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Ask Elsa: Weight loss and cravings

Q I'm trying to lose weight but find that I'm constantly craving sweet foods, which really holds me back. Is there anything I can do?

A Cravings for sugar are a really common concern and one that hold a lot of people back in their weight-loss efforts. More often than not, it happens as a result of imbalanced blood sugars triggered by a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, which causes a vicious cycle in the body. Thankfully, it can actually be quite easy to balance your blood sugar, and so manage your cravings, weight and energy levels. I recommend you try three simple things to get started.

Firstly, do not allow long gaps between meals. Three meals per day and two snacks is ideal. Always make sure to have healthy snacks close to hand -- a palmful of nuts and a piece of fruit is ideal.

Secondly, replace all white bread, rice and pasta with wholemeal varieties. Avoid eating foods high in sugar such as cakes, biscuits and chocolate. Replace milk chocolate with a good quality dark chocolate which contains less sugar.

Thirdly, include one portion of protein with every meal and snack. Protein can be animal based -- for example, meat, fish or dairy, or vegetable based -- such as nuts, seeds, beans and lentils. Increase your consumption of protein that is vegetable-based. Protein can help balance our blood sugar and mood. Good luck!

Q I've discovered that my iron levels are slightly low which makes sense as I feel tired often and I've noticed that my hair and nails have become thin and weak. I don't want to start eating a lot of red meat, so what else would you suggest?

AIt is possible to increase your iron levels without having to rely solely on red meat. I would recommend that you increase your consumption of the following foods: nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds); dried fruits (apricots, dates, prunes and figs); green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, rocket, broccoli, chard, cabbage); grains, legumes and cereals (barley, lentils, whole grains and oats); dried beans (lentils, kidney beans, soy beans, chick peas, pinto beans); and ginger and strawberries.

Elsa Jones is a nutritional therapist and presenter of How Healthy are You? on TV3. Elsa offers individual consultations and weight loss courses. Visit www.elsajonesnutrition.ie