THE RULE OF HALVES
This series of tips and recipes are to help you now that you have resolved to lose your 5lbs in January to support not only the RNLI but also your own health during January. And whilst January is rather a miserable month to cut back, it is also a time of resolutions and new beginnings; my main tip is not to be too hard on yourself if there is the occasional slip up – it’s not the end of everything; “brush yourself down, pick yourself up and start all over again”.
Let’s start by thinking of quantity. The easiest and most economical way to lose weight is simply to cut the amount of food on your plate by half; so two slices of toast become one, weigh a bowlful of cereal and take half, and a slice of cake is now a half. And when it comes to following recipes do measure accurately, using kitchen scales and measuring spoons and cups. The good news is that you can double up on most vegetables; in fact, please do!
Double up too on the amount of water you drink; a cunning trick is to sip at a glass of water whilst you are preparing a meal. Half a pint will make you feel less hungry before you sit down to eat. Jazz it up with a slice of lemon, a sprig of mint or some squash. Keep a box of carrot and celery sticks in the fridge for those moments of the ‘munchies’.
And, of course, if you are able, double up on exercise. The cold weather makes us want to huddle indoors, but this is the very time of the year when it helps both our immune systems and our mental health to get outside, see some green space and, within current confines, see other people. If possible have a walking buddy; otherwise plan out some local walks of differing lengths and plot them out in conjunction with the weather. Take a warming flask if your circuit doesn’t include a take away coffee opportunity. Your metabolic rate remains elevated for a short time after each period of brisk walking so you’ll continue to burn calories even when you stop.
If you would like a little snack to take with you when walking try making these very simple 2 ingredients cookies:
BANANA AND OAT COOKIES
· Preheat oven to 175C.
· Take 1 cup of rolled oats and 1 large overripe banana, mashed well.
· Mix up these together into a thick batter.
· Cover a baking sheet with non-stick paper and divide the mixture into 8 balls about 2” apart.
· Press down slightly with a fork – they won’t spread that much, but you may decide to use 2 trays.
· Bake for about 15 minutes; they should remove easily from the baking sheet and put on a rack to cool. Store in the fridge.
SOUP, BEAUTIFUL SOU-OOP
With the wintry weather outside my mind turns to the Mock Turtle’s song in Alice in Wonderland; I wonder what variety his “so rich, so green, waiting in a hot tureen” was? My pea soup below?
This is the time to turn to hot bowls of nourishment which remain relatively low in calories, and what could fit the bill better than soup. When we’re looking at weight loss ideas the first thing that comes to mind is to avoid the fats and oils used for the fry starting off many soup recipes. Although I’m not one for kitchen gadgets I heartily recommend an electric soup maker (I got my Morphy Richards a few years ago from e-bay) which will make the most delicious soups without any fat (and with minimal washing up or smell!) You just bung in the ingredients, press the switch and 20 minutes later there’s your healthy, low-fat meal.
If you don’t have this facility you may try gently ‘frying’ off your onions etc., in a little stock or low-fat spread/spray; both these methods need a low heat and careful monitoring/stirring. Alternatively use variations on the minestrone recipe given below for no-fat soup production.
Serve a big, warmed bowl of soup with home-made oven baked croutons, (sprinkled with mixed herbs for variation), freshly chopped herbs, low-fat Greek yogurt or sriracha, or any combinations. Accompany with a small chunk of bread or a couple of Ryvita or rice cakes, perhaps with a little cottage cheese for a filling and sustaining lunch with a piece of fruit to follow. Avoiding other cheeses gives you a quick win on reducing calorie intake and will help improve cholesterol levels. Always pre-warm bowls to keep your soup hotter; it will take longer to drink, thus you feel fuller.
· 1 potato peeled and cut into small 1cm cubes and rinsed well in cold water.
· 1 small swede/turnip, 2 carrots, – peeled and grated, or whizzed in the food processor.
· Put together into a large pan together with 850ml water.
· Now whizz a 400g can of tomatoes and add to the pan.
· Shred 3-4 Savoy or green cabbage leaves; add these to the pan together with 1 tsp dried Italian herb mix and a vegetable stock cube (I use Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon powder for a lower salt/fat option that is full of flavour). Simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
· Now add 75g of tiny soup pasta for authenticity – or alternatively broken up spaghetti and cook for a further 8-10 minutes. Season with S&P to taste. Serve sprinkled with a little freshly grated Parmesan.
Unbelievably Easy, Unbelievably Green Pea Soup
· Chop 1 onion and fry off in either a little stock, low-fat spread or spray for a couple of minutes.
· Add 450g packet of still frozen peas; still until thawed. Add 150ml water, S&P and quarter tsp dried mint. (Optional to add 1 sweetener tablet). Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
· Leave to cool for ¼ hour and then whizz in the food processor. Return to the pan together with 425ml water and 1 chicken stock cube (or bouillon powder as above). Bring up to the boil; check the seasoning and serve in warmed bowls.
IS THERE A MAGIC FOOD?
Hunger is often the enemy of those trying to lose a bit of weight and satiety is the feeling of fullness we get after eating that influences how quickly we feel hungry again. Prolonging the sensation of satiety can help us avoid snacking and reduce how much we eat at the next meal.
But how can we get this fuller feeling? First of all, be sure that you really are hungry rather than thirsty, and not just reacting to an eating trigger such as stress, emotions, or just seeing some pictures of food you like. Having established that it is none of these, and that you are hungry, some of the tips below may help you to feel fuller longer.
The food we eat can affect our ‘hunger hormones’, which activate signals from the gut and intestines, the brain and our fat cells.
1. High fibre intake helps people to feel more satisfied and better able to manage weight; fibre is naturally filling and stimulates the production of hunger regulating gut hormones. Fruit and vegetables, pulses (beans and lentils) and whole grain products (e.g. wholemeal bread/pasta) are all good sources of fibre.
2. Whilst the high protein and fat, low carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins diets are not recommended, it is true that making protein-rich foods such as fish, lean meat, nuts and low-fat dairy foods part of a balanced meal could make a difference.
3. Same volume, fewer calories – we like to eat a similar volume and weight of food every day. When the stomach is stretched it releases satiety messages to the brain; take advantage of meals based on foods that are very low in fats and refined carbohydrates and have high water and fibre content – making them more bulky, more time-consuming to eat and lower calories per bite. Think vegetables, salad (cut the mayo!), chunky veggie soups, fish, low-fat casseroles and curries, most fruit and low-fat yogurts.
Scientists in Sydney have produced a ‘Satiety Index’, which ranked foods according to how well they delayed hunger after two hours (compared to white bread); the top six were:
Boiled potatoes, Fish, Porridge, Oranges, Apples, Wholewheat pasta.
Other good ‘fillers’ include Greek Yogurt, Berries, Eggs, Cottage cheese and Legumes. Chia seed is also helpful but beware that it doesn’t cause digestive issues for you. Always manage your weight loss campaign alongside any health issues you know you have and incorporate these ideas sensibly, whether dietary or physical activity.
Porridge: (a not very Scottish version!) Mix 50ml of porridge oats (I like multigrain porridge oats, Sainsbury’s) with 80ml water or skimmed milk and a smidgin of salt. Pop in the microwave on medium for 30 secs and stir well, repeat twice more – constant stirring is vital to achieve creaminess. Top with low fat Greek yogurt, and berries or chopped apple and if you like a small banana. A sprinkle of homemade granola adds a nice crunch; much healthier and cheaper than shop bought (have a look at the ingredients on a packet!); I store mine in a plastic tub for a couple of weeks. TIP: Buy kids size bananas.
Scrambled Eggs: Mix one or two eggs with a little skimmed milk, S&P. Cook in the microwave on medium for 30 seconds, beat and repeat until barely cooked (as with the porridge frequent beating makes it really creamy). Serve on a slice of wholemeal toast or a crumpet; if you do need ‘spread’, have a mere scrapping of butter.
Kippers: Place a whole kipper headfirst into a tall jug, fill up with boiling water, cover and leave for 3-4 minutes. Drain, served on a hot plate with lemon and black pepper, and a slice of wholemeal bread.
To avoid weight gain: Remember the 200-calorie rule
The number of calories you need each day drops slightly as you age, yet most people keep eating the same amount of food. The government’s dietary guidelines advise that you burn approximately 200 fewer daily calories after age 50. So, if you’re a 50-year-old who eats like a 40-year-old, you could gain more than a pound of body fat each month.
Of course, unless you suddenly take up marathon running (unwise), exercise alone won’t restore the calorie burn of youth. That’s because roughly 50 to 70 percent of the energy you burn each day goes toward sustaining the body: organ function, respiration and the other processes that keep you alive. Nutritionists call this your basal metabolic rate (BMR), and it’s the slowdown of this rate — not your lapsed gym membership — that’s the main reason you need fewer calories with age.
Although creeping weight gain may be normal, that doesn’t make it healthy. So, what number should you look for on the scale? Think more about your waistline: A waist circumference of greater than 40 inches for men, or 35 inches for women, puts you at greater risk for disease. To get, and remain, below those numbers, you have to cut a few calories — start with 200 — from your daily diet. Yet rather than concentrating on eating less, think about eating better, especially when snacking. If you can answer your cravings with hunger-satisfying protein and belly-filling fibre, you can cut calories without thinking about it.
“A chocolate chip cookie has roughly the same number of calories as a small apple; but while it’s easy to eat six biscuits, how many people could eat six apples?”
The good news is that having a snack can enhance your BMR, but these should be incorporated into your overall daily calorie intake not as additions. Starving yourself and having one or two large meals will lower your BMR as the body prepares itself for a ‘famine’. A balance of 4 or 5 smaller meals over the day will make the body work harder, thus raising your BMR.
Fruit is, of course, a healthy snack. So are nuts, raw vegetables and unsweetened yogurt. All these filling foods provide you with fibre and/or protein while injecting an army of disease-fighting, brain-protecting nutrients into your bloodstream. The big challenge for older adults is that we need less energy overall but more micronutrients, which means you need a greater focus on nutrient-dense foods. So try to pack as many fruits and vegetables into your day as possible, and limit (or even better, eliminate!) nutritionally bankrupt doughnuts, biscuits and sweets. By using each snack craving as an opportunity to add nutrients into your diet, you’ll slim down without having to obsess about calories.
“It’s simple, really,” says Nancy Rodriguez, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Connecticut. “If your calorie burn goes down and you don’t change the way you eat, then you’re going to put on weight.”
PLAN your meals including snacks for each day, AND keep a diary alongside this to highlight where reality intrudes and upsets the best laid plans.
Things to do while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil.
This week a bit more about activity; this is beneficial to loosen up and lubricate your joints, get the oxygen round to your body, including your brain which in itself is energising and raising your BMR, which I talked about in Tips 4. In that tips sheet I also suggested keeping a food diary, and as an add on to this, why not keep a target sheet for your exercise repetitions? Start with 5 of each.
Now, obviously, the first thing to do whilst you’re waiting for the kettle to boil is to reach for the biscuit tin; check that it’s empty, good! If not donate the contents to your neighbour or the birds – remember waste not, want not! Now you’re ready to move on to some activity:
1. Push-Ups. Yes, what a horrendous thought eh? No, really these are very simple and don’t entail lying full length on the kitchen floor. Face the worktop, place your hands on the edge about shoulder width apart, with the thumbs curled over the edge. Now step your feet backward until your arms are straight. Keep your feet hip width apart. Then, keeping your body in a ‘plank’ position gently lower and push away from the work top. If you feel confident with this move your feet a little further away so that the heels are raised off the floor.
2. Squats. Stand straight with your hands resting gently on the worktop for stability only and your toes turned outwards. Take your feet wide enough apart so that as you squat your knees do not protrude beyond your toes. Move into a squat. Do not lower your bum below a right angle with the knees. Try to use your quads to benefit from this exercise rather than heave yourself up with your arms. Progress to squats with your hands on your hips or shoulders rather than the worktop.
3. Forearm Plate lifts. Strengthening your forearm muscles improves your grip. Simply hold a small plate in one hand, raise your arm out to the side so that it’s aligned with your shoulder and bend at the elbow making an L shape. Whilst holding the plate with your thumb to the front, move your wrist up and down in a sideways movement. Then switch hands. If you feel a burning sensation in your forearm after a few reps you are doing it right!
4. Calf lifts. Great for toning calves and helping with balance. Stand near the worktop if you feel you might need support, but don’t lean in towards it either forwards or sideways. Simply stand tall with your tummy muscles pulled in and raise your heels a few inches off the ground so that you’re on tiptoes. Return to the starting position and repeat. You can increase the work on this by progressing to holding weights, such as a tin of tomatoes in each hand.
5. Shoulder Lifts. If you have a chair handy this exercise can be done seated (a preferred option if you have high blood pressure). Extend your arms to either side until they are shoulder level. With palms facing forward slowly take 5 seconds to raise your arms above your head, hold for another 5 seconds if you can, then lower for 5 seconds to your starting position.
To finish and relax: Square Shoulder rolls – seated or standing straight, gently lift your shoulders towards your ears, move backwards without lowering and then gently squeeze and slide your shoulder blades down your spine in a lovely massaging movement. Note your posture! A great movement to do if you have been working leaning forward such as typing, sewing or gardening. Now you have worked right through your body, from your toes to your fingertips. Simples?
CAN EATING MORE PROTEIN HELP WITH WEIGHT LOSS?
The short answer is “yes”! Protein builds your body. It creates muscle, (including the muscle loss during ageing), strengthens bones, improves wound healing and promotes fat loss and controls hunger. It’s a win-win! Protein rich foods will keep you feeling fuller for longer and may also raise your metabolic rate (BMR) by about 100 calories a day. As with all healthy eating variety is the key and generally fresh, unprocessed foods will be more beneficial than the mass-produced alternatives. And, of course, if you have any underlying health issues take these into consideration before making radical changes.
To kick start the day make sure to include protein in your breakfast. Eggs are one of the most perfect high-protein foods at the supermarket: cheap, versatile, low-carb and packed with nutritional benefits – egg whites are almost pure protein, which is why elite athletes eat quantities of these in a their diet. But no need to go down that road! Greek Yogurt has twice as much protein as other types of yogurt; it’s rich in bone-building calcium and probiotic bacteria which is great for gut health. Look for plain varieties as the fruit flavours can contain up to 6 teaspoons of sugar in one little pot. Protein pancakes made with whey protein powder can be topped with fruit, cottage cheese (for extra protein) and sprinkled with a bit of icing sugar for sweetness. (These pancakes freeze well, so you haven’t got to cook up every morning). Have a look online at Women’s Health ‘30 High-Protein Breakfasts’. Porridge (particularly with quinoa) with fruit and dairy toppings has the additional benefit of maintaining a healthy blood pressure and reducing cholesterol.
If you hate eating breakfast don’t worry; just don’t fall into the trap of the mid-morning, high sugar snack. Plan for your drop in energy levels mid-morning and prepare a healthy snack.
Protein is the main component of your muscles, bones, skin and hair. These tissues are continuously repaired and replaced with new protein; haemoglobin protein carries oxygen to your body’s cells. Try to include some low-fat protein at every meal; include both animal and plant protein if your dietary preferences allow this for a more nutritious diet overall. Choose high-quality protein sources – focus on fresh meats and fish, eggs, dairy and other proteins, including legumes.
Lunch ideas: Fresh avocado and cottage cheese salad; canned salmon with healthy mayo (half and half with low fat yogurt) and granary bread; home made vegetable soup and low-fat oatcakes.
Supper ideas: steak (150g) trimmed of fat, baked sweet potato topped with a little yogurt and grilled courgettes; sustainable white fish steak such as hake (110g), with green lentils and broccoli; low fat vegetarian chilli with a green salad (watch that dressing!); frittata made with 3 eggs, 1 oz of low fat cheese and chopped cold veg/potatoes. The latter makes a lovely brunch idea too.
Protein Pumpkin Pancakes – (2 people) just a mixture of oatmeal, 6 egg whites and 90g pumpkin purée (can be bought in tins). Grind 40g oatmeal with a stick blender or coffee grinder. Add the egg whites and the pumpkin, together with 2 tablespoons baking powder, 2 teaspoons sweetener, a little mixed spice (or pumpkin spice) and a splash vanilla extract. Blend together. Then spray a small non-stick pan with cooking spray. Add a small ladleful of the mix to the warm pan and cook on each side until the edges become solid, about a minute on each side. Then serve with a little maple syrup or your favourite topping, savoury or sweet.
THOSE SNEAKY SUGARS
Whilst we are generally aware of fat containing foods it can be more difficult to identify sugars that lurk under so many names, particularly in processed food. Having a healthy low-fat fruit yogurt? Check the sugar content, possibly 16 grams in a small pot, only slightly less than a choc-ice (20g/100g). The problem is that sugar may not even be listed on the list of ingredients – tricky!
Sugar comes in many guises on food labels; look out for anything ending in ‘ose’, such as glucose, frustose, maltose, dextrose, isoglucose, and levulose. Syrups: corn, maple, agave, molasses and high-fructose glucose syrup; and include honey.
The six main sources of added sugar in our British diet may be familiar to you, but I guess will include some surprises:
1) Sugar, preserves & confectionery. Up to 27% of the added sugar in our daily diet can come from jams, chocolate and sweets as well as ‘visible’ sugar that you add at the table or to cooking.
2) Non-alcoholic drinks. Surprisingly over a fifth of the added sugar in adult diets comes from soft drinks and fruit juice. 100% pure fruit juice is high in the sugars we particularly need to cut down on because of the damage it does to our teeth as well as our waist lines. The juicing process releases the sugars contained in the fruit. Go for your own freshly squeezed as a preference diluted with water. A 500ml bottle of cola contains the equivalent of 17 cubes of sugar – more trips to the dentist!
3) Biscuits, buns and cakes. In a word ‘Avoid’, especially if you are trying to lose weight.
4) Alcohol. Many people are unaware of the sugar content in alcohol and do not include booze when calculating their daily calorie intake. A standard glass of wine (which is usually less than you pour at home) can contain as many as 126 calories/175ml. Try lower alcohol drinks, measure your pour and swap every other drink for a water or sugar-free soft drink.
5) Dairy Products. Go for the sugar-free option of using plain, low-fat yogurt and adding your own fresh fruit. But it is important to keep including low-fat dairy in your diet.
6) Savoury Food. Sugar is found in surprisingly large amounts in ketchup, tinned soup, stir-in-sauces, salad cream, ready meals and crisps. (Sweet and sour sauce 20g/100g – can you make an alternative with fresh ingredients? Or try the low calorie option, like ‘Be Good to Yourself’.
7) Breakfast cereals. It’s obvious anything with added chocolate or ‘frosted’ is to be avoided, but you are trying to be healthy and have muesli; some contain 10g sugar per 50g serving, so look for no sugar or salt varieties (about 6g). Granola can be loaded too. Fruit and fibre cereal contains 9g of sugar per 40g serving, so go for bran flakes and add fresh fruit. Go for homemade porridge as the best option, but hold the honey or syrup, which can add 60 calories per tablespoon. Agave syrup is sweeter per gram and worth trying.
Sugar is sugar, whether it’s white, brown, molasses or honey – there’s no such thing as healthy sugar. Get used to reading food labels and choose lower sugar or sugar-free options.
N.B. WORK SAFELY WITHIN YOUR OWN LIMITATIONS: CHALLENGE BUT DO NOT INJURE YOURSELF!
Health and Lifestyle Tutor / TLF member