Educate yourself about the food groups in order to eat well
Advice from our GP on healthy eating and on how vegetarians need to make an extra effort to eat across all food groups.
Question: I have been on a diet for the last month but I'm finding it very hard to lose weight. I haven't eaten any junk. Why won't the weight come off?
Dr Nina replies: It is true that it is harder to lose weight than to gain it, which is why I feel so strongly about healthy eating from a very early age. When people approach me with this problem, I start by asking them to talk me through an average day's food and activity. There are a few common misconceptions that pop up:
1. Once you eat well, you can eat what you like: This isn't true, it is possible to eat too much of good food. At the end of the day, to lose weight, calories in must be less than calories burnt. Fruit is a common downfall here. Many believe that fruit and veg are free foods.
In general, vegetables are very low in calories but this isn't the case with some fruits which can be a significant source of sugar. Portion control of all food is important. It is worthwhile weighing and measuring portions when you start out, as your eye will need to get used to healthy portion sizes.
2. Pulses and wholegrains can replace sugar in my diet: Refined sugars are easy to spot. These are found in cakes, sweets, biscuits and sweetened drinks, but what many don't realise is that even healthy wholegrains and pulses do ultimately break down to sugar in the body. They are the healthy choices because sugar is released more slowly and they contain fibre, which also helps reduce the amount of sugar we absorb and keeps our bowels healthy.
Fruit, veg, wholegrains and pulses are all carbohydrate-containing foods and these ultimately convert to sugar, which provides energy to cells. It is advised that these make up about 50pc of the intake of a healthy balanced diet. However, this recommendation is for those who want to maintain weight as part of an average 2,000kcal a day diet. If you want to lose weight, you need to reduce the amount of calories you consume and reducing carbohydrates is essential. This usually means no more than about four carbohydrate portions daily. I don't recommend cutting them out completely.
3. Low-fat foods are best: Be wary of low-fat foods, they often have lots of hidden or added sugars. Read the labels before you buy. A certain amount of healthy fat is essential to our diet. Use rapeseed or olive oil, eat avocados and oily fish. Fat will also fill you up, making it easier to avoid snacking.
4: Exercise alone will work: Exercise alone rarely results in significant weight loss. It will help boost your mood, energy and metabolism, which will help you stay the course, but eating less is essential.
Eating a range of foods from across the food pyramid in smaller amounts should result in weight loss.
It is important to educate yourself about food types and read food labels when considering what you eat. Note the suggested portion size and become familiar with what that looks like.
Keeping a food diary can be a helpful way of identifying where extra calories are eaten. An INDI registered dietitian will be able to help you understand your eating habits and come up with a healthy eating plan.
Finally, be patient. Weight that takes years to put on will also take time to come off.
I have been vegetarian for the past year but I’ve noticed that my weight has increased. I’m eating the same amount of food I always did, just more wholegrains and pulses to replace the meat. What’s going on?
A healthy, balanced diet requires a mix of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Those who are vegetarian need to make extra efforts to ensure they are eating across all food groups. I have, unfortunately, come across many people who think that eating a healthy vegetarian diet simply means cutting out meat or fish and then eating plenty of rice, pasta and vegetables.
Question: I have been vegetarian for the past year but I’ve noticed that my weight has increased. I’m eating the same amount of food I always did, just more wholegrains and pulses to replace the meat. What’s going on?
Dr Nina replies: A healthy, balanced diet requires a mix of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Those who are vegetarian need to make extra efforts to ensure they are eating across all food groups. I have, unfortunately, come across many people who think that eating a healthy vegetarian diet simply means cutting out meat or fish and then eating plenty of rice, pasta and vegetables.
Protein is an essential part of a healthy diet. The body can convert protein to energy if required, but it cannot convert fat or carbohydrates back to protein. Vitamin B12 is an important vitamin that is found in animal sources of food, namely meat, eggs and dairy. Those following a vegetarian diet should take a daily B12 supplement.
You mentioned gaining weight since you switched. It may be that you have replaced meat with more carbohydrates and so your body is now storing excess amounts as fat. Pulses are an excellent source of fibre and protein but they do contain some carbohydrates. Beware of the way the pulses are presented. Dried or tinned beans in their lone form have low levels of carbohydrate but sources such as baked beans, or purées such as hummus, can contain significant amounts of sugar or oil, which can push the calorie content up.
Nuts are a popular snack and protein source for vegetarians, but these are also extremely high in calories. A small handful of about eight nuts is one portion size. Most snack packs sold in supermarkets contain upward of 500 calories per pack. This would be one third of the daily intake for someone trying to lose weight. Read your labels.
Ultimately all calories are not created equal. Be nutrition aware.
Health & Living