Thirty 100 kcal snack ideas you’ve probably not tried yet

A great resource, this. Fitbie have put together thirty ideas for quick snacks (more like mini-meals, actually) that clock in under 100 calories. As that implies, they are more suited to those on a low-cal rather than a low-carb diet. There are some brilliant ideas, some of which are a little more inspiring that the standard offering, like these celery, peanut butter and cranberry sticks above.

Admittedly, evil rice cakes are on the list. You can’t have everything.

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Foodswap: cucumber & pork scratchings for crisps

Hear me out!

No, it doesn’t sound like a great swap at first. But if you’re on a low-carb diet, pork scratchings are a perfect crisp replacement. They’ve still got the crunch you’re looking for but with no carbs. Why not make a hot sauce dip from mayonnaise and Franks or Tabasco sauce?

Cucumber works too. I find that if you cut the cucumber on a diagonal you end up with a good-sized crisp replacement that goes very well with this low-carb hummus recipe.

If you’re entertaining for Easter, give these a go on your guests and see how well they respond!

Shop online and in advance to make the right choices

shopping-list

Struggling to avoid the sweeties when you go shopping? Avoid the temptation altogether by shopping online.

If you’re trying to lose weight, you know what you should be eating, but sometimes what you want takes precedence.

By ordering your food online, when you’re in a calm mood and you’re not hungry, you’re avoiding most of the temptations the supermarkets can throw your way.

Even better, it looks like the further in advance you order, the more measured you can be. Research at the Harvard Business School looked through a year’s worth of orders from an online supermarket. Interestingly, they didn’t focus on the difference between the average online basket vs an offline one, but rather the differences between orders placed in advance and those that were to be delivered soon:

Specifically, they wanted to find out whether a delay between order completion and order delivery would have an effect on which items the customers chose to buy. In other words, would a customer be more likely to choose kale over Kit-Kats if he ordered his groceries a week in advance rather than a day in advance?

Indeed, the data showed that customers tended to order a higher percentage of “should” items (like leafy greens) and a lower percentage of “want” items (like candy bars) the further in advance they placed an order.

How little we move – and why you should stand up more often

Even if you do get off your bum a few times a week to get to the gym, the studies are starting to show that this might not be enough for some. Most of us now work in an office chair, drive our commute and slump in front of the telly at home. Even with our deliberate attempts to improve our exercise levels, we’re still falling short of what’s needed.

Even worse, sitting for too long is now considered another of the many things that may cause diabetes.

So what should we do? Fidget. By incorporating more of these smaller exercises into our days we can increase our overall activity level outside of the dedicated forms of “Exercise”. Cutely, the academics call this Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, or NEAT.

Six ways to get more NEAT and be more active

Inspired by Travis Saunders, here are some good tips to getting more not-exercise exercise:

  1. Wear a pedometer – or a FuelBand, or an UP; something that can help you monitor your NEAT. You can’t improve what you don’t measure. There’s no need to start with a too-ambitious goal. Can you get your step-count (or Fuel, or whatever) to be a hundred or so more than last week?
  2. Take the stairs – you probably wait longer for the lift than it would take to walk a couple of flights of stairs.
  3. Active transportation – can you walk, cycle, bus or train it? If not, have you considered parking at the far end of the car park?
  4. Drink plenty of water – It’s good for slimmers anyway, but it also encourages you to get up – if only to refill your glass and to visit the loo!
  5. Forget the phone, have walking meetings – If you need to chat with someone in the office, walk over there. If it’s a longer chat, why not invite them to go for a walk? It always looks impressive on the West Wing…
  6. Walk during your lunch break – I do this regularly. Not only does it improve my mood and give me a proper break away from my desk, but it encourages me to find new lunch venues, too!

Dietgirl’s top 20 diet tips

shauna-reidShauna Reid, formerly known as Dietgirl, has done an amazing job of halving her original 25 stone (351 pounds, almost 160kg). Twelve years of healthy diet and exercise later, she’s still soldering on. She’s condensed her learnings into a 20-point list that she’s shared. Although I don’t personally agree with everything she’s written, that’s an important point in itself – YMMV. But I’ve clipped out my favourite four:

  • Focus on the details. Every day we make dozens of tiny decisions that can spell the difference between whether we lose weight or gain. Do you pick the muesli for breakfast or the chocolate muffin? Do you spend twenty minutes on the couch or twenty minutes on a brisk walk? Small changes can add up to huge results.
  • Make your treats miniature. Instead of banning puddings, I choose smaller portions – like an apple crumble baked in a ramekin dish or a small bar of Green and Blacks chocolate. I get my sugar hit without dangerous leftovers!
  • Feel your emotions, don’t feed them. In times of stress it’s tempting to bury your feelings in cake – better to feel bad about binging than tackle the real issue! But try to find non-edible ways of coping – I highly recommend kickboxing classes.
  • Don’t wait to be “skinny” to start living your life. If you have dreams of travelling or writing a book or learning to scuba dive, don’t think you need a smaller bum before you deserve them. Your life is happening right now – so forget about your wobbly bits and jump right in.

Do read her article here for the rest.

Foodswap – Spinach in, iceburg lettuce out

It turns out Popeye had a point; spinach is good for you.

It’s not the iron – that was debunked some time ago. Even at the time his stories were written, the sailor ate it for Vitamin A.

The Karolinska Institute have shown that nitrates found in the vegetable boost the production of proteins in muscle, making them stronger and more efficient. Even better, you only need to eat a small portion. Previous research has credited thylakoids (which are in spinach) with fooling our bodies into feeling full, too.

Of course, this is a benefit of all dark leafy veg, not just spinach. So what else makes spinach worth a foodswap?

Usually, the food to swap out is a poor choice. That’s not the case here. Iceburg lettuce isn’t a bad choice per se – but if you’re going to eat a salad, you might as well have the one that’s the best for you. Spinach has more antioxidants and triple the protein of an iceberg lettuce. You’re missing out on these benefits if you eat the fairly flavourless iceburg.

Could 3 minutes of exercise help make you fit?

Dr Michael Mosley tries high intensity training

It sounds like the holy grail. Forget the long, arduous weight sessions and hours on the treadmill. Just three minutes a week is enough to make “significant and measurable changes to [your] fitness”.

This is the promise of HIT, or High Intensity Training. (some people stick an extra I in there – HIIT – for Interval).

It’s actually very simple. You get on an exercise bike, warm up by doing gentle cycling for a couple of minutes, then go flat out for 20 seconds.

A couple of minutes to catch your breath, then another 20 seconds at full throttle. Another couple of minutes gentle cycling, then a final 20 seconds going hell for leather. And that’s it. [Repeated 3 times a week].

Back in February last year, Dr Michael Mosley starred in a BBC Horizon programme about his own attempts to use HIT after reading about it in some scientific studies. The belief is that because you are exercising at full blast with your entire body, HIT uses more of the glycogen stored in your muscles. This in turn increases your sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that signals to your body that it should store sugar. Diabetes is an insulin-related issue.

So what happened for Dr Mosley? He found that his insulin sensitivity was increased by 24% – coincidently the same amount as the average member of the HIT study.

So is HIT the only exercise you need? Well, no, unfortunately. HIT May increase your insulin sensitivity and (if your genes allow) improve your aerobic fitness. Both of  these will improve your general health and help you lose weight faster. But it’s hard – by definition it needs you to be working at your absolute maximum output. If you’re not already doing some form of exercise HIT could be a turn-off.

If you’re already exercising, try adding HIT to your routine – you can hardly complain that you can’t find the time…

Which is better for weight loss: walking or running?


There’s a lot of debate about whether exercise should be fast or slow.

Well, the jury’s still out, but here’s another study that suggests running would help. Why? It’s probably that elevating your heart rate and metabolism makes you burn more calories over the rest of the day, too.

Of course, this increase in your heart rate is produced by short bursts of exercise, too – which is why there is currently a fad for High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT. But we’ll discuss that another time.

Frozen vegetables are brilliant

Frozen broccoliMany people think that frozen vegetables are less nutritious than fresh. Actually, it’s usually quite the opposite.

Fruit and veg begin to lose vitamins and nutrients as soon as they are picked. Although those lovely displays of apples can be transported halfway across the world before they sit in supermarket baskets – which is why they could be up to 10 months old!

Produce that was grown for the freezer will be picked and frozen very quickly, retaining their nutrients. They’re usually partially prepared, too. Great for midweek cooking!

I always keep broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, chopped onion and peppers in the freezer. It’s so easy to just grab a handful and chuck it into whatever you’re making. Add flavour and bulk to your meal and reduce the calorie count and the cost!

What veg do you regularly include in your cooking?

Swap chocolate for smints

Do you finish every meal with a pudding? Or feel the need to snack on a chocolate bar on your commute home?

Why not try sugar-free sweets instead? Smints are a great choice as they are easily available (you can buy them online, or from Boots and WH Smiths), contain practically no calories or carbs* and come in a few flavours, including my favourite, raspberry and lemon.

*They are almost entirely made from polyols, or sugar alcohols. Some people believe this can affect ketosis, but this is unproven. Try for yourself and see!