So the Christmas turkey's polished off, the New Year's champagne's quaffed and most of us are feeling sluggish, porky and ready to try out a new diet or detox plan for January. But since there are so many conflicting opinions about yo-yo dieting and detoxing, isn't the simplest solution just to eat more healthily and do a bit of exercise? MSN Food speaks to dietician Claire Wylde, who works for BMI Syon Clinic, and Dr Carrie Ruxton, a dietician on the Meat Advisory Panel, to get their advice.
It's all about balance...
According to Dr Ruxton the key to a healthy diet is balance. "The easiest way to eat a healthy, balanced diet is to make sure you choose something from each of the major food groups every day," she says. "These are protein foods (red meat, poultry, fish, pulses), starchy foods (bread, breakfast cereals, pasta), dairy foods (milk, yogurt), fruits and vegetables. No foods should be 'banned' but higher calorie treats, like sweets, fizzy drinks, biscuits, cakes and alcohol, should be enjoyed in moderation. Having a varied diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, should give you all the vitamins you need."
However, people are finding it hard to gain that balance due to outside factors such as money, stress and time, so Dr Ruxton also suggests: "If you find it difficult to eat healthily every day, consider taking a multivitamin supplement."
On Ciao: multivitamin supplements
The most important meal of the day
That old adage is true - breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. The reason being, as you haven't eaten for a long period of time, your blood sugar levels will be low and if you skip breakfast you'll start to crave sugary foods, which is when you're most likely to reach out for an unhealthy snack. Studies show that eating breakfast cereal helps keep your weight under control, and that people who eat breakfast perform better at work because it helps improve concentration and memory.
On MSN Food: The UK's top 10 ultimate breakfasts
Can you tell thirst from hunger?
Sometimes when we think we're hungry, we're just thirsty. Wylde explains: "Our thirst and hunger receptors are situated very close together in the brain, so it's easy to confuse thirst for hunger. Have a drink of water and if you're still hungry 20 minutes later then grab a protein-based snack." Women should aim for about 1.5L of fluid a day, and men, 2L a day. Try not to get this entirely from tea, coffee, fizzy drinks or high sugar drinks; ideally the majority should come from water. This will help to improve your skin, flush out toxins, help you concentrate, boost energy levels and help with weight management - it's win-win.
Green tea is a healthier alternative to breakfast tea.
Wylde gave us another liquids tip: "Don't have tea immediately after every meal. Tannins in tea cause our bodies to find it really hard to absorb the iron in that meal. Do have a glass of orange juice though - the vitamin C will help absorb the iron."
Foods to eat
Wylde suggests eating: "Plenty of fish and white meat. Keep red meat intake to once a week." Ruxton agrees: "Aim to eat fish twice a week and include one portion of 'oily' fish, eg salmon, trout, mackerel, herring. These are rich in omega-3s, which support heart, brain and immune function." She also suggests: "Boost your fibre intake by choosing wholemeal bread and adding a handful of beans or pulses into soups and stews." These filling foods will sustain your energy levels over a long period of time so you'll be less likely to snack. Lean protein foods such as chicken, turkey, eggs, prawns, salmon and tuna will also keep hunger at bay.
On Bing: Fish recipes
Don't stop eating
Skipping meals is not good for you. It'll slow down your metabolism, you'll be more prone to overeating during your main meal and you'll crave foods that are not particularly healthy. Wylde agrees: "Never go for long periods in the day where you're not eating. This doesn't mean eating all day and in large quantities, it means having three meals a day with appropriate portion control with two low calorie snacks in between - eg a handful of nuts, one portion of fruit."
Oranges, both whole and juiced, are full of antioxidants as well as vitamin C.
Have low calorie and filling snacks to hand, such as cereal bars, fruit, yogurt, nuts or chopped vegetables, then you'll be less tempted by sugary or fatty foods such as chocolate bars and crisps.
On Bing: Healthy snack recipes
If you're lacking in serotonin (the happy hormone) you're more likely to suffer from depression, sleeplessness, fatigue and carb cravings - not a great recipe for a healthy lifestyle. To boost your mood, eat foods that will increase your serotonin levels, such as turkey, eggs, seafood, bananas and dark chocolate. If you have a positive outlook you'll be more likely to stick to a healthy eating plan and have the motivation for exercise.
Many people use the excuse that they don't have time to cook, or they can't afford to cook healthy meals on a budget. It can be difficult but an obvious way to lead a healthy lifestyle is to know exactly what you're consuming, which can be a challenge if you restrict yourself to ready meals or takeaways. Ruxton says: "Try to cook at home most days of the week. Home cooked meals, even the simplest ones, are healthier than takeaways and ready meals." Ruxton also suggests: "Use less salt in cooking and at the table. Add herbs instead to boost flavour."
On MSN Food: Top 10 tips for easy family suppers
With the London Olympics going on this year we guarantee that the country will go health and sport crazy over the next few months. Start 2012 as you mean to go on and you might even be able to give those athletes a run for their money...
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