not the same as picking on a bag of crisps. Well no it is not, salad is healthy, very low in calories, contains water which help you keep hydrated, does not contain massive amounts of trans fats, or salt. I can go on and on… I personally think is tasty as well.

3. Dried mixed nuts (Kiss)

Another healthy snack for weight loss, which can be nutrient rich, is easy and can make you feel full. However, dried nuts can be rich in fat and calories, so do eat them in moderation. For example 187g of mixed nuts can contain 800kcal, which could be half of your daily calorie needs and can contain 70g of fat, so aim for just a handful. In addition, many of the mixed nuts sold in shops may be roasted in vegetable oils, which can increase trans-fat content, or contain large amounts of salt. Read the label and try to aim for the dry roasted, without added salt or uncooked.

Nutritional values, as well as calorie content will depend on the type of nuts you choose and how they have been prepared. The below table includes an example of some of the nutritional information for dry roasted mixed nuts with no added salt.

Nutrition data for dry roasted mixed nuts, no added salt. (187g serving)
Calories 814kcal
Total Fat 70g Of which saturated 9g
Total carbohydrate 35g
Fiber 12g
Protein 24 g
Folate 68.5mcg
Calcium 95.9mg
Iron 5.1mg
Magnesium 308mg
Zinc 5.2mg
Phosphorus 596mg
Potassium 818mg
Sodium 16.4mg

Nutrient data taken from out diet and exercise planner

4. Fruit (Kiss)

You must have heard from just about everywhere how important it is to eat loads of fruit and veg. so it may come as a surprise that I actually say in moderation instead of eat ample. Fruit are packed with nutrients such as vitamins, antioxidants and minerals and undoubtedly there should be part of a healthy balanced diet. My ‘in moderation’ does not mean now and then and if you can have a fruit a day please do.

The only issue with fruits is that they can contain quite a lot of sugars. Sugar content as well as nutrient content will depend on the kind of fruit. Do include them in your daily diet having a large variety, and do have them as a snack, however, do not base your diet in large amount of fruit as you may find yourself consuming quite a lot of sugar.

Moreover, be aware that just because a food item contains a fruit is not always a healthy option. For example an apple pie is not a fruit or a healthy weight loss snack.

Why Not…Have a bowl of fruit salad. Try avoiding adding sugar or fruit juice from a carton or bottle. Use the juices of the fruit or squeeze an orange. You can sprinkle a few seeds and/or dried nuts (remember in moderation).

 Why Not…Freeze fruit and use them to blend them into a refreshing smoothie or to replace an ice cream craving. 

5. Olives (Marry)

I must say that olives are my favourite and I can eat the whole big jar in one sitting. If you do eat them to that extend they can add up to a lot of calories but if you just have them as a snack or to complement a salad then they are great. Olives is a main element of a Mediterranean type of diet and they are in general low in carbohydrate content and a source of monosaturated fats. Olives also contain a variety of different nutrients and they do come in a large variety of sizes, and kinds which means you have different tastes to choose from.

Why Not…enhance the taste of olives and make them more interesting. Keep them in a jar with olive oil and add garlic and herbs, or vinegar or even chilli (allow a couple of days the different tastes to blend).    

6. Cheese (Kiss)

Again with cheese you have loads of variety and tastes so you can find what rocks your taste buds. It can be high in saturated fats and calories depending on the type of cheese. As a general rule white cheeses tend to be lower in fat. That does not mean that you cannot enjoy the rest just keep it in moderation. In addition, be aware that some blue cheeses may have a strong smell and may not be the best snack choice in a working environment.

In general, be aware of the fat content and how much cheese you consume. You can combine cheese with some rye crackers or olives or a piece of ham and it will make a good healthy and easy snack.

7. Yogurt (Kiss)

Similarly to cheese be aware that it can be high in saturated fat content but can get the low fat versions. Go for natural yogurts and try to avoid the fruity or the ones which come in different tastes (i.e. toffee, vanilla etc) as in general they tend to have preservatives and sugars and do try adding loads of sugar in it or different fruit sauces, marmalade and so on.

Yogurt can be an easy and versatile healthy snack solution.

Why Not…Make your own fruit yogurt by adding fresh fruit.

Why Not… freeze mixed yogurt with fruit and have it instead of a sweet snack or on a hot summer’s day. 

8. Fizzy zero (Kiss)

By fizzy zero I mean all the fizzy drinks which have zero sugar. You may not necessarily want something to eat but do want something to taste. Moreover, thirst can sometimes be mistaken with hunger and is good to have a drink first before attacking the snacks. Ideally is best to have water but I totally understand that some people like to have a tastier drink. If you are a fan of fizzy drinks the ones in the zero or diet category usually contain miniscule amount of calories.

Do not go overboard with them as they do contain sweeteners and there has been quite a lot of controversy regarding their safety in terms of health. But do keep well hydrated through the day and don’t wait until you are thirsty to have a drink. My first recommendation again will be water and do keep fizzy drinks at bay.

9. Freshly squeezed juice (Marry)

I had a friend who used to substitute her breakfast and snacks with a freshly squeezed juice. I wouldn’t recommend going as far as that but you can definitely use it as a snack. As mentioned above is important to keep hydrated and thirst can be mistaken with hunger.

Try to avoid pre-packed juices as they are high in sugars and preservatives and quite honest fruit have lost most of their nutrients by the time it reached your glass.

Try mix mixing fruit and veg. together for less sugar content instead of just fruit. You can get a juicing book or even just search through the internet and you’ll see there is a plethora of different recipes.

10. Rye crackers (Kiss)

I call rye crackers my saviours and they are a sort of a lifeline for me. I always carry a few in my bag and I snack on them through the day. I spend most of my working day in my car and don’t always have time for lunch so rye crackers are there for all day snacking, stomach settling, boredom munching and so on.

However, they can contain a lot of carbohydrates although it is less than a slice of bread and they tend to have low GL (glycemic index). You can combine them with a piece of cheese or ham or olives for a nice easy snack but try not to consume them in large amounts.

11. Eggs (Marry)

Eggs are not something which is often seen as a snack but more like a meal. Eggs are high in protein and can keep you full for longer. They are fussier to prepare and is not the sort of snack you just pick and go. However, you know you are likely to have a snack in work or through the day you can get them ready in the morning and take them with you. Hard boiled eggs can be a fast and filling snack.

Why Not…Have an ‘eggy’. This is my favourite egg snack and my grandmother used to make for me when I was a child. Part boil (leave the yolk runny)2 eggs. Rough cut them in a bowl and mix with a piece of toast or 2 rye crackers. Add salt & pepper to taste and 1tsp of olive oil. Mix it all up.

It doesn’t look as good but it tastes divine. Be aware it can be high in calories. 

12. Ham (Kiss)

A packet of ham can provide an easy and quick high protein snack. Different types can be processed and high in fat. Try to opt for fresher types, lean and maybe roasted or boiled. In general if it comes out of a tin tends to be processed, with added sugars and preservatives. Use ham in moderation.


13. Bread free sandwich (for desperate times)

This is actually a trick I tend to do when I am desperate for something to eat. There are many of times where I find myself in the middle of a village with just a convenient store in site and I need to get a snack which I can eat while driving. If my only option is a sandwich I tend to get something which is easy to eat, like chicken salad, chicken and bacon, I remove the bread and eat only the filling.

Is not the best snack option and pre-packed sandwiches from shops may contain sauces such as mayonnaise, sugars, salt etc. Not the healthiest of all, and not the most economical, but this is a desperate solution. If you can’t find anything else and you are desperate try that trick and you will be improving the carbohydrate and calorie profile of a sandwich.

The above 13 healthy snack ideas for weight loss are only a suggestion and you are always advised to consult a medical professional before making dietary changes if you have any health issues or concerns.

Q & A with our Resident Chef : Homemade Mayo

Friday, September 9, 2011 15:40
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Recent question from our “Ask Chef Silvia” feature:

Name: tom
Message: My mayo won’t emulsify. Any thoughts? I’m using a blender.
State: FL
Submitted On: 2011-09-06 15:00:13

Hi Tom,
Yes. Usually when something won’t emulsify it’s because you are adding the oil too quickly. Try adding the oil in drips, especially in the beginning. You can quicken the drip into a steady stream once the mayo begins to thicken.

Thanks for asking,

Chef Silvia

5 Best weight loss programs for women

Wednesday, September 7, 2011 13:23
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Wondering which are the best weight loss programs for women? Which diets or weight loss solutions can generate the best, the healthiest, the safest and the faster results?  The majority of our readers are women and very often we get comments asking the same questions. For the last couple of weeks we started a research project to find out which are the top 5 ways for women to lose weight. There are a plethora of weight loss programs, diets, supplements and weight loss pills circulating the market and we have selected the top 5 that meet our criteria (see below) and that are best suited for women. We have many times provided weight loss tips for women to help them lose weight without engaging into any weight loss program but in this post we are going to examine in detail the weight loss programs that are worth considering.

Our Criteria for choosing the best weight loss program for women

To compile our criteria for choosing the best program we have considered the following:

The dietary guidelines for Americans – The US government department of health published in 2010 the dietary guidelines for Americans. The guide provides advice on the different aspects of weight loss including diet, recommended calorie intake and exercise. The weight loss programs selected below adhere to these standards.

Healthy and safe weight loss: We have said many times that our goal is to help you lose weight in a healthy and safe way. We do not like crash diets, fad diets, suspicious products or anything that does not promote healthy and permanent weight loss.

A program that works and can be followed by the majority of women:  Many weight loss solutions can generate results but not for the average women. They can work for celebrities or fit women but not for women of all ages and body type. Our goal was to present you with programs that you can follow and above all programs that will generate the results YOU want. Both men and women have weight problems but in general women are more anxious to lose weight. We wanted the programs to be ‘women friendly’ and take into account the different life stages that a woman has to undergo in her life (period, wedding, pregnancy, and menopause).

Recommended calorie intake for women

Before getting into the details of each weight loss program is it worth noting the recommended calorie intake for women as well as the distribution between the 3 main food groups. The recommendations are provided by the dietary guidelines for Americans.

Daily calorie intake

Women between the ages of 21-25: 2,000 calories

Women between the ages of 26-50: 1,800 calories

Women over 50: 1,600 calories

Food group distribution

Fat: 20%-35%

Carbohydrates: 45%-65%

Protein: 10%-35%

5 Top weight loss programs for women

In order of importance, these are the top 5 weight loss programs for women that in our opinion are worth considering.

1. Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is not just another commercial diet but it is a lifestyle that promotes healthy eating and healthy living. It is a natural weight loss program that was nominated by UNESCO as the world’s healthiest diet. The Mediterranean diet is a mixture of the cultures and dietary preferences of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean basin and hence this is from where it got its name.

Adherence of the Mediterranean diet to the dietary guidelines for Americans

The Mediterranean diet is a balanced diet and it is in accordance with the dietary guidelines. In fact most of the guidelines suggested are based on Mediterranean diet principles and the majority of the recommended foods are taken from the Mediterranean diet food pyramid. The endorsed distribution of fat, protein and carbohydrates for a healthy diet is:

Fat: 20 -35 %

Protein: 10- 35 %

Carbohydrates: 50 %

The Mediterranean diet adheres perfectly to these standards and the food components that make up med diet make it a heart friendly diet.

Healthy and safe

The Mediterranean diet is above all a healthy and safe diet. It is a statistical fact that people who live in the Mediterranean basin (Greeks, Italians etc.) live longer and have less incidents of cancer and cardiovascular diseases than Americans. It is not a restrictive diet and can be safely followed by men and women of all ages.

A program that works and can be followed by the majority of women:

The vast selection of food choices available in med diet makes it a perfect choice for women. Med diet gives more emphasis to fruits and vegetables, olive oil, legumes, fish, whole grains and less emphasis to red meat, processed food and other fatty and non- natural products. Since our goal is weight loss we should take into account that to lose weight you need to consume fewer calories than what you need. The Mediterranean diet does a good job in this aspect as well since the average calories in each meal are around 1500 (of course this depends on the foods selected but as a rule of thumb the average is around this number) . The recommended daily intake for women between 20-25 years is 2000 calories, for women between 26-50 years is 1800 calories and for women over 50 is 1600 calories. So, a daily intake of around 1500 calories will create a calorie deficit that will gradually lead to weight loss in a natural way.

2. 17 day diet

Unlike the Mediterranean diet, the 17 day diet is not a natural diet but a commercial diet. This means that the sole purpose of the 17 day diet is to help you lose weight. It is not a lifestyle but it has a beginning and an end.  This weight loss program consists of 4 phases, with each phase lasting 17 days.

The main concept behind this program is calorie cycling. Dr Moreno, the diet author, suggests that with calorie cycling you aid your metabolism and keep away boredom while dieting.

In brief the different phases of the 17 day diet program are:

Phase 1 – “The accelerate cycle”: At the first stage you are allowed to consume protein type foods in unlimited quantities and small amounts of fat provided that you daily calorie intake is around 1200 calories. This is the stage where you will experience fast weight loss.

Phase 2 – “The activate cycle”: You decrease the amount of fat and increase the amount of carbs. Typical calorie intake is 1500 calories per day.

Phase 3- “The achieve cycle”: You are allowed to eat almost any type of food but in moderation

Phase 4-“The arrive cycle”: This is the maintenance part where you are supposed to watch your weight and follow phases 1-3 when in problem.

Adherence of the 17 day diet to the dietary guidelines for Americans

The 17 diet is not a bad diet. Phases 1 and 2 are not according to standards but phase 3 is a rather balanced phase. We have selected this diet to be part of our best weight loss programs for women because many women want fast results in a short period of time and phases 1 and 2 can give you the results you want in 34 days. The tricky part is to keep the weight off when you are entering phases 3 and 4 and this is where you need discipline.

The 1200 calorie diet plan introduced in phase 1 is the minimum you can go and since it is only for 2 weeks there are no serious implications. We have also presented our 1200 calorie diet for women in the past.

Healthy and safe

Although going as low as 1200 calories per day may not be suitable for some people we believe that for the average woman it should not create any problems (provided of course that you are not pregnant or suffering from any disease or disorder). Phases 2 and 3 are according to safety guidelines and the overall instructions provided in the 17 day diet book do not engage any health risks. The calorie cycling is indeed a way to kick start your metabolism and since each phase is only 17 days it does not create any other side effects.

A program that works and can be followed by the majority of women:

You can get results by following this program provided that you do it correctly and by the book. What many women like about this diet is the fact that is has a clear start and end points. You know from advance that you will enter a diet for 68 days. After that period you evaluate your results and decide the way forward. We did research into various forums and read the experiences of people who followed this diet and most of them did manage to lose weight and most importantly they manage to keep the weight off. Those that failed to do so did not follow the complete set of instructions but they tried a hybrid diet which at the end made them fail.

3. Dukan Diet

We first came across the Dukan Diet right after the media around the world ‘announced’ that this was the diet followed by Kate Middleton before the Royal wedding. This world’s interest drove our curiosity to find out more about the Dukan diet and we decided to include it as one of the top 5 weight loss programs for women.

The Dukan diet is a ‘phase diet’ similar to Atkins and 17 day diet but it’s main idea is to take care of what you eat rather than the quantity of the food you eat.  For this purpose the diet has a long list of foods you are allowed to consume at each stage. It is not an open diet where you choose what to eat (provided that you are within a certain calorie range) but it is a ‘closed diet’ in the sense that you are given a list of the foods to eat. In brief the 4 stages of the Dukan Diet are:

Preparation Phase – get ready by eating only protein type foods.

Weight Loss Phase – eat protein and fiber and lose weight.

Protective Phase – start eating foods from carbs, fats and protein and watch your weight

Maintenance phase – Eat healthy foods from all food groups.

The 2nd phase does not have a specific timeframe but it all depends on the amount of weight you want to lose.

Adherence of the Dukan diet to the dietary guidelines for Americans

As with the 17 day diet the first 2 phases of the Dukan Diet do not fully comply with the suggested standards because they restrict certain food items from your daily diet and promote low calorie meals which are sometimes below the average. The 3rd and 4th stage though is according to standards and best practices. The list of healthy foods suggested by the Dukan Diet has the same characteristics as the foods suggested in the dietary guidelines.

Healthy and safe

It can become unhealthy if you over do it. Restricting food groups from your diet for a long time is not healthy or recommended. If on the other hand you follow phase 1 and 2 for a reasonable amount of time (a couple of weeks) then you minimize the possible dangers.

A program that works and can be followed by the majority of women:

The Dukan Diet worked for Kate Middleton and many other celebrities and it can work for you as well. It needs some preparation work to ensure that you have in stock the foods items you are allowed to eat but if you are really determined to lose weight using the Dukan diet then certainly you can do it.

4. Slim-fast weight loss program

The slim-fast diet is something like an ‘out of the box’ weight loss solution in the sense that it comes with ready made products (snack bars, shakes, meal bars) that can be used to replace 2 of your main meals (breakfast-lunch) and snacks. This gives you the opportunity to consume up to 500 calories in a meal of your choice for dinner. It is based on a 1200 calorie diet and is best suited for people who need to lose more than 20 pounds.

Adherence of the slim-fast diet to the dietary guidelines for Americans

Since most of the meals and snacks are ready made products by slim-fast, they ensured that the daily intake of fats, protein and carbs is in accordance to the dietary guidelines. In numbers the distribution of fats, protein and carbs from slim-fast products is 20%, 30%, 50%. Their products also provide satisfactory doses of minerals and vitamins.

Healthy and safe

It is a healthy and safe diet to follow. Their products are not considered as supplements but as balanced food items which are both healthy and safe to consume. There are also associated with positive effects on insulin and blood sugar levels.

A program that works and can be followed by the majority of women:

If you follow the slim-fast program by the book it will work. There is no way out since the major meals are composed of slim-fast products that guarantee the amount of calories you consume. Now, there are both advantages and disadvantages to this approach. First it is costly because you will have to order all those slim-fast products and second there is a chance that you will get bored quickly and quit. On the other hand it is a perfect solution for the working woman who does not have the time to cook or organize her meals in advance. If you want a quick solution that is healthy and can generate good results then the slim-fast solution is for you.

5. DASH Diet

Last but certainly not least we have the DASH Diet. The DASH diet is a balanced diet similar to the Mediterranean diet. It is the result of research carried out in 4 medical centers and sponsored by The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). The main purpose of this diet is to help you lower your high blood pressure through healthy eating practices and lifestyle changes. By eating healthy food and following an active lifestyle you also promote weight loss. It is a diet that can be really helpful especially for women over 40 and 50. The basic principle of the DASH diet for losing weight is the following:  first you need to calculate how many calories you need per day and then you must adjust the calories you consume and the calories you burn so that you constantly create a calorie deficit or ensure that you are not creating a calorie surplus. In other words you need to consume fewer calories than what you burn.

Adherence of the DASH diet to the dietary guidelines for Americans

The DASH diet adheres perfectly to the dietary guidelines.  It is a balanced diet which gives more emphasis on fruits and vegetables and less to fats (saturated), sugars and salt. It is a heart-friendly diet which is proven to lower blood sugar levels and bad cholesterol.

Healthy and safe

Together with the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet is probably among the safest and healthiest diets in the World. People suffering from heart related diseases or hypertension are ‘forced’ to follow the DASH diet for health and weight loss.

A program that works and can be followed by the majority of women:

We already mentioned above that this diet is perfect for women over 40 and it is a very good choice for women of all ages. It is not very difficult to follow as it does not restrict any food groups from your daily meals. All it takes it to be selective on what you eat and in what quantities. You do not need any special preparations on food other than remembering to minimize the consumption of red meat, fats, sugars and salt.


At the time of publishing this post, these are the 5 weight loss programs we believe are more suited to women. For sure there are many other diets and programs that are suitable for women but based on our experience, research and criteria these can produce immediate results. You can also read a previous post on the most popular weight loss diets to get a better view on what is available in the market. What is important is to select a program or diet and stick to it for a number of weeks and then evaluate the results and consider if the particular program can work for you or not. Do not let the fancy marketing advertisements of weight loss products take you over but base your decision on healthy standards and practices.

Our beloved Tomato!

Thursday, August 18, 2011 21:55
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One of our monthly emails a few years ago was all about the tomato (click here to read) – while it was very informative, our resident Chef (Silvia) has a way of expressing her feelings about foods that is quite unique. Here our her thoughts on our beloved tomato…..and a few recipes!

“I think there’s nothing more delicious than a tomato picked at the height of its flavor, and perfectly prepared into one simple, exquisite dish. For me, no ingredient is better equipped for this culinary challenge than a tomato, plucked from its vine just when its juices threaten to burst through the skin forming a crack, as if in testament to its efforts.

Now is the time to celebrate the tomato in all its varieties. Every year at this time I’m so thrilled a tomato actually tastes like a tomato that I go a little crazy, but I just can’t help myself. It’s tomato season in the Northeast and for the next several weeks as they begin to ripen on local vines, I intend to eat as many as I can because – unless I move to a warmer climate – I won’t have this particular pleasure again until next year, so I get a little greedy.

I start my feast by preparing a variety of simple dishes that require little or no cooking. I want to eat them raw, cut in thick slices, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. And when I want something different from this simple preparation, I can add other ingredients that complement – without masking – its starring role; thinly sliced red onions, finely minced garlic, slivered basil, chopped parsley or oregano, bits of kalamata olives, filets of roasted bell peppers or anchovies, sliced raw jalapeños or fried hot peppers, and of course fresh mozzarella.

Besides its obvious culinary delights, the tomato is a divine elixir, a gift from the gods, rich in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant which neutralizes free radicals before they cause damage, thus warding off everything from wrinkles to heart attacks. Who needs to bother with skin care and heart pills when we could just eat tomatoes?

My love affair with this tasty and medicinal fruit has emotional and philosophical benefits for me as well, making it necessary to have at least one vine – even if it’s in single pot on the porch – to care for. Every touch releases the aroma that instantly conjures up the memory of my childhood garden, where I walked between rows and rows of tall vines tied to heavy wood stakes making me feel like I was on a farm instead of wandering in a suburban backyard. And I get a clear picture of my father on his knees, bending over, tenderly caring for them; tying loose branches heavy with ripening fruit, removing yellow leaves, nurturing their growth, and so I can get nostalgic…even a bit melancholy.

Or possibly I’m smitten because whenever I look at a snarly tomato – the ones the market labels “ugly” and charges extra for – I’m reminded that it’s the imperfect tomatoes that taste the best. It helps me accept my own imperfections. Or maybe I’m just being Italian, with a cultural habit of thinking too much.

Whatever the reason for my fascination with tomatoes, right now I plan to indulge in a feast devoted to them. Hope you do too.
Chef Silvia

Simple Tomato Salads
The summer salad we served most often from my childhood garden was randomly diced tomatoes (core and imperfections removed – bite sized pieces) mixed with thinly sliced red onions and basil, seasoned and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. We ate it along with a hunk of rustic bread to lap up the juices. It’s still my favorite. However, after eating tomatoes this way a few times, I decided to add a few things. I had a container of red and yellow bell peppers I roasted the other day so I pulled out a few filets of yellow peppers along with a few kalamata olives that I tore in small bits as well as a thinly sliced raw jalapeno. I mixed all this together, let them mingle a bit while I poured myself a glass of shiraz and sliced a hunk of fresh bread, which is a treat in itself but mandatory as an accompaniment to a tomato salad.

Warm Penne Salad
This flavorful dish was a customer favorite at my former Connecticut restaurant, Biscotti. The reason it tasted so good was because it married two classic dishes, pasta with butter and cheese and a brushetta topping, melding the heat of one with the coolness of the other. For this dish, opposites do attract. You can customize it to your liking but this is how I make it.

For the Topping
3 – 4 “ugly tomatoes” (depending on size)

½ cup seedless kalamata olives – cut in half

1 cup diced fresh mozzarella (medium dice)

4 – 6 large fresh basil leaves – slivered

Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (about ¼ cup or to taste)

Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper

For the Pasta
1 lb penne (use small shapes like a mini penne or other small cut so the pasta doesn’t overwhelm the “sauce”)

¼ cup olive oil + 1 stick butter

1 clove fresh garlic – finely chopped

Freshly grated pecorino or parmesan cheese (to taste)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Cook pasta according to package directions and drain.

In the meantime, in a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil and garlic. Sauté for a few moments until the garlic begins to turn golden. Add the cold butter in pats (this will prevent the garlic from burning and ruining the sauce). Once the butter has melted remove from the heat, and mix with the penne. You can add the pasta to the pan if it’s large enough (this is best) or pour the sauce over the pasta in a separate bowl. Add in freshly grated cheese according to taste, finish with fresh chopped parsley if you like, toss and spoon onto individual plates. Top with the tomato mixture and


Easy tips to cut 200 calories per day from your diet

Sunday, August 14, 2011 14:53
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There is often a misconception that if someone wants to lose weight they have to go on a diet. This usually translates in people’s minds with following a specific popular weight loss diet regime, usually a quite rigid one. It does kind of make sense as it is the way people eat which is most likely the reason they put on weight. I will always preach in favour of following a healthy balanced diet, however, you don’t always need to ‘go’ on a diet or follow a specific diet, or even radically change all your eating habits.

There are loads of little ways by which people can cut the calories down without a radical diet makeover and still lose weight. Read on these weight loss tips on how this is possible.

1. Tackle the portion size.

The simplest way to cut down on the calories is to reduce the size of the meal portion. What the meal contains will make a difference for both health and weight; however if your diet is more or less healthy and balanced or if you are really determined that you don’t want to change what you eat, then go for portion size. This does not mean starve yourself by all means or skip meals. If you were going to have a burger and chips have a small burger and half of the amount of chips you would usually eat.

A personal friend who tends to follow this tip always suggests using smaller size dinner plates and only just about fill them, without going for multiple layers. Well think about the psychological aspect:

a)      If you have an extra large plate and ½ of it is empty you may process this as not enough food or be tempted to fill it.

b)      If you have a medium sized dinner plate and is full psychologically you could think that this is enough food.

Often when we feel hungry we can overload our plates and eat beyond the point of satiety. Think how many calories you can save if you cut the portion size of every meal…

2.  Cut down on fizzy and sugary drinks

Calories from fizzy and sugary drinks are the one’s which tend to go unaccounted for. Possibly because people don’t tend to think that a glass or two of fizz could tip the scales over.

Well a small size cup (16 fl oz/ 345 g) of the classic coca cola* from burger king contains as much as 150 kcal. The glass that you may consume at home is not that far off on the calories. How many of those do you usually consume per day? Do the maths to see how many calories you could avoid. Stick to only 1 or 2 glasses a day or opt for sugar free or low calorie ones. However, be aware that some artificial sweeteners commonly used in fizzy drinks have been questioned regarding the health risks they may carry if over consumed.

Like the fizzy drinks, a lot of the pre-packed fruit juices and fruit drinks can also be as calorific. For example 1 can (12 fl oz / 436 g) of breakfast type orange drink with juice can contain as much as 665 kcal. Having second thoughts about that glass you had for breakfast?

You can use our free calorie counter to track down the calories each food, drink and activity has.

 3. Skip sugary snacks, biscuits and crisps 

Offices, schools, and workplaces in general tend to house a biscuit tin in the kitchen or common area, or a snacks vendor. The same way dampness breads bacteria, offices bread calories. If you add the couple of biscuits with the packet of crisps and the energy bar you had you will probably find that you had an extra meal. Always carry some healthy snacks like a fruit or a handful of nuts to cover you if you get a craving or the munches and try to say no to the very tempting box of chocolates.    

4. Skip cereals and cereal bars

Ok maybe I should rephrase this in skip some cereals, but I must admit I am not part of the cereal fun club all together. Breakfast is an important meal so treat it with respect. Why should you avoid the most popular breakfast and snack? There are 2 ways that you could potentially be saving yourself from extra calories.

a)      A lot of the advertised as ‘healthy’ cereals contain enough sugar to cover the needs of the whole neighbourhood. Apart from the fact that too much sugar is not good for the body, they can also contain a lot of calories. I would first suggest to replace your cereal breakfast with a protein based one such as boiled eggs. However, if you have to have cereal it helps to read the labels and chose the lowest in sugars and calories.

b)      I have spoken about the sugar – insulin vicious cycle in previous articles. Basically you if you have loads of carbs for breakfast you are likely to get hunger cravings half way through the day and end up with a snack. On the other hand with a protein based breakfast you are more likely to feel full for longer and thus not need a snack before lunch.

Cereal bars play on a similar tune; too many calories and too much sugar.

5. Don’t fry. Go for grilling, roasting, boiling

The way in which food is prepared can change the amount of calories it contains. It can also change the amount of trans fats it contains and frying is definitely guilty for doing both. See bellow the values for 100g of chicken (without the skin and bones) if fried, roast or stewed:

100g chicken = 288 kcal fried

100g chicken = 239 kcal roast

100g chicken = 209 kcal stewed

If you do the maths is pretty obvious that stewed will have the least calories, however, if not to your taste you can still roast or grill food and be as tasty. If you skip frying for majority of ingredients/meals then you could be well on your way of cutting 200 kcal daily (if not more).

6.  Opt for fresh food instead of processed food

Freshly prepared foods tend to be less calorific than processed foods. One main reason is that they usually contain loads of carbs and sugars, especially if they are in a sauce. Replace the frozen chicken nuggets with fresh chicken pieces. Ideally you want to skip the breadcrumbs as well but if you have too… Don’t forget to avoid deep frying it as well (see above).

7. Remove the skin of the chicken and the fat from meat

Chicken skin and fat in your steak can add extra calories. Yes it can be really tasty sometimes when all crispy but it will not do any favours to your waistline or your health. Try to buy lean meats or cuts where the fat is visible and remove majority of it. Do the same with bacon as well. It is a fair amount of calories there.

How to prepare your healthy weight loss plan

Wednesday, July 27, 2011 13:56
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Pre-designed diet regimes do not suit everybody. In addition, not every diet circulating in the market is healthy or returns weight loss results. Understandably many people just want to follow a simple healthy balanced diet which will help them lose weight. This is what most experts profess anyway, as the right way forward.

At the same time most people don’t know where to start. What is healthy, how do you go about it, what is balanced and how much are you meant to be eating to lose weight? All these are common questions people ask and in this article I will try to provide some tips on how to prepare a healthy weight loss plan.

Before you even think about food

A weight loss plan is not just about food but all the other steps you need to make to set up. These steps can help you with any weight loss regime you may want to do.

First: Weigh yourself and decide how much weight you need or want to lose. This way you can plan on how long it will take you to lose the weight, how many calories should you be eating and most of all you can have a clear goal of what you want to achieve. For your weight loss is always recommended not to exceed 1 – 1.5 kg per week.

Second: Keep a foods and drinks diary for a week. I have mentioned the importance and role of food diaries in a number of previous articles such asHow to control your desire for food’ and ‘Weight loss: An introduction to a healthier life style. What, when and why you eat what you eat can play a role in how you plan your meals and your weight loss plan.

Third: Make a list of the reasons why you want to lose weight and what it means to you. Also make a list of coping strategies for the times you may struggle. Use the lists to remind yourself why you are following a healthy weight loss plan in the times you want to give up or give in to that pizza.

Food planning

Before you attack the super market for food shopping you should have an idea of what ‘healthy’ is. This part could be the most complicated. There is a plethora of foods which do claim to be a ‘healthier’ option however the reality may be different. For example a lot of oily sprays which derive from vegetable oils and margarines may advertise that they are healthier as they contain less saturated fats. However, they tend to contain a high amount of trans fats which may be more harmful.

1. Do some research on which foods are best to avoid. There is a lot of information available. You don’t have to study for a PhD in Nutrition or spend hours on the internet. Make a small list with some basic foods, containing for example trans fats, soy and processed foods and try to avoid including them in your shopping list.

2. Stick with simple and natural foods but do have a variety. Include foods from all 3 categories, which are proteins, carbohydrates and fats. In simple words include meats, vegetables, and fruits. When it comes to more processed carbohydrates such as pasta and bread aim for wholemeal and less refined options. Aim for ‘good’ fats such as the Omega fats and avoid trans fats.

3. Do try to avoid sugars as much as you can. It is quite well known that the cookies, cakes, and sweets don’t help with losing weight. But apart from the obvious sweets can you cut down on the sugar you add in your coffee, or the sugary drinks and fruit juices you drink? You will be pleasantly surprised how many calories and sugars you can avoid consuming in a day. If you have to have a drink or have to have a sweet try to replace them with healthier and less calorific options. For example have a green tea or a fruit tea (no sugar) instead of a fruit juice, or have a fruit instead of a cookie or even a spoonful of yogurt with a tiny amount of honey instead of a cake.

4. Replace and don’t exclude. Healthy food doesn’t have to be rabbit bland food. As I have already mentioned apart from some exceptions, a healthy weight loss plan is not about restricting yourself with food. It is important to have variety of nutrients. So when you plan your diet replace those foods which may be harmful or calorific. Replace vegetable oils and margarines with olive oil, a cereal bar with a fruit, chips with mash potatoes or even better with a big salad, fruit juice with fruit tea (no sugar), mayonnaise with vinaigrette and so on.

5. On that same note replace the ways by which you cook food. It is not just the ingredients that make a meal healthy or calorific but the preparation of them as well. For example don’t fry the food but grill or roast it, don’t add loads of vegetable oil but only a tablespoon of olive oil and so on. You can find loads of fun, tasty recipes which include healthier cooking options and fresh ingredients. Make a collection of recipes or cooking ideas beforehand so if you are stuck for ideas or not sure how to do it you can use them.

6. Know your maths and calories. Calories are not the end to all means in a weight loss plan; nevertheless, if you only need 2000 kcal per day and consume 3000 kcal of salad you will still put weight on. In addition you are likely to have some serious wind issues. Don’t get obsessed with calorie counting but have an idea how many calories each meal worth.

On average women require 1500 – 2000 kcal per day and men require 2000 – 2500 kcal per day. In simple math’s terms 1lb of fat translates to 3500kcal. So in order to lose 1lb of fat per week you need to eat 500kcal less than you need.

You can find charts which calculate the basal metabolic rate (amount of calories used just to be alive) and charts which calculate calories according to different activities. All these charts will not give 100% accurate calculations but you can use them as a guide.

7. Read the labels. It is always good to have a look at the labels of the food you buy. Look for sugar, carbohydrate and salt content. It is very rarely that trans fat content is actually included in the labels, however, avoid a product if it contains hydrogenated oils or cooked in hydrogenated/ vegetable oils. You don’t have to become obsessed, but is worth check what you eat. As I mentioned earlier a lot of ‘healthy’ products may actually have more risks for health than the benefits they may provide.

Moreover, food can have an accumulative effect. What that means is that the 2 grams of sugar in a sandwich may not tip the scale. However, by the time you add all the things you have consumed in a day the result may be high amounts of sugars, salt etc.

The rest

8. Exercise. Last but not least, include exercise in your weight loss plan. The benefits of exercise are not just limited to increasing weight loss but extend in most areas of life. But to keep it to the point, what can exercise do for your healthy weight loss plan apart from being healthy?

Exercise helps with increasing the amount of calories you burn not only while you exercise but also when you are resting. The more muscle you have the more your metabolic rate increases. Well that doesn’t mean that you have to kill yourself in the gym. In any way you can increase your physical activity will help. In addition, with exercise you do get fitter and you behind does look better in that dress.

9. Do consult the appropriate medical and/or fitness professionals before making changes to your diet and/or physical activity especially if you have any pre-existing health complaints or concerns. The above are only some suggestions and you should only follow what suits your individual needs.

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