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Why you can enjoy cheese, chocolate and pasta – and still lose weight – Sydney Morning Herald

Apr 18th, 2023

Boudicca Fox-Leonard

April 14, 2023

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When it comes to a healthy diet, experts believe a little bit of what you fancy does you good.

Clare Gray is a dietitian and chef. Having worked in acclaimed restaurants such as Spring at Somerset House in London and Chez Panisse in California, she feels passionately about helping her clients enjoy a healthy, balanced diet, which includes desserts too. What I see so often, when people talk about healthy eating, is that the enjoyment and pleasure of food is lost, says Gray.

And yet denying ourselves can lead to unhelpful behaviour and in her practice she sees many people buying low-fat, low-sugar alternatives to their favourite foods. They say, I bought the WeightWatchers version, but then I ate the whole packet.

All of which results in feelings of shame around food and unattainable weight goals, says Jordan Vyas-Lee, psychotherapist and co-founder of mental health clinic Kove. We get lost in a range of negative emotions around food, weight and self-image.

Over time, restrictive eating causes us to become ever more fixated on the very foods were trying to cut back on, and then we tend to dwell on our perceived lack of willpower.

While obesity is undoubtedly a problem, denial culture doesnt help. Research suggests that roughly 80 per cent of people who shed a significant amount of weight dont maintain it and, according to studies, on average dieters regain more than half of what they lose within two years.

If you are restricting your diet, thats just not sustainable and will often result in a blowout, says Gray. The key to preventing it? Breaking the cycle of yo-yo dieting and allowing yourself the odd treat, which is better for our health and waistlines.

Weight-cycling has been shown to be inflammatory and bad for our heart health, and it can also contribute to gut issues and diabetes, she adds. When we restrict the things we love, things happen in the long term that arent about willpower. Your metabolism slows down and hunger increases.

Rather than restriction, the key is to develop healthy eating habits that are balanced and sustainable.

The reality is, if you binge on Easter eggs, you will feel unwell, says Gray. But having them as an occasional treat wont make a major difference if your diet is otherwise healthy.

Eating a little of what we fancy prevents negative cycles, keeps blood sugar stable and promotes good mental health, agrees Vyas-Lee. Heres how...

Chocolate

As a post-meal treat, your Easter eggs have a place in a healthy diet, providing you eat something that will give you energy and a balance of nutrients first, says Gray.

While low cocoa solid chocolate can be high in sugar and fat, dark chocolate, containing more than 70 per cent cocoa solids, is a source of polyphenols. These are bioactive chemicals that can have real nutritional benefits, says Gray. Its also pleasurable, which in itself is a benefit when eaten in small amounts.

Potatoes

Despite being a vegetable, potatoes dont count as one on Harvards Healthy Eating Plate because they are high in the type of carbohydrate the body digests rapidly, causing blood sugar spikes.

Theyre a starchy food - like bread, rice and pasta - which have an impact on our blood glucose levels, says Gray. New potatoes are a great option because they have a lower glycemic index, but thats not to say you cant have a few roasties.

When youre having chips, Gray says, think about what else you have on your plate. Are there some vegetables as well?

Bridget Benelam, of the British Nutrition Foundation, adds: Potatoes are a source of potassium and thiamine and also contribute vitamin C and fibre, so they can be part of a healthy diet. Just avoid adding lots of fat or oil when cooking and eat the skin for extra fibre.

Pasta

Italians traditionally eat pasta as part of their primi piatti. In other words, a small portion that is generally followed by a secondi of vegetables and meat or fish. The way we eat pasta in the UK is often quite unbalanced, with large portions and minimal vegetables and protein, says Gray. So think about the overall balance of what else youre eating.

Cheese

Theres not a huge amount of science on it currently, says Gray, but cheese is one of the oldest fermented foods which we know is good for gut health.

However, it is also a source of saturated fat. Although relatively high in saturated fat and salt, there is some evidence that full-fat cheese does not raise cholesterol in the way that might be expected, says Benelam. This may be due to its nutrient content, but it is still not a good idea to eat cheese to excess.

Putting some veg on your cheeseboard is also a good way to put balance back into your treat. Cheese and biscuits isnt a balanced meal, so add some celery, apple, grapes or chicory, says Benelam.

Red meat

There is an association between red meat and colon cancer, says Benelem, but adds: Red meat is a source of important nutrients including iron, zinc and B vitamins. So while many of us could do with cutting back on our intake, it doesnt have to be cut out altogether.

Gray draws a distinction between red meat and processed meats. The former being something a lot of women who are iron-deficient could benefit from: You can obviously get iron from plant-based sources, but the reality is that its much harder to absorb.

Coffee

Caffeine is one of the most commonly used psychoactive substances in the world and the reason many people struggle to sleep. But in small amounts, it can increase diversity in the gut microbiome due to the soluble fibre and prebiotic properties found within it, which can also help improve mood.

A study from the University of Bath suggests that drinking coffee on an empty stomach, as a way to wake you up, may lead to increased blood sugar levels after breakfast and greater energy dips later in the day, says nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert. So drink coffee with your breakfast.

Drinking too much coffee [600mg+ a day, which is roughly six cups] may lead to anxiety and heart palpitations, adds Lambert. And stop drinking it at lunchtime for better sleep.

Alcohol

A glass of red wine has been touted as being healthy due to the compound resveratrol. However it doesnt have anywhere near the amount needed to have an effect. The reality is that alcohol is a toxin and even in small quantities can be quite damaging. However, while knowing this, many of us still enjoy a tipple.

The science is quite clear, says Gray. That being said, on a celebratory occasion, people will want a drink. Her advice is to not drink more than a couple of times a week, to always make sure you are eating when youre drinking, and to stagger alcoholic drinks with soft ones or water.

Be mindful in your drinking process. Dont sit in front of the TV and drink wine. Choose one you really like and be conscious of your drinking rather than knocking it back.

The Daily Telegraph UK

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Why you can enjoy cheese, chocolate and pasta - and still lose weight - Sydney Morning Herald

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