Eating out – Restaurant meals aren’t good for you.

A cheeky dinner out can be costly for your waistline.

Researchers from the University of Toronto examined the calorie, sodium, fat and cholesterol levels of 685 meals and 156 desserts from 19 sit-down restaurants around Canada. They found that the average meal has 1,128 calories. Given the average daily recommended intake for a British woman is 2,000 kcals, that’s over half used up at once.

Even worse, these meals are some of the unhealthiest you can eat. Another recent study looked at fast food in the US for the last 14 years. It showed that the nutritional value of the food available has pretty much remained the same, despite pledges to offer healthy choices.

Food from the companies included – McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell,  KFC), Arby’s, Jack in the Box and Dairy Queen – were analysed and scored against a healthy eating index. In 1997 they scored 45/100. In 2009 that had risen to just 48/100. This was also compared to the average American’s diet, which scores 55/100.

So, food from restaurants is unhealthy and fattening. This isn’t surprising, but it shouldn’t be too worrying either – as long as your other meals are reduced in size accordingly. This is the problem for most of us; if meals out are normal, the other meals creep back up to standard sizes.So this is a Foodswap opportunity If restaurant food – (even a sandwich from Boots or Pret) are regulars in your diet. Reduce your meals-out frequency by bringing a lunchbox to work. Make your date night focus on a home-cooked meal, rather than one at a restaurant or the £10 Tesco deal.
A general focus away from pre-prepared food will help you set your own portion sizes and control your own calorific (and nutritional) inputs, leading to a healthier diet

Foodswap: diet drinks replace full calorie ones. Really.

Coke and Coke Zero

It sounds obvious, but if you’re a big soft drink fan, trade over to the no-cal version.

Why am I posting this? Because sugary drinks are linked to 180,000 deaths every year. That means 1% of all obesity-related deaths are down to the soda fountain and the sugarwaters they dispense.

It’s hardly surprising; Just one can of sugary soft drink raises the relative risk of type II diabetes by around a fifth. Wow.

“But LazyFit!” Some of you are asking. “Aren’t diet drinks just as bad for you? They cause cancer and stuff!”

Well, probably not. Diet coke isn’t a saint. There is some evidence that some of the ingredients aren’t great for you – although the quantities involved would be equivalent to drinking 8 to 2,083 cans of diet soda every day.

So should you take up a soft drink habit? Not if you already only drink water. But it’s all a matter of small improvements (almost as if that’s the theme of this blog…). If ‘fat’ soft drinks are your sin, switch to diet versions. If you’re down to diet, consider the occasional fizzy water instead. Your liver, pancreas and waistline will thank you for it.

Foodswap: spaghetti out, courgettes in

courgette

If you’ve a pasta-fetish and you can’t imagine how those on a low-carb diet cope without a big steaming bowl of spag bol, trust me and give this a go instead.

Get a Julienne Peeler if you’ve not already got one. I like this one as it has a guard, which means you can leave it in the drawer without worrying about slicing your fingers.

Get a courgette (or a zucchini, if that’s what you prefer to call them). Use the peeler to make thin strips of courgette and flash fry them in oil or butter for about two minutes.

You’ll find your new spaghetti-replacement has only 3g carbs per 100g. Fantastic. As an added bonus, the different colours of the green outside and creamy inside make the dish more interesting, too.

Serve with a Bolognese or cream-based sauce and there’s a midweek evening meal in about 8 minutes of total prep and cooking time.

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!

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.