As part of Public Health England’s (PHE) Better Health campaign, which encourages adults to eat better, lose weight and get active, we speak to registered Dietitian and member of the British Dietetic Association (BDA) Shola Oladipo who shares her five simple food tips for better health.
1.Become portion aware
In our culture serving large food portions is often a sign of love and generosity. And whilst this act of care may satisfy and be pleasing to our stomachs – it does little for our long-term health.
Being portion aware is particularly important, as having larger portions than we need can cause us to overeat and become overweight or obese. To maintain a healthy body weight, we must control our portions. This means only eating when we are hungry and ensuring our plates at mealtimes are balanced with the three main food groups – protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables. Swapping your usual plate or bowl for one that’s smaller in size can reduce the helping of food and prevent overeating. Most people feel just as full having eaten from a smaller dish as from a large one.
Shola says – ‘I find the following guides helpful when working with people who are trying to lose weight’. See the pictures below for examples of portion control for weight loss, and for weight maintenance:
2.Drink lots of water
Water is essential for life; and since our bodies are about 60% water it is important for us to drink plenty of water every day. Water helps our bodies to function effectively – this includes our kidneys, our blood, our brain and even our bowels too.
As adults, it’s important to consume enough fluid – around 6-8 glasses/cups per day (this includes water found in food or drinks such as tea etc). Water is a great way to stay hydrated and is a great choice if you want to lose weight as it’s calorie free.
Drinking this amount can sound quite daunting, but it is definitely achievable once you get into the habit. Aim to drink water throughout the day – start with a drink of water in the morning, followed by one mid-morning, drink midday, mid-afternoon, and in the evening.
Some people manage their daily water intake by drinking from a refillable bottle – find what works for you. In case you are forgetful, try setting an alarm on your mobile phone to help to remind you to drink.
3. Understanding Carbs
There are three types of carbohydrates – sugar, starch and fibre.
1.Sugar: We need to eat less of this type of carbohydrate.
They are the added sugars found in fizzy drinks, chocolates, cakes and biscuits; as well as snacks like doughnuts, puff-puff and buns. Added sugars are in breakfast cereals and some flavoured yogurts. Sugars in honey, syrup, unsweetened fruit juices also fall in this category –we need to eat less of them.
2.Starch or ‘starchy carbs’ are an important part of a balanced diet. They provide us with energy, vitamins and minerals. In African and Caribbean diets, we tend to eat quite large
carbohydrate portions in the form of white rice, pasta, bread, cassava, noodles, yam and green bananas. Our rich food heritage means that some of our most popular traditional dishes are rich in carbohydrates. We can still enjoy these foods simply by reducing the carbohydrate portion. Eating too much starchy carbs, can mean we’re having too many calories – and having too many calories can cause weight gain and lead to obesity.
3.Fibre – this type of carbohydrate is found in plants. It includes our fruits, vegetables, beans and pulses – that is foods like lentils and kidney beans. Wholegrains also fall into this group too and therefore you can have starchy carbs which are also whole grain versions such as: brown rice, wholemeal bread or wholemeal noodles.
In summary, we can enjoy our carbohydrates as part of a healthy diet by eating smaller portions and eating the wholegrain versions which are high in fibre, which help us to feel full.
4.Only eat when you are hungry
Food plays an important role in our community. From birthdays, weddings, festivals or family ‘get togethers’ – much of our gatherings involve cooking or eating. As lovely as it sounds – having food around us all the time can make us prone to eating when we are not hungry. Wasting food can also be a taboo in our culture, and often we are guilty of overeating to avoid waste.
Eating when not hungry has a significant effect on our health and can lead to poor eating habits, and eventually overweight and obesity. The weight in this case tends to add up over time, you often don’t notice it, but it catches up with you.
A great tip is to have set mealtimes and avoid too much snacking where possible. If you do need a snack, first of all try drinking water, as often we confuse hunger and thirst. After drinking pause and decide whether you are truly hungry, if so, have a small piece of fruit. Aim to distinguish between eating because food is ‘there’, and real hunger.
5. Fruit and Vegetables
Fruit and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals and fibre – all of which are needed for good health. African and Caribbean diets include a variety of fruit and vegetables, many of these are available in markets and specialist ethnic stores. Aim for a variety of five portions per day of fruit and vegetables (this doesn’t include starchy carbohydrates). It is fine if you have fresh, frozen or tinned fruit or vegetables – it all counts towards your five a day. Vegetables are quite low in calories, so it is helpful to have plenty of these on your plate to fill you up – remember to steam or cook with very little oil.
Research shows that adequate intake of fruit and vegetables can help protect you from diseases such as heart disease and some cancers. They can also help you to avoid constipation.
Fruits are also great for desserts, or snacks. With a few exceptions, most fruit and vegetables keep well in the freezer – this is helpful if you do bulk shopping and need to store it for longer. Fruit can keep a bit longer if you store it in the refrigerator instead of a fruit bowl.
The Better Health campaign provides a variety of free tools and apps to help you become more active and make healthier food choices. This includes the new FREE 12-Week NHS Weight Loss Plan, which helps people eat better and learn skills to prevent weight gain.
Visit nhs.uk/betterhealth to start leading a healthier lifestyle today.