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NUTRITION: How healthy are you?

In this week's episode of How Healthy Are You? I help self-confessed serial dieter Nicole Ryan turn away from a lifetime of quick-fix diets. Along with a leading psychologist and fitness expert, I show Nicole innovative ways to lose weight and de-bunk the most common weightloss myths.

Nicole, like many clients I see, felt as if she was stuck in a vicious cycle. "I feel tired all the time", "my weight won't budge", "I just can't resist my sweet cravings". Sound familiar? These are the most common words I hear from clients similar to Nicole who are struggling with their weight and energy levels. And I always tell them the same thing -- losing weight isn't difficult as long as you work with and not against your body's natural design.

The key to sustained weight loss lies in balancing your blood-sugar levels. When we eat sugary foods such as sweets, soft drinks, cakes, biscuits our blood-sugar levels rise rapidly, giving us what's called a sugar rush. This is effectively false energy which is very short lived. Unfortunately, for every up there is a down, hence the subsequent sugar crash causing our energy levels to plummet and further cravings.

Refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white pasta or rice have a similar effect in that the body converts them into sugar very quickly. The problem with regularly consuming these types of foods is that they cause our blood sugar levels to go up and down like a seesaw which has three major effects: First, it wreaks havoc on our energy levels, second, it causes constant cravings for sweet and starchy foods and, third, it makes it virtually impossible to lose weight and keep it off -- it's a vicious cycle!

How to break the cycle: I recommend you try three simple things to get started:

1>Reduce the amount of sugar and refined carbohydrates in the diet. Replace white bread, cereals, rice and pasta with wholegrain varieties and limit carbohydrates to one quarter of your plate at meal times. Avoid eating foods high in sugar such as cakes, biscuits, fruit juices and chocolate. If you must have something sweet, replace milk chocolate with a couple of squares of good-quality dark chocolate which contains less sugar.

2>Do not allow long gaps in between meals. Three meals per day and two snacks is ideal. Always make sure to have healthy snacks close to hand so you have no excuse when temptation strikes. Healthy snack options include a handful of nuts with a piece of fruit or hummus on an oat cake.

3>Include protein with every meal and snack. Protein can help balance our blood sugar and thus reduces cravings for starchy and sweet foods significantly. Sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs and dairy but you should ideally focus more on vegetable sources of protein such as nuts, seeds, beans and lentils.

Elsa Jones is a nutritional therapist and presenter of How Healthy are You? which can be seen on Wednesdays at 7.30pm on TV3. www.howhealthyareyou.ie