Sunday, January 06, 2013


Not just for January.....for life!

Of course, it’s that time of year again when the atmosphere is filled with all good intentions to get fit and eat healthier; but one stumbling block that many people encounter is: “Where do I start?” There is so much information out ‘there’ about eating your way to better health, that it can often be confusing rather than empowering, so I thought I would jot down a few of my simple, realistic nutritional principles that contribute to a healthy, varied balanced diet; and to make the recommendations a little easier for you to remember, I've decided to use forcailíní as the acronym for each point (let me know if the use of the acronym works). There’s quite a bit to read so if your eyes go fuzzy, perhaps come back to it later.


Fruit & Vegetable prints were brought to the fore in Spring 2012 collections 
Fruit & Vegetables
Aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day; this may help reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers - the two main killer diseases in this country. They are an important source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, all of which are important for health and disease prevention, and given their low calorie content, they work well as part of a weight reducing diet too. Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables/salad; it will bulk up your meal, fill you up and thus make you feel more satisfied physically and mentally. Fruit are useful as snacks in between meals. For more information about what constitutes a portion see my previous post 5 A Day.

Oily Fish
You should aim to eat one-two portions of oily fish each week. Oily fish includes fresh tuna (not tinned), salmon, pilchards, trout, herring and sardines. Oily fish is rich in what we call polyunsaturated fat, which is what is often referred to as a  ‘healthy’ fat (not all fats are ‘bad’!) because of the health benefits it confers. In particular, oily fish is rich in a polyunsaturated fat called Omega 3 - have you heard about this fat? Omega 3 fats can lower your risk of heart disease, maintain healthy joints and support healthy development of your baby. It’s also great for glowing skin ladies, so get munching on some oily fish. I love smoked salmon!

Rise and shine to a good breakfast
Do you know where the term breakfast came from? Breakfast literally means ‘breaking the fast’ – the fast you've experienced overnight when you sleep. Breakfast is important, but it’s a meal that is often skipped for one reason or another. It gives you the physical and mental kick-start your body needs when you wake up. Mental and physical performance is reported to be better among people who eat breakfast. Did you also know that people who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight and lose weight more successfully than that don't? Do you eat breakfast? I have cereal during the week and porridge or scrambled egg on toast at the weekends (cereal is quicker when you have to go to work). I always try to have a combination of carbohydrate (cereal, toast) and protein (milk, eggs) at breakfast.

Many people who are trying to manage their weight stay clear of carbohydrates in fear that they are going to put weight on. A calorie is a calorie is a calorie! So regardless of the food source or food group, if you take in more calories than your body requires, you will put on weight. Some people do lose weight when they eliminate carbohydrates from the diet, but given that typically 50% of our intake is made up of carbohydrates, it stands to reason that you will lose weight, but this is not down to the carbohydrate per se, but because of the reduction in your overall daily calorie intake. 

It is worth pointing out to all the high protein/zero carbohydrate diet fans that gram for gram carbohydrates contain the same amount of calories as protein. What make carbohydrates fattening is the cheeses (e.g. to your potato), butters (e.g. to your toast) and sauces (e.g. to your pasta) we add to them. Given that carbohydrates provide us with a good and essential source of nutrients including fibre, it would be better to moderate the portions of carbohydrates, opt for wholegrain sources (as opposed to white processed carbs) and be mindful of what you add to them, rather than cutting them out altogether

There is evidence to suggest that a small amount of alcohol can be beneficial to your health, but this is not a cue to engage in mindless binge drinking because that would have the opposite effect - liver damage, high blood pressure and obesity. Typically, drinking alcohol within recommended limits poses no significant risk to your health, but it is very high in calories so the message is Drink Sensibly. Check out my previous alcohol post, which describes some of the practical ways you can drink and enjoy alcohol sensibly.

Ingest 1.5-2 litres of fluid each day
Get drinking! Adequate hydration is associated with a lower risk of urinary tract infections and a reduction in hypertension. It has also been linked to improved mental well-being and performance. Also, don’t forget that hunger can sometimes be mistaken for thirst, so drinking regularly may help you avoid the need to reach for a snack too often. Remember it doesn’t just have to be water, any fluid counts towards your 1.5-2 litres, however I’d recommend to stay away from too many high sugar drinks or lots of juices and smoothies as these could lead to an excess calorie intake and one too many trips to the dentist.

Little Servings/Portions
One of the contributing factors to obesity in this country is over-sized portions. Be mindful that 'Healthy' food/drink can still be fattening if they are eaten in large quantities! Pay attention to serving sizes, and if necessary use smaller utensils, bowls and plates to help keep your portions reasonable and avoid you exceeding the recommended guidelines for daily calorie intake (2000 calories for the average women). Many of my patients find this strategy effective. Did you know that you would need to reduce your calorie intake by 500 calories per day to lose 1lb per week - but don's skip meals to achieve this, instead focus on portions/quantities.

Intake vs Expenditure
Get yourself moving! For overall health, you need to focus on both sides of the calorie equation -  calorie intake from food and calorie expenditure (burning) through physical activity. The Chief Medical Officer recommends that for general health adults aged 19-64 should try to be active daily and should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking every week and muscle strengthening activities (e.g. resistance training) on two or more days a week. Make a promise today that doing some form of exercise is going to be a new way of life for you. But be careful -  exercise is not an excuse to eat more!

NO to faddy diets, quick fixes and miracle cures
Stay clear of faddy diets and miracle pills. If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is. Don’t become a sales person’s dream and succumb to the quick-fixes and miracle potions on offer, they will just get in the way, sabotage your efforts and delay what you are trying to achieve. Some of them can even be dangerous! Check out my previous post on weight loss myths and fallacies if you are trying to lose weight.

Iota of unhealthy fats, sugars & salt
Now I’m not going to tell you that you can’t ever have chocolate or sweeties; I’d swear at anyone that told me that - plus you end up craving them more - but foods high in fat such as crisps, biscuits and pastries, and sugary foods likes sweets and chocolate really should be limited and consumed in small amounts to help control your calorie intake and minimise your risk of developing diseases. Given you shouldn't eat too many of these foods, I often recommend that when you do eat them, perhaps every now and again treat yourself to good quality food/drink that you can enjoy and savour. Also, use salt sparingly as too much can result in high blood pressure; instead experiment with fresh herbs and spices for flavour.

Check out what I eat as a nutritionist on a typical day in my Style & Diet Profile. What do you eat on a typical day?

Later x


  1. Very concise and lots of common sense!

  2. I am the most unhealthy person in the world. I could never stick to these great tips! Saw my wonderful Sasha Pivovarova up there, my favourite model ever :)

    Followed :)


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