Stop Dieting and start living

Monday, March 26, 2012 16:06
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The world is full of contradictions. On one hand you get bombarded about the obesity epidemic and its consequences to personal health, government budgets and life in general and they all come with an emphasis on losing weight. On the other hand there is that idea about people being obsessed with diet plans, calories and weight and mentioning ‘you are on a diet’ is looked like you are a second hand citizen.

At the same time you probably heard it all before that diets don’t work and is all a lucrative way to get the money from your pocket while you struggle through some wacky weight loss way. Has it all taken over your world, time and life, leaving you confused and worn out?

Maybe it is time to stop dieting and start living.

What does it mean?

This simple saying seems to becoming the new mojo and as with everything else the new diet fashion. It is a little bit like those books of wisdom which become the new sensation overnight covered with loads of mythical meanings.  Then everybody jumps on the boat of finding the ‘ultimate happiness’ and making ‘the universe work for them’. I can’t remember when or where I first came across such saying but no doubt it was attractive and loved it pretty fast. Obviously it is very attractive the idea of breaking free from the eternal fight with food however I do like to keep things simple.

I’m sure to stop dieting and start living can mean a lot of things to a lot of people and in many ways is a simple change of attitude towards food and lifestyle and still lose weight. Here are some tips on how you can make this work for you.

Step 1 Changing attitudes

1. Stop the food panic.  

Everyday there is something new about ‘food’. Eat this specific food to lose weight, eat that for cancer, eat the other for diabetes, eat this way for younger looks; don’t drink that for health and on and on and on… Think to yourself how many times have you rushed to the shops to get this fruit or that vegetable or wondered whether you should have a drink of wine or a cup of tea just because it said or you heard or you read somewhere that you should.

All this business can be tiring and in many cases pointless. Stop being in a constant panic about what, and when you should eat. Now I may be criticised that I am saying to ignore everything and just go and eat whatever comes your way. No, that is not the point either. There is a magic word called balance. All I am saying is relax about food and stop obsessing and panicking about every little thing regarding food.

Think simple. Nothing works in isolation, and if for example you eat all the berries in the world you will not become the strongest thinnest and most healthy person in the world. A lot of the hype on specific foods is for commercial purposes. Yes there are types or groups of foods which have really good benefits and it is suggested you eat more off and some which can have harmful effects and it is suggested you eat less off.

2. Food guidelines

A lot of scientists, ‘experts’ and the governments have worked different guidelines and food pyramids and plate charts and a lot of other things on what to eat. These are what they say on the box, guidelines. Basically is a guide of what a balanced diet may look like. Some are better than others and by all means they are not perfect. Use them as that but don’t get hooked on them and there is no need to follow them religiously as if your life depends on them.

3. See food for what it is

I’m sure if I ask what food is I will get hundreds of different answers ranging from energy to a social commodity. We have given food a lot of different purposes and roles however in its essence it is a necessity for survival. We ultimately eat because we need the nutrients to exist as beings. Yes it can taste good or think it can make us feel better or use it to socialise with friends etc. However, think to yourself if you have a car and you stop putting petrol it is so far it will take you before it stops. Although the human body is more complicated than the engine of a car in its principle if you stop eating you will have about 30 days before you die (this always depends on reserves and condition of a person amongst other things).

What we put inside our body will affect our body kind off similarly in a car the quality of the petrol can affect the works of the engine. So when you fill your plate for a meal look at it and think that it is your petrol in your engine.

Step 2 Change your life

I am sure you heard it a million times make life changes don’t just diet. To be honest I must have mentioned it in majority of my articles. Changing your attitude towards food is a first step in getting preparing for those life changes. Making life changes is harder than it sounds especially if it involves changing habits accrued through all your living days. A lot of people may think why they should change their life and habits when all they want is to lose a few pounds. I would say you don’t have to, however if you do want to feel free from the diets and be able to sustain that weight loss without having to go through a torture every time then it is a very good way forward.

4. Jump off the diet wagon

A weight loss diet is something temporary and it usually involves a specific method or regime which you follow. Some may result in losing weight and reaching your goal, some may not work at all. However, once you stop then what? The diet served its purpose; you lost the weight so you stop dieting and even if are a little bit more careful at start, you soon go back in what ate in the past. Well to be honest what you ate or how you ate in the past is what led to putting on weight in the first place. So then what? Go on a diet every time you want or need to lose weight.

Basically stop being on a ‘diet’ and aim to make those changes in your diet and lifestyle which they will result in losing the weight but will benefit your health and weight sustainability in the long run.

5. Make small changes

Take one small step at the time. Think about it: If you are used to eat chips and sweets and processed food how easy do you think it will be to stop completely and start on salads and fruit. In addition, if your body is used to live on chips and all that it is addicted to it, it will torture you with headaches, hunger fits and cravings. Undoubtedly some people are very determined and have will power made of steel and they can do it. In general is a shock to the system.

To the point, start by introducing things into your everyday diet slowly. How much and how often you will be changing things is something which depends on the individual. See bellow the table for some ideas. If you bring change slowly you are more likely to stick to it and become part of your diet. If you aim to jump on a whole new diet it will feel alien and you could struggle through it.

Small changes ideas

More progressive steps ideas

1. Halve the chips portion and replace it with some salad or vegetables. Avoid sauces i.e. mayonnaise, rich and creamy salad dressings. 1. Replace your whole portion of chips with vegetables or salad.
2. Place the biscuits or sweets in small portion bags i.e. 2 biscuits per bag or a small piece of cake per bag etc. Have only 2 portions per day for the really must have it moment. 2. Gradually cut down on the portions to having one portion a day or once a week.
3. If you never had vegetables before try introducing one vegetable per week. Have it with your meals all week. Start with vegetables you like. If you don’t like the taste of one try another. Similarly do for fruit. 3. Once your pallet and taste is more used to eating vegetables and greens try something more adventures or try combining 2 -3 vegetables in one meal.
4. Change the cooking process. For example oven bake instead of frying. 4.Try steaming, boiling, grilling.
5. Cut down on your portion by 1/3. 5. If portion size is an issue or number of meals(i.e. 4-5 meals p.d) then halve the portion or skip one snack meal.


6. Aim for balance and variety.

As I mentioned at the beginning there is not one miracle food. To that I will also add don’t aim to exclude from your diet all foods considered bad. Instead include as many foods from as many groups you can. Have vegetables, fruits, salads, meat and fish and enjoy your chips as well. Life is for living, that’s what I say, and going through life feeling deprived of what you like is not a good strategy. For a start it is so long you can go before you get fed up. On the other hand balance doesn’t mean one thing all the time; for example when I say enjoy your chips doesn’t translate to having them with every meal.

Having a variety of foods will also help with beating boredom and creating a variety of meals and options. After all you are creating an eating pattern for lifetime not following a weight loss diet for a specific period.

7. Think big

The ‘big’ does not refer to the size of the meal portion, but it rather refers to the big picture. It also refers to many different things. First, don’t put your emphasis on losing the weight as again you will be trapped in the ‘diet’ mentality. No doubt your aim is to lose the weight but by making small changes to your lifestyle the weight loss will come naturally. For example if you start replacing slowly the rich and calorific meals with more healthier options then automatically you will have cut down on the amount of calories you consume. Obviously the bigger the changes the more weight you will lose but if you are more likely to stick to small changes then that’s what you want to be aiming for.

Secondly don’t get trapped in thinking on the little things. Having a portion of chips for example, once a week will not topple over the scales or damage your health. It is the overall nutrition which matters more. Having a portion of chips once a week and a pizza once a week and ample of fizzy drinks through the day, and sweets and overall you consume 5 meals a day which add up to an enormous amount of calories, then that will topple the scales.

8. Re-evaluate your goals

Part of seeing the bigger picture is actually thinking what your goals are as well. If you set a goal of I want to fit in that specific outfit for that specific event then this refers to something short term. First changing your whole life for just an outfit may seem pointless as a short term weight loss regime will do and second once you reached that goal then you will feel as purpose served now why carry on. Try thinking what goals you want in life. Try changing the original goal in I want to be able to fit in outfits like that when I want to and for all occasions now and in the future. In simple words try to put your goals into a lifetime perspective.

This doesn’t mean that it appeals to everybody. For many people it is not important or doesn’t mean anything as such. Don’t do things just because it is a fashion or because someone tells you is a good thing to do. Choice is a personal thing, and I could tell that a balance healthy diet is good for weight and health and is a better option long term than fast restrictive diets. However, if this doesn’t come near to what you want is a matter of choice.

How To Get a Firm and Tight Butt

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 9:35
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firm butt

As long as men have been trying to learn how to build muscle, women have been asking how to get a tight butt to trainers and fitness experts worldwide. Nevertheless, I have good news for you, by the end of this article you will know exactly what steps you can take to get a firm butt and why so many people are doing it wrong.

There is no such thing as ‘spot reduction’

The first misconception to dismiss is “Spot Reduction”, every beginner in fitness and even some veterans believe in this magical theory that has been disproved time and time again by studies. No matter how hard you work one particular area like your butt, thighs or abs, you will NOT directly burn fat away from that area.  When you do lunges for example, you are not burning fat directly away from your butt and thighs, you are only building the muscle underneath the fat and in a way tightening or shaping the muscle along with burning calories throughout your entire body.

You have fat stores placed all over your body, which includes places like your butt, hips, abdomen etc. And when you do any exercise you are decreasing the total fat from all of these areas, not specifically targeting the one area you are working.  Your body just does not work like that; the only way to reduce fat from your entire body including your butt is through regular exercise and dieting.

Your butt is a group of muscles…

Eventually I will address both these techniques for you, but let us begin with exercises and a short anatomy lesson. Your “butt” is actually a complex system of gluteal muscles including the Gluteus Maximus, Medius, and Minimus.  The largest of the three, shown below is the Gluteus Maximus.

This is the muscle primarily responsible for the shape of your butt and is the main muscle you should target to achieve your goal as quickly as possible. The Gluteus Maximus is one of the most used muscles for basic movement and is responsible for hip extension and external rotation.

The other muscles I mentioned are the Gluteus Medius and Minimus, which are smaller muscles that can be found underneath the Gluteus Maximus and are responsible for abduction and internal rotation of your hip.


How to get a tight butt through exercise

As I said before, to develop a firm and tight butt you are going to have to exercise regularly and follow a proper diet. Nevertheless, with your gluteal muscles being responsible for so much of your lower body movements, you have many exercises to choose from:

Walking Lunges

Side Lunges

Back Lunges

Stiff Legged Deadlifts

Sumo Deadlifts


Split Squats

Step Ups

Lateral Step Ups

Standing Hip Extensions

Leg Presses

However, to further help you, I will go over the exercises I feel will benefit you the most.


Lunges come in many variations and can be performed with just your bodyweight, a barbell or dumbbells. However, the same basic movement applies for all of them and that is what we will cover here.

General Guidelines : To  ensure proper safety during lunges be sure to keep your torso upright during the entire movement to avoid stressing your  lower back.  Also, be sure to keep the lunge at a long but safe stride length to emphasize the Gluteus Maximus muscle.

Step 1. Depending on which type of lunge you decided to do, either grab a dumbbell firmly in each hand, or un-rack a barbell on your back. If you do not have access to weights or are a beginner, bodyweight lunges will be fine as well.

Step 2. To begin the movement lunge forward with your left leg in a slow and controlled motion until your back legs knee is almost in contact with the floor as illustrated below.

Step 3.   Pause at this bottom position shortly before returning to your original standing position. That is one repetition and should be repeated while alternating leading legs.


Step-ups are another exercise, which can be performed almost anywhere and yield great results.  You can do them on a bench, flight of stairs, footrest ect and this is what makes them so versatile.

General Guidelines:  For proper safety when performing step ups please be sure the surface your stepping up on is at a low enough height so you do not have a risk of falling or pulling a muscle. Also, be sure the surface is flat and not slippery. The shorter the surface you are using to step up on the easier the exercise will be.

Step 1: Stand directly in front of the ledge, bench, or platform.

Step 2:  Lift your right foot up and  plant it on the surface then follow up with the left foot , you are now completely on top of the surface.

Step 3:  Step back, leading again with your right foot and following with your left into the starting position.

Step 4:  Alternate which foot you lead with and repeat the motion.

5 Diet tips for a firm butt

The last step to get a tight and firm butt is to monitor your diet, which will help get rid of the extra fat stored around your body and therefore on your butt. I included an easy to follow list of diets tips below to help you.

1. Distribute your protein, carbohydrate, and fat intake evenly throughout the entire day and at each meal.

2. Go for whole grains and fresh vegetables over refrained grains and simple sugars, as a good amount of fiber and starch will aid overall hunger control.

3. Avoid empty calories drinks or highly processed foods whenever possible, which contain many calories and do not effect your feeling of fullness.

4. Drink 8-12 cups of water per day, The National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends individuals looking to lose weight drink 96 ounces of water plus an additional 8 ounces per 25lbs they want to lose.

5.  Weigh and measure your food to become aware of actual serving sizes.

Sample Workout routine

Congratulations, you now know the ins and outs of each step you can take to reach your goal and now all you have to do is combine them and implement them! The most important thing will be your diet followed by the exercises l listed above, but if you want results even faster, you could also do a cardio session around 3 times a week such as jogging or biking.

Here is an example of a routine someone could use in addition to dieting properly and expect great results.

Monday– Do 30 minutes cardio such as jogging or biking

Tuesday– Do 5 sets of 1 minute of lunges, then immediately 1 minute of step-ups, rest 60 seconds in-between each set

Wednesday – Do 30 minutes cardio such as jogging or biking

Thursday– Do 5 sets of 1 minute of lunges, then immediately 1 minute of step ups, rest 60 seconds in-between each set

Friday– Do 30 minutes cardio such as jogging or biking

Saturday– Do 5 sets of: 1 minute of lunges, then immediately 1 minute of step-ups, rest 60 seconds in-between each set

Sunday– OFF


5 High Protein Foods for Weight Loss

Monday, March 19, 2012 16:15
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protein food

There has been an ongoing push in the weight loss industry towards high protein, low carbohydrate diets.  Whilst some of these diets feature extreme methods that involve eliminating all forms of carbohydrates, an approach which puts the dieter at risk of nutrient deficiencies and does not develop a healthy long term eating pattern, there is some evidence that a more moderate approach to the high protein craze may be beneficial for weight loss.

It is thought that protein can satisfy hunger better than carbohydrates or fats.  Therefore a diet higher in protein may keep us fuller for longer and reduce overall intake of food.  A recent study published by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition  suggested that when following a higher protein diet, participants ate less overall calories, as well as feeling less hungry and achieving fast weight loss.

Other studies have also found reduced levels of unhealthy fat in the blood and increased weight and fat loss in participants following high protein diets; however, further research into why this occurs is necessary before higher protein diets can be recommended to everyone.

The amount of protein and carbohydrate required in a person’s diet varies greatly depending on physical activity, age, and any medical conditions they may have.

The recommended intake of protein daily is 56 grams for men and 46 grams for women, however, a gradual increase in protein to about 120 grams per day may provide weight loss benefits.  Although there is unlikely to be any negative effects of increasing protein, it is important to speak to a health professional before increasing your protein intake drastically.

Also remember that if you are increasing your protein intake, you will need to decrease your intake of other foods such as carbohydrates and fats, or you will end up eating more calories, the quickest way to gain weight! It is also essential to maintain a balanced meal (and diet), containing whole grains, fruit, vegetables and unsaturated fats.

What Proteins to choose?

When following a weight loss diet not all protein sources are created equal.  Many sources, particularly those from animals, are high in fat and calories, and whilst they may keep your fuller for longer, you may also gain weight due to the excess calories.  The quality of the protein is also important.

Those from animal sources contain all the essential amino acids required for cell regeneration and muscle growth in the body, whilst those from plant sources tend to be incomplete.  You need to eat a variety of different plant proteins to obtain all the amino acids.  Protein sources that contain other key nutrients such as minerals or vitamins are the best choice.

5 High Protein Foods for Weight Loss

1.      Low fat dairy products

Low fat diary provides good quality protein in addition to calcium that is essential for strong bones.  Dairy can easily be added to dishes to increase the overall protein content, for example, stirring a little natural low fat yogurt into a vegetable soup.

Or make a quick high protein breakfast on the run, with a skim milk fruit smoothie.  One cup of skim milk contains 8g of protein and all the nine essential amino acids.   Be sure to choose low fat options, as these are lower in calories, and limit higher fat foods such as hard cheese to a couple of serves a week.

2.     Fish

Fish is an excellent source of protein, and can be a better choice than red meat or chicken, as it generally has lower calorie content.  For example a six pound porterhouse steak contains 38 grams of protein, but it also has 41 grams of fat (a lot of which is unhealthy unsaturated fat), and about 540 calories.

The same weight of salmon contains almost as much protein (36 grams), but has less than half the fat, and only about 350 calories.   Oily fish such as salmon and mackerel also contain heart healthy omega three fatty acids.

3.     Eggs

Eggs are an incredibly rich source of protein, as well as other important nutrients such as B vitamins which are important for converting food into energy in the body and selenium, a powerful antioxidant.  Unfortunately, eggs are also fairly energy dense and the yolk is quite high in fat.  For weight loss, you may find it helpful to use only the egg whites, which are high in protein and low in calories and fat, however as most of the other nutrients are in the egg, try to include these from time to time.

A good way to do this is to make scrambled eggs with one whole eggs and 2 egg whites, giving the benefits of the yolk, but with less calories than three whole eggs.

4.     Soy Protein

Sources such as tofu, soy milk and soy beans can all be good protein sources for weight loss.  They are naturally low in fat and generally lower in calories than meat products.  Soy protein is plant based; it does contain all of the essential amino acids, although some are in lower quantities than in animal products.  It also provides valuable nutrients such as folate, potassium and fibre and has been found to lower blood cholesterol.

5.     Poultry

Chicken, turkey and other forms of poultry, with the skin removed can all be good sources of protein in a weight loss diet.  They are a lower fat alternative to meat, but still contain all the essential amino acids and important nutrients such as iron.

It is essential to choose low fat cooking methods such as grilling, steaming or baking with minimal added fat to keep the calorie and fat content low.  Watch out for minced products as these may have fillers which lower the protein content and increase fat and calories.

Spring Clean your fitness Routine

Sunday, March 18, 2012 21:15
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Health Foods and fitness go hand in hand. In that spirt, we bring you another terrific article from Cindy Lai Fitness

Spring clean your fitness routine and state of mind with 5 tips and a plateau busting workout

Ahh….the smell of spring is fast approaching and the warmth of the sun on your face is a feeling of sweet bliss to lift your spirits. Soon winter will be long gone as we prepare in anticipation of summer. Suddenly, you have finally decided to awaken from your deep slumber and the dark hole of never ending excuses, laziness and procrastination. Your head’s a bit dazed due to the hour lost through daylight savings, but don’t despair. Get ready for a positive change and a shock to your system by spring cleaning your health and fitness routine with Cindy Lai Fitness!


You need a commitment to yourself and a solid plan to stay active at least three times a week. Choose an activity you like which is also close and convenient. If you can’t make it to class or the gym, go outdoors. Incorporate a good balance of strength training along with cardio, mobility and flexibility work.


Enough is enough! If I had a dollar for every time I heard an excuse, I’d be filthy rich! There is never enough time for everything in life! If taking care of your health and mental well being is important to you, you will make the time one way or another. You only have one life. Don’t you owe it yourself to live happier and healthier in the long run?


What’s worked for you in the past will not work for you now. Back then you were leaner because your metabolism was faster and you could get away with just about anything. Our bodies are not what they used to be. As we get older, it gets harder but this does not mean we need to spend hours in the gym like we did in the past. The key is to build and maintain lean muscle mass to keep your metabolism in high gear. Of course eating wisely is also crucial in toning up and/or losing weight.


It’ll be harder to hide under those layers as the weather gets warmer out. If you want to feel good, then what you put into your body will dictate your mood and your energy levels. If you eat like crap, guess what? You’re going to feel the same. Being sluggish and lethargic most of the time will negatively impact your mood. Start eliminating processed foods, sugars, starches, and sodium and start incorporating whole foods, whole grains, more vegetables, fruits, lean protein and good fats. Hydrate consistently with at least 8-10 glasses of water a day.


Experiment to see what works best for you but stay consistent and stick with it. Those who are most successful with their fitness goals make the effort to stay disciplined and determined. You don’t need to be a gym rat, but you do need to get off your tush and move as much as possible!

If you haven’t participated in any activity for a while, the best thing is to ease into it to avoid injury. Don’t set yourself up for failure by overshooting what you cannot achieve. Be patient, start slow and steady. For the rest of you who have been staying consistent, it’s time to bring it up to a new level. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Get involved in more recreational activities and take in what the outdoors has to offer. Everything from biking, running, hiking, watersports, races, tennis, sports or whatever your heart desires will help you progress further in staying fit and healthy. Get out of the office during lunch. Take the stairs as much as possible. Walk as often as you can. Everything counts!

Here is a quick CLF Spring workout to help jumpstart your fitness or break out of any fitness plateau:

Jumping Jacks – 30 reps

Squats – 15 reps

Pushups – 10 pushups

Jumpin Jacks – 30 reps

Squats – 30 reps

Pushups – 15 pushups

Jumping Jacks – 30 reps

Squats – 15 reps

Pushups – 10 pushups

Jumping Jacks – 30 reps

Squats – 30 reps

Pushups – 15 pushups

If you are a beginner, you can scale down the volume or substitute plank holds for pushups. Do what you can handle and work your way up to the volume. For more advanced, you can scale up the volume.

Make sure squats are below parallel and for pushups, touch your chest to the floor. It’s very easy to cheat on both movements so work on proper form for maximum efficiency.

We are 7 days away from the official start of Spring. It’s time to take in that big breath of fresh air and leave the residue of winter behind. Don’t dwell over what you have not accomplished. It’s time to move on and to move forward. Open up your mind and focus on all the positive that you can accomplish. It’s time to tidy things up. There is always room for improvement.

Cindy Lai Fitness ( Cindy runs boot camps classes in NYC.

Weight Loss Tips for Vegetarians

Thursday, March 15, 2012 16:15
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vegetarian diet

It is a common misconception that a vegetarian diet is ‘healthier’ and therefore better for weight loss than a diet containing meat products.

Although a vegetarian diet is likely to be higher in vegetables, beans and legumes than a more carnivorous eating style, this does not necessarily mean it is lower in fat and calories.

To lose weight, the total calories that we eat need to be less than those which we burn.  Adopting a vegetarian diet may help you to achieve this negative balance, but it is important to be aware of vegetarian foods that can contribute just as many calories to your diet, if not more, than meat products.

Whether you have chosen a vegetarian diet for weight loss, or for other health or ethical reasons, it is still essential to be well informed about the types of food you are eating and the way they can impact on your health.

Benefits of a vegetarian diet for weight loss

A well planned vegetarian diet can provide many health benefits to the follower.  Vegetarians often replace meat products with legumes, such as lentils and chickpeas.  These are high in fibre and contain many key nutrients, as well as being lower in fat than most meat products.

Vegetarians also normally eat more or a greater variety of vegetables than meat eaters too, meaning their diet is likely to be richer in vitamins.  Processed meats and high fat cuts of meat contribute large amounts of unhealthy saturated fat and calories to the diet, so by eliminating these products, calorie intake may be reduced.

However, eliminating meat alone is not usually enough for significant weight loss.  To achieve healthy weight loss on a vegetarian diet you can try to follow these tips.

 1# Choose low fat dairy products

Many vegetarians use dairy products as a substitute protein source to replace meat in their diets.  This does have the benefits of providing a complete protein source, with essential minerals such as calcium, but can also be a high saturated fat and calorie alternative.

It is important to choose low fat versions of products such as milk and yoghurt; these will still have the same amount of protein and calcium, but less weight loss hindering calories and fat.

Cheese is another popular vegetarian choice.  Low fat hard cheeses can have a bland taste and still be relatively high in fat, so you may find it better to substitute with a naturally low fat fresh cheese such as cottage or ricotta, or simply limit your hard cheese intake to only a few times a week in small serves.  Using a more strongly flavoured cheese such as parmesan in cooking means you need less to appreciate the taste.

2# Use low fat cooking methods

Vegetables, legumes and beans are all low fat and calorie, high fibre, nutrient packed foods, as long as you cook them the right way.  Frying foods in oil, coating salads in oil dressings, or spreading butter on wholegrain bread are all easy ways to add a lot of calories to your diet and slow weight loss.

Try frying in a non-stick pan with a tiny amount of unsaturated olive oil, or use a method that requires no fat such as grilling or baking.  Sprinkle vegetables with fresh or dried herbs and spices and drizzle with lemon juice for added flavour without the calories.

Try to avoid using butter and mayo in sandwiches and on bread.  Opt instead for low fat spreads such as mustard.

3# Avoid processed foods high in sugar, fat or refined grains

By choosing to eat vegetarian foods, you do eliminate a number of unhealthy food choices from your diet. However, there is still a huge number of processed, high calorie and fat foods that contain no meat products and will stop you from losing weight.  Biscuits, cakes, donuts and pastries (sweet and savoury) can all ruin a diet.

Be especially aware of vegetarian options such as pasties, quiches and pies.  Although they may contain more vegetables than the meat version, the pastry and fillings and still be high in fat and refined grains.  See also: What are empty calories food.

4# Beware ‘fake meat’ products

Meat substitutes come in just about every shape and form.  These are usually made from gluten or soy proteins and flavoured to resemble popular meat foods such as bacon, burgers and hot dogs.

Whilst in general, these are lower in saturated fat than meat, as they are made with vegetable proteins, it must be remembered that they are also processed foods, and it is not always clear exactly what is in them.  It is important when choosing products that you check the calorie and fat content of the product as many contain hydrogenated fats and fillers that bump up the calories.

Also bear in mind that if you use unhealthy cooking methods such as frying, or add unhealthy condiments to a meat substitute, the calorie and fat content will also be increased.  A burger made with vegetarian bacon and burger, but still slathered in mayonnaise, fried onions, and cheese, all on a sugary refined white bun isn’t going to help you lose weight.

5#Choose healthy restaurant and takeaway meals

Vegetarian meals are becoming more and more readily available in restaurants and take away joints.  This means that there are usually a lot more choices on a menu than in the past when a vegetarian diner may have been met with one or two options, or even just a salad.

Unfortunately, not all chefs are well versed in vegetarian cooking, meaning that a lot of vegetarian dishes are bland or rely heavily on ingredients such as cheese, cream and fat for flavour.

It is important to make informed choices when eating out if you are trying to lose weight, for example always choose a tomato based pasta sauce rather than a creamy or cheesy one and ask for less cheese on pizza toppings.  Ask for your salad dressing on the side and opt for oil and vinegar versions rather than creamy one such as Caesar.

Try to choose dishes that have been cooked in a healthy manner such as grilling, boiling or steaming rather than frying.  If you are unsure of how something is cooked or what is in it, ask!  This can be particularly important in Asian restaurants, which generally have a lot of vegetarian options, but are often deep fried. See also 10 Dining out tips for losing weight.

6# Watch your portion sizes

Even if you are eating the healthiest foods, if you eat too much you will put on weight.  For vegetarians, it is important to watch the size of the carbohydrate portion of your meal.

As you are not eating meat, more of your plate may be made up of carbohydrates such as pasta, potatoes or rice.  These are all easy to overeat and may not keep you as full for as long as a protein based food.  Try to fill the majority of your plate with vegetables and include a protein source at each meal to avoid over eating carbohydrates.

If necessary, buy smaller plates as these give the illusion that you are eating more.

Is a Gluten Free Diet Beneficial For Weight Loss?

Monday, March 12, 2012 17:00
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gluten free diet

Gluten free diets are becoming increasingly popular in the diet world.  More and more gluten free products are available in supermarkets and restaurants are serving up a wider range of gluten free dishes.

However, many people are following the diet for the wrong reasons and it needs to be stressed that the gluten free diet is not primarily a weight loss diet, but in fact a necessary diet for people with the clinical condition, Celiac Disease.  It is also important to note that a gluten free diet is not the same as a low carb diet.

This is not to say that people who follow a gluten free diet will not lose weight, but the diet is not designed for this purpose, so there are no guarantees.  Furthermore, people following this diet need to be aware that by following a gluten free diet, they are eliminating a large number of nutritious foods from their diet and are therefore at risk of nutrient deficiencies unless appropriate substitutions are made.  See also: What is a well balanced meal

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye grains.  It is therefore present in foods such as bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits and anything made with flour.  Gluten is also present in many processed foods due to thickeners, flavours and coatings such as bread crumbs, which contain derivatives of these grains.

Who should follow a gluten free diet?

A gluten free diet is suggested for patience of Celiac disease. This disease affects more than two million Americans (possibly more) as it is often left undiagnosed.

When people with this condition eat gluten, their immune system attacks the protein and causes damage to the tiny, protrusions called villi in the small intestine, which are responsible for the absorption of nutrients into the blood stream.  This damage means that nutrients are not absorbed well into the body and the person can miss out of vital vitamins and minerals necessary for the body to function.

In addition to these nutrient deficiencies, more obvious symptoms may include weight loss, anaemia, upset stomachs, bloating and fatigue.  If the damage continues over the long term, irreversible damage may be done to the intestine, and there is a higher risk of intestinal cancers.

It is therefore vitally important that a strict gluten free diet is followed at all times.

What does a gluten free diet involve?

Many people who take up a gluten free diet for weight loss or reasons other than Celiac disease do not realise the effort and risks of following the diet.  A strict gluten free diet not only eliminates bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits, crackers and any flour containing products but also means that a huge amount of frozen foods, takeaways, processed foods and condiments cannot be eaten.

Even if the main ingredient is not wheat, barely or rye, many foods contain products derived from these grains and must be avoided.

There is also a risk of contamination.  If you are following a true gluten free diet, you should have a separate toaster, chopping board and knife for gluten free bread.  Foods with gluten should not be prepared in the same area or pans as gluten free foods as even the smallest amount of contamination can do damage to the intestine.

At restaurants, people with celiac disease need to not only request gluten free meals, but also make sure the chef is aware of the possibility of contamination and prepares the foods separately.  If you do not have celiac disease, you may not follow the diet as strictly as this, but if you do not, your diet is unlikely to be completely gluten free.

A gluten free diet also represents a large increase in food costs to followers.  Gluten free products such as bread and pasta are usually significantly more expensive than normal versions and although they are becoming more readily available, it can still be difficult to locate products in smaller shops and supermarkets.

Another issue is taste, although this is also improving, gluten free products derived from other types of grains and proteins often have a different, and in many cases undesirable, taste and texture.

People on a gluten free diet must also be conscience of the foods and therefore nutrients that they are eliminating from their diets.  Cutting out breads and pasta from your diet can lead to a lack of the B group vitamins these foods contain.

This can cause low energy and fatigue if these vitamins are not obtained from another food source.  Fibre intake may also be low, as eliminating whole grain products from the diet and replacing them with gluten free products often made from refined corn or rice flour can decrease dietary fibre intake.

It is important to replace the eliminated foods with alternatives that provide these nutrients such as alternative grains like quinoa and wild rice.

Is a Gluten free diet beneficial for weight loss?

There is little scientific evidence that a gluten free diet is beneficial for weight loss.  Although there are many people who report successful weight loss and energy with a gluten free diet, this may in fact due to the fact their overall food intake has decreased.

Foods containing gluten such as pasta, bread, cakes and pastries are the types of foods that are often over eaten, so by eliminating these from the diet, most people will be eating less calories. Unfortunately, if they are not substituting these foods with gluten free alternatives they are also placing themselves at risk of nutrient deficiencies and fatigue due to low carbohydrate intake.

If following a strict diet, it is also probable that dieters are avoiding many other weight inducing foods such as processed foods and takeaways, high fat condiments and sauces in case they also contain gluten.  This may also be a contributing factor for those who have experienced weight loss on this diet and may in fact be a good practice to adopt.  These foods usually contain little nutritional benefit and thus can safely be eliminated from the diet. See also quick and healthy weight loss tips

On the other hand, it is also important to remember that realistically a gluten free diet can easily contain just as many calories as a diet containing gluten.  Gluten free foods are often just as high in fat and calories, if not more so than their gluten containing counterparts.  A gluten free diet does not aim to reduce calories and fat, and so is not designed to cause weight loss.

It is not recommended to follow a gluten free diet for weight loss purposes as there is no scientific evidence to support this as a viable technique.  If you suspect you are suffering from Celiac disease, it is important to get an official diagnosis from a doctor, and see a dietician for advice on how best to follow a gluten free diet.

Do you gain weight with alcohol?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 13:47
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alcoholic drinks

The common saying I hear in the office after a stressful day is that there is nothing better than a nice meal and a couple of drinks at the end of a hard day. Most of my colleagues will argue that a glass of wine will do miracles for their stress levels.

This is usually followed by the comment ‘but not good for my waist’. We all have heard before and especially if you ever followed a weight loss diet, that alcohol contains quite a few calories and it doesn’t help with losing weight.

Do you gain weight with alcohol?

However, in a world were something new comes out every day, how true is that and could it be that alcohol is responsible for the extra weight? Bellow we have looked at what research has to say and whether you need to say goodbye to a favourite past time; having a drink that is.

Looking at a few studies it appears that nothing is as clear cut as it seems. Some studies have shown one thing some studies have shown another thing and so on. Based on that I have looked bellow in some of the main points and beliefs about alcohol consumption and whether they are true or not.

1# Alcohol contains calories

Yes indeed alcohol does contain calories and some drinks can be quite calorie heavy for that matter. So consuming alcohol will add up to your total weekly or daily (depending how often you drink) calorie intake. However, whether these calories do add up to weight gain is not clear cut.

Here are some of the calories different drinks contain. Calorific values are an example and would vary depending on the brand and the alcohol percentage contained.


Calories Kcal

Lager (beer) 1 pint,  4% alcohol


Wine – 1 glass 175ml, 13% alcohol


Whiskey – 25ml shot


Champagne – 1 glass 175ml, 12% alcohol


Baileys – 50ml, shot 17% alcohol


Vodka – 25ml, shot 40% alcohol


Gin – 25ml, 37.5% alcohol


Bacardi – 25ml, 37.5% alcohol


Spirit mixed – 25ml shot + mixer, 37.5% alcohol



2# Extra calories coming from alcohol will lead to putting on weight

In simple words if you consume more calories than you need then you should put on weight. If these extra calories come from alcohol then it should translate to weight gain. However, studies seem to show that this is not quite the case.

Moderate alcohol consumption in women does not seem to lead to weight gain. If anything women who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol gained less weight or lose weight than non drinkers.

3# Men are different from women

Yes even in alcoholic calories men are from Mars and women are from Venus. If you are a woman there may be good news but if you are a man not so good. As mentioned above women do not show to put on weight whereas men are more likely to do. Alcohol consumption was related to weight gain in men regardless of the kind of drink they consumed (see also our weight loss tips for men).

Although it is not clear why this takes place, one of the possible reasons given is hormonal and metabolic differences between the two genders.

4# Alcohol will stop you burning fat

Your body will burn the alcohol (well the products of the alcohol) first as a fuel in favour of fat. In addition, alcohol is shown to suppress the actual burning of fat process (fatty acid oxidation). Read also our how to burn fat with food article.

However, it is suggested the process of utilising alcohol in your body tends to require more energy; therefore you will also be using more calories to do that. In real terms, researchers are not quite sure why women tend to not put on weight however with alcohol so they give a number of different reasons, different dietary choice being one of them.

In addition, some studies suggest that consumption of alcohol (even low levels) can improve the HDL and LDL profiles of women consuming a high-fat diet which is typical in the U.S but does not have an effect in low-fat diet followers.

To put it simply, these lipoproteins (HDL and LDL) are referring to cholesterol, and to an extend lipid metabolism, and all they are saying is that improved cholesterol profiles are connected to low risk of cardiovascular disease. Although you can get improved profiles of cholesterol when following a low-fat diet, alcohol will not have an extra effect.

5# Alcohol will increase your appetite

Now some studies say yes some say no. There is the binge eating thing that tends to happen after a heavy night out. You may have been there, where you have come back home on a Saturday night after a few too many, with a large kebab and fries or a large pizza and eaten it all. Often you find out the next morning mainly because a piece of pizza may still be stuck on your chin.      

On the other hand there are studies which have not found any differences in appetite level between alcohol and no alcohol consumption. Scientists in other words are unsure and debate the whole alcohol makes you eat more theory. What they may have observed however, is that women tend to eat less carbohydrates (sugar in particular) overall when consuming moderate amounts of alcohol. This could suggest that women may be substituting the sugar with alcohol.

6# The beer belly phenomenon

It is quite a typical image, a man with a big belly and a beer on his hand and I am sure you may have heard people saying it is a beer belly. Now that is not 100% true. You will not be storing the beer on your belly as it may have been suggested in the past and the ‘beer belly’ may just be an urban legend in some ways. However, it may be that in indirect ways beer may cause increase in abdominal fat.

This comes from the environmental estrogens theories. Some studies suggest that consumption of environmental estrogens does lead to fat being stored in the abdomen. Beer contains such estrogens and although there is not a lot of straight forward evidence it may be that it plays a role in that belly.

In conclusion, do you gain weight with alcohol?

Well if you are a woman it definitely seems as it is better news than if you are a man. Scientists tend to suggest that women can enjoy the one or two glasses of wine at the end of a stressful day and not pile the pounds on after all.

However, alcohol can have some negative effects in health and also what effect the different types of alcoholic drinks have has not been studied to a large extend. Keeping in things in moderation and drinking wisely is not a bad way to go.

9 Tips about alcohol and Weight Loss

Here are some tips to help you further:         

   Tip1.   Avoid the takeaways. If you are a Weekend post-party binge eater maybe try to avoid the takeaway place at the end of the night. When you are drunk and merry is harder to say no to a full on heavy calorific meal (see also How to control your desire of food).

   Tip2.   Don’t drink on an empty stomach and eat something before you go out. You are more likely to be hungry after the drinking session and attack anything you can find. Also this is not a good treatment for your stomach and they do say that you don’t get drunk as easy. Think of your health as well.

   Tip3.   Drink water in between drinks. Yes you heard that before I’m sure. You will be potentially drinking less alcohol and also it does miracles for that next day hangover. Alcohol can make you visit the toilet once too many times, and you could be potentially be dehydrating yourself. Drinking water between drinks will keep you hydrated.

   Tip4.   If you are thirsty drink water first, before going for alcohol. I remember a friend we were on holidays in Greece with. He would say I am thirsty let’s get a beer. Now I never understood how having alcohol in 400C was a good but also if you are thirsty why not drink water (or a juice even). If you are thirsty you are more likely to drink more alcoholic drinks and faster.

   Tip5.   Opt for red wine. Some studies suggest that red wine has protective effects for the heart and general health. It tends to get praised as being one of the elements in Mediterranean dietary patterns which benefit health. However, in moderation is the magic word here.

   Tip6.   Avoid the sweet drinks. There are a number of low alcohol mixed drinks and they are often called ‘alcopops’. Now these tend to contain a lot of added sugar and mixers which are not very calorie friendly. Plus the more sugar an alcoholic drink contains the more drunk people tend to get.

   Tip7.   It is ok to be ‘teetotal’. In other words if you do not want to indulge in alcohol you don’t need to worry about it. You don’t have to start drinking just to keep your weight down. It s not a diet and it is a personal preference. I am sure that there are millions of non drinkers who are doing just as well with their weight.

   Tip8.   Consult an appropriate medical professional. If for any reason you have any concerns with your alcohol intake, your weight or any other issues the most appropriate people to ask are appropriately qualified medical professionals. Alcohol can have negative effects in health as already mentioned, and also it could contradict some medical conditions and/or medications. Before making any choices, changes or decisions you should seek appropriate advice.

   Tip9.   Don’t obsess with calorie counting and don’t starve in the name of a drink. This is nothing new I am saying. Be aware that alcoholic drinks do contain calories and that you could be consuming the equivalent of 2 meals in one party session. However, as you can see, research does not 100% agree that you will necessarily pile on the pounds. Don’t starve yourself just so you can have a drink and keep the calories in a range. Drink wisely and eat wisely should do the trick.


1. Beasley, J.M., Ange, B.A., Anderson, C.A.M., Miller III, E.R., Erlinger, T.P., Holbrook, J.T., Sacks, F.M., Appel L.J., (2009) Associations between macronutrient intake and self-reported appetite and fasting levels of appetite hormones: results from the optimal macronutrient intake trial to prevent heart disease American Journal of Epidemiology 169; 7: 893–900

2. Colditz, G.A., Giovannucci, E., Rimm, E.B., Stampfer, M.J., Rosner, B., Speizer, F.E., Gordis, E., Willett, W.C., (1991) Alcohol intake in relation to diet and obesity in women and men. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 54:49-55 

3. Hong, J., Holcomb, V.B., Dang, F., Porampornpilas K., Núñez, N.P., (2010) Alcohol consumption, obesity, estrogen treatment and breast cancer. Anticancer Research 30: 1-8

4. Raben, A., Agerholm-Larsen, L., Flint, A., Holst, J.J., Astrup, A., (2003), Meals with similar energy densities but rich in protein, fat, carbohydrate, or alcohol have different effects on energy expenditure and substrate metabolism but not on appetite and energy intake. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 77:91–100

5. Rocha, K.K.H.R., Souza, G.A., Seiva, F.R.F., Ebaid, G.X., Novelli, E.L. B., (2011) Pharmacology and cell metabolism weekend ethanol consumption and high-sucrose diet: Resveratrol effects on energy expenditure, substrate oxidation, lipid profile, oxidative stress and hepatic energy metabolism Alcohol and Alcoholism 46;1:10–16,

6. Rumpler, W.V., Clevidence, B.A., Muesing, R.A., Rhodes, D.G., (1999) Changes in women’s plasma lipid and lipoprotein concentrations due to moderate consumption of alcohol are affected by dietary fat level. Journal of Nutrition 129: 1713–1717Wannamethee S.G., Shaper A.G., (2003) Alcohol, body weight, and weight gain in middle-aged men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 77:1312–7

7. Wang, L., Lee, I-M., Manson, J.E., Buring, J.E., Sesso, H.D., (2010) Alcohol consumption, weight gain, and risk of becoming overweight in middle-aged and older women. Archives of International Medicine, 170;5: 453-561

What is a well balanced meal?

Monday, March 5, 2012 16:00
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healthy balanced meal

A well balanced meal should contain all the macro-nutrients required for optimum health and to maintain the cells, tissues and functions of the body.   These nutrients include protein, carbohydrate and a regulated amount of healthy unsaturated fat.

Ideally a well balanced meal should also include a variety of vitamins and minerals.

The importance of eating a well-balanced meal

It is important to eat well balanced meals most of the time to ensure that your overall diet is also balanced, and that you are getting all the vitamins and minerals required for a healthy body.  Eating healthy, balanced meals will also provide you with plenty of long lasting energy and keep you full for longer.

Obviously it is not always possible to eat a completely nutritionally balanced plate of food at every meal, but if you aim for a balanced the majority of the time, you will end up with a nutritionally complete diet overall.

Try to ensure that each meal contains at least a protein source, carbohydrates and fruit and vegetables.  It is not necessary, and in fact would be almost impossible, to consume every nutrient in every meal, so try to look at your diet as a whole over a more long term time frame, and keep your diet varied.  Try new foods and look for new recipes and interesting ways of changing your diet.

The USRDA recommend that a balanced meal should be made up of half fruit and vegetables, a quarter with protein and the remaining quarter carbohydrates.  A serve of low fat dairy is also recommended.  It is also suggested that sodium intake should be reduced, less than 10% of fat intake should be from saturated sources and solid fats should be limited as should refined grains and alcohol.


Protein is essential in the body, not only to keep us full longer, but also to provide essential amino acids that are used in the body to regenerate protein in the body.

Most Americans eat too much protein, so try to ensure that the protein portion of your meal only occupies about a quarter of your plate at most.  A serve of meat for example should be about the size and thickness of a pack of playing cards.

There are two main sources of protein.  The first is high quality or complete protein, such as meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, and cheese.  These contain all the essential amino acids.  The second class are the incomplete proteins, which provide adequate amounts of amino acids, but not all of them.  These include beans and other legumes, rice, tofu and other vegetarian protein sources.

Due to their incomplete nature, to obtain all the necessary amino acids from non animal sources, it is important to eat a combination of these foods together.  For example, beans and rice will provide all amino acids when eaten together, as each is rich in different acids.

It is also important to choose low fat sources of protein.  Choose lean cuts of meat and remove any visible fat and chicken skin.  Cook using low fat methods such as grilling or baking, or fry in a small amount of olive or vegetable oil.


Carbohydrates provide us with the energy our body needs, in addition to important B group vitamins and fibre.  Diets that eliminate or drastically reduce carbohydrates may leave you lacking in energy. Rice, pasta, bread, and potatoes are all excellent sources of carbohydrate.

Try to choose wholegrain or brown varieties for increased fibre and longer lasting energy and try to avoid refined carbohydrates sources such as cakes.    Low GI carbs such as sweet potatoes are a good alternative to potatoes to keep blood sugar levels more level.


Although fats are often portrayed as a food to avoid, we do in fact need some fat in our diet.  Choose unsaturated fats such as olive oil, vegetables oils and margarines for cooking, or include some healthy fat foods such as avocados and nuts in your diet.  These healthy fats help to prevent the build up of cholesterol in the blood and also contribute valuable fat soluble vitamins.

In order to maintain a healthy weight however, we do need to watch our fat intake.  Try to cook with minimal added fat, switch to low fat dairy products and stay away from high fat products such as cakes and fried food, particularly if you are watching your weight.

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and minerals play a vital part in the healthy function of our bodies.  Different types of foods provide different vitamins, which is why it is essential to eat a variety of different foods.  Fruit and vegetables are packed full of vitamins and minerals, and in addition to being low in calories and fat and high in fibre, this makes them a very important part of a healthy diet.

Try to fill half your plate with vegetables at a meal.  If this is difficult, eat slightly less vegetables and have a piece of fruit for dessert.  Eating more high fibre vegetables is a great way to fill up without loading your body with unwanted calories.  It is important to remember however that potatoes, whilst technically vegetables, are really part of the carbohydrate group and should not be part of your vegetable intake for the day.

What does a healthy meal look like?

Here are some balanced meal ideas to help you get started.

Balanced Breakfast Ideas:

  • Wholegrain breakfast cereal with low fat milk, fresh fruit and low fat yogurt
  • Wholegrain toast with scrambled eggs, low fat cheese, baked beans and fresh fruit salad.
  • Porridge oats made with low fat milk topped with bananas, sultanas and a small handful unsalted nuts
  • Fruit smoothie with low fat milk, with peanut butter on wholegrain toast.
  • See also The importance of breakfast for weight loss

Lunch Ideas

  • Wholegrain bread sandwich with a low fat filling such as turkey or tuna, with fresh fruit, green salad and low fat yoghurt.
  • Veggie burger (with beans or tofu) on wholegrain bread, with roasted vegetables (minimal oil) and fresh fruit.
  • Wholegrain pita pockets stuffed with tuna or hummus, salad and low fat cheese served with pumpkin soup made with low fat milk.
  • See also Diet Friendly Frozen meals

Balanced Dinner Ideas

  • Oven baked fish with roasted vegetables and potatoes, low fat yogurt garlic sauce and fresh fruit.
  • Bean and vegetable stew with brown rice and low fat frozen yogurt
  • Whole wheat pasta with tomato based sauce, tuna and roasted vegetables, topped with parmesan cheese, with fresh fruit and low fat dairy dessert.
  • See also: 13 healthy snack ideas for weight loss

Diet Friendly Frozen meals

Thursday, March 1, 2012 16:41
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diet frozen meals

For many people frozen meals have become a way of life.   Hectic lifestyles mean people have less and less time to cook, let alone shop for fresh ingredients on a regular basis.  Eating out or grabbing takeaway can be expensive, so frozen meals provide a quick, cheap alternative that is ready to eat just minutes after you walk through the door.

Not only are they fuss free, generally it is possible to buy a complete meal in one packet.  There is no need to even reheat foods separately, and all parts take an equal amount of time to be ready to eat.  Another positive aspect for many is that no cooking skill and very little equipment is required.  All that is needed is a microwave and perhaps a fork to eat with (although some meals often come with this thoughtfully included).

Are frozen meals diet friendly?

So frozen meals are a quick, easy food option that is affordable and often a necessity in our busy lifestyles, but are a diet of frozen meals detrimental to our health and diet?  The answer to this question depends largely on the frozen meal you choose.  Traditionally, frozen meals were often high in fat, salt and preservatives and low in nutrients, however, now there is a huge range of diet friendly frozen meals, catering for every imaginable food requirement.  Low calorie, low fat, high fibre, high protein, low carb…..the list of tailored frozen meals goes on and on.

Modern advances in freezing techniques have vastly improved over the years, meaning that fresh foods such as fruit and vegetables can be snap frozen almost as soon as they are picked.

This ensures that maximum nutrients are retained.  In some cases, frozen vegetables may be more nutrient rich than fresh ones that have been transported, and then sat around on supermarket shelves.  Taste and texture of frozen foods have also improved with more efficient freezing techniques and advances in preservatives and flavours.

A huge advantage of frozen meals for dieters is that they come in a portion controlled pack.  So as long as you only eat one, you can’t pop back to the kitchens for seconds, or keep the rest in the fridge to nibble on later on.

How to choose healthy and diet friendly frozen meals?

In the past a diet of frozen meals probably meant a few slices of soggy pizza, often dripping in fat, clogged with cholesterol raising cheese and processed meats and not a vitamin in sight.  This does not need to be the case in this day and age; however it is still important to make the right choices when faced with a sea of frozen meals in your supermarket.  It is essential to choose the right type of meals if frozen meals are going to be a part of your everyday life.

Firstly you are aiming for a balanced meal. Look for meals in bowls that feature, carbohydrates such as rice, pasta or potato, a source of protein such as fish, meat, chicken, beans or a vegetarian alternative such as tofu and plenty of vegetables.

If the meal you choose has a disappointing amount of vegetables on opening, throw in a handful of frozen peas, carrots or beans whilst cooking.  This adds very little extra effort, but increases the nutrient value of the meal.

In order to further increase the nutrient value of your meal, serve it with a side salad and finish your meal with a low fat yogurt for calcium and protein and fresh fruit for added vitamins and fibre.

Fat and Calorie Targets for frozen meals

Fat and calorie content are also very important.  Whilst there are thousands of healthy diet frozen meals available, there is an equal number of unhealthy high calorie, high fat options.  These are not always obvious, using packaging tricks like small serve sizes or phrases like ‘low sugar’ or ‘high fibre’ to draw attention away from the high calorie or fat options.

Be aware that if a food that is usually high in calories and fat, such as macaroni cheese, is labelled as a low fat, low calorie product, it is either a very small portion, or it is likely to be a disappointing chemical sauce that often hasn’t seen any real cheese or milk.

Try to choose meals that look as if they are naturally low in fat and calories such as stir fries, steamed fish and rice, or tomato based pasta.  A lot less intervention is needed with these types of food to make them low fat and low calorie, so they are likely to be a more natural product.

Ideally look for meals which contain no more than 300-400 calories, of which less than 30% should come from fat, ( i.e. about 10-14 grams).  Obviously the less calories the better if you are trying to lose weight so spend some time reading the food labels, always be careful to check the serving size on the label and the weight of the meal are the same!

Saturated fat content can also be high in frozen meals so look for meals with less than four grams per serve.  This will generally mean steering clear of frozen pizza, particularly those with added fat bonuses such as stuffed cheesy crusts, pastry based products and creamy sauces (unless they are the previously mentioned artificial type reduced fat sauces).

Salt and additives

Sodium can be very high in frozen meals, as in any packaged meal as it is such an effective preservative.  High salt can be detrimental to our health, particularly for those with salt sensitivity or with high blood pressure.  Aim for less than 600 mg of salt per serve.

Other chemicals such as flavour enhancers, colors and preservatives can also be high in frozen foods.  Try to choose all natural varieties and check labels for enhancers such as MSG, monodosium glutmate on labels.  MSG may also be a common ingredient in autolyzed yeast, maltodextrin, hydrolyzed pea protein and sodium caseinate, so look out for these ingredients too.


Choose frozen meals with 4-5g of fibre per serve.  This helps to you to stay full for longer, which is important for dieters.  Choose meals with lots of vegetables and brown rice or pasta where possible.

Which ones to choose

The healthiest frozen meal options tend to be those produced by companies targeting the weight loss and diet market specifically, such as Weight Watchers, Lean Cuisine and Healthy choice.  Weight Watchers Smart Ones for example all contain less than 300 calories per serve, and less than 5g of fat, making them the ideal choice for dieters.

Amy’s Asian Noodle Stir Fry is also a good choice, with 240 calories, 4.5 g fat, 680g sodium and 4 grams of fibre, as is Trader Joe’s Chicken Tandoori with spinach which comes in at 360 calories and 5 grams of fibre.

There a literally thousands to choose from so spend some time reading labels to find the best choices, and try a few to find out which suit your tastes.  It is also worth remembering that possibly the healthiest frozen meal of all is a home-made one.

Although it takes a little more planning than buying pre-made meals, you know exactly what is going into your food.  Cook a large pan of your favourite healthy dish, such as a vegetable based pasta or bean stew or the weekend and freeze in individual portions, for a quick defrost tasty meal during the week.

What are empty calories foods with examples

Monday, February 27, 2012 16:06
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empty calorie foods

Empty calories foods” is the term used to describe foods that provide energy (calories), but offer little or nothing in terms of nutritional value.  The most common sources of empty calories are those high in fat or sugar (or both!) and are often processed or snack foods.  Think about soft drinks, candy, chips and French fries – to name just a few.

All of these foods are high in sugar or fat, provide a large amount of calories, but provide few or no vitamins, healthy fatty acids, fibre or essentials minerals to the body.

Unfortunately, these foods are consumed in vast quantities in America and in some part are probably to blame for high levels of obesity and diet related illness such as Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease.

Empty Calorie Foods and Malnutrition

About one third of Americans are classified as obese.  What many people do not realise is that many of these people may also be malnourished.  Although most people associate malnutrition with people who are under weight and do not consume enough calories, a person who exists solely on a diet of high fat and sugar foods is also at risk of dangerous nutrient deficiencies.

A diet high in empty calorie foods can lead to lack of vitamins and minerals that can cause both minor and serious health problems.  This is often forgotten if the person is obese, as it is presumed that the person is eating sufficient food to provide these nutrients.    People who often replace healthy, nutrient rich foods with empty calorie alternatives are at a high risk of micronutrient deficiencies.

This is illustrated in the eye opening documentary “Supersize Me” , in which Morgan Spurlock develops a huge range of health problems, many of which were probably caused at least in part to nutrient deficiencies, after thirty days consuming only McDonalds food.

What are the most common empty calorie foods?

The first culprits are those foods and drinks which are high in sugar, and not a lot else.  These include not only the obvious soft drinks, ‘fruit’ drinks (often containing no actual fruit), sports drinks and candy, but also sources of calories which are easily added to your diet without realizing such as condiments.  Syrups and jams can add a huge amount of calories if used in excess and provide very little nutritional value.

The second group of empty calorie foods are those high in fats and oils.  Chips, crackers and other commercial snack foods are often high in saturated fats, providing a huge amount of calories and very little nutrition.

High fat sauces and meats such as bacon are other foods to avoid. One tablespoon of  Mayonnaise for example , will add about 100 calories and 10 grams of fat to your meal, and while some might argue that the eggs yolks used to make homemade mayo are packed full of vitamins, many commercial varieties have not been anywhere near an egg and don’t even have this to save them.

Cakes, pastries and some sweet breads also fit the empty calorie category, as do flavoured popcorns which are generally coated in saturated fats and sugar.

The third main source of empty calories are fast and processed foods.  Although not strictly devoid of all nutritional value, these foods provide such as large dose of sugar, fat and calories that the small nutritional benefit is not really worth it.  Frozen pizza or a hamburger for example will feature some vegetables providing vitamins and essential amino acids from meat proteins, but given the fat content they also provide a huge amount of calories that contribute nothing to your health.

It is also important to remember that alcohol is a source of empty calories, and one that is all too easy to over consume.  Whilst red wine has the benefits of heart healthy antioxidants, the same cannot be said for spirits and beer.

Alcohol is second only to fat in terms of calories per gram of all the macronutrients.  A night out on the town could result in the intake of a meals worth of calories from drinks alone, not to mention the quick burger grabbed on the way home, leaving a night of empty calories with little nutritional benefit.

How can we avoid empty calories?

If you are watching your weight, the last thing you want to do is eat empty calories.  If you are eating less than normal to reduce your calorie intake, it is important that every food that passes your lips is worthwhile and benefiting your body in some way.  This is not only important for dieters; whilst the occasional empty calorie food is OK, anybody who is consuming a large quantity is at risk of nutrient deficiencies, regardless of their weight.

It is important for everyone, overweight or not to base their diet on foods that benefit their body, so here are some changes you can make to your diet to get more nutritional value for your calories.

Swap chips and fried savoury snacks for nuts, seeds and dried fruit. 

Although these foods are still fairly high in calories they provide a huge amount more nutrients that are beneficial to your body.  Nuts are packed with Omega three fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, while dried fruit provides many important vitamins.  For roughly the same serving size, almonds contain a similar amount of calories as chips, but half the saturated fat, and a many more healthy nutrients.  (See also: 13 healthy snack ideas for weight loss)

Go wholegrain

By swapping breads, cakes and crackers made from refined white flour, for those made with wholegrain you are easily upping the nutritional value of your snack.  Whole grains contain essential B vitamins used for energy production in the body.  They are also slower to be digested and therefore keep you full for longer.

Make your own versions of processed foods.

If you make your own pizzas, hamburgers and even French fries, you can eliminate empty calories and boost the nutrition value by knowing exactly what goes into the food.  A healthy vegetable pizza made on a whole grain pita bread base with roasted vegetables, low fat cheese and lean chicken will contain far more nutritional value than those you buy in the freezer section of the supermarket, and is likely to contain far less calories and fat.  You can even try making French fries with vegetables such as sweet potato or pumpkin, roasted in the oven with olive oil for a nutrient packed low calorie snack.

Swap soft drinks and cordials for fruit juices.

As with nuts and dried fruit, juices, even those made directly from fruit, are high in calories, and so should not be consumed in excess.  However, juices also provide a huge amount of vitamins and for the amount of calories, are therefore a much more nutritious choice.

Look for reduced fat and sugar varieties of your favorite treats.

Generally these contain less calories than normal varieties, hence reducing empty calories (although not always increasing nutritional value).  Be aware of reduced fat foods that substitute fat for a higher sugar content, these may even contain more calories than the original!

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