How to eat healthily and enjoy it too

Colourful vegetables on a black background

You don’t need to deprive yourself to eat well. Dr Hannah Forster shows us how to focus on positive changes instead

Food should be a pleasure, and that’s still true even if you’re trying to eat healthily. Although some diet plans focus on negatives, implying you have to cut out everything you like, that doesn’t have to be the case. 

In fact, completely cutting out foods or even whole food groups isn’t necessarily a good idea. Not only is it potentially unbalanced, it can lead to a sense of failure if you can’t resist something on the ‘banned’ list – making it more likely you’ll give up altogether. In any case, a diet regime that feels like a chore will be difficult to stick to in the long term. Eating healthily by focusing on positive steps rather than negative ones is much easier – and often more effective, too. 

More of the right things

Eating more may seem strange if you’re trying to lose weight, but eating at regular intervals (three nutritious meals a day, plus snacks if needed) and eating more of the right things can help. Don’t focus on what you can’t have, focus on what you can have – fruits and vegetables, white and oily fish, wholegrain and high-fibre starchy carbohydrates. This will leave less room for foods like fatty or processed meats, and salty or sugary snacks and drinks

Don’t focus on what you can’t have, focus on what you can have

Doing this will help balance your diet, which should mean you get all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals needed for good health and the right amount of energy, making it easier to maintain a healthy weight. 

Fill up on fruit and veg 

Having at least five portions of fruits and vegetables each day can help protect your heart and reduce your risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke. What’s more, the fibre content will fill you up and reduce temptation from unhealthy foods. 

Eating more fruit and vegetables is easy. Add stewed fruit, sliced banana or berries to yoghurt or porridge for breakfast. Put extra veg in soups, stews and sauces, or just have an extra portion or two alongside your main meal. Fruit is an obvious snack, but don’t overlook vegetables – cut sweet peppers, carrots, celery or cucumber into batons so they’re ready when hunger strikes, or simply wash cherry tomatoes and radishes. Adding pomegranate seeds, grapes or apples to salads can make them look and taste more exciting. 

Whole lot of grains 

Brown buckwheat noodle stir fry with vegetables

Wholegrain foods such as bread, brown rice and wholemeal pasta are a source of fibre, so choose them over white varieties to keep your digestive system healthy. Other wholegrains like oats also provide soluble fibre that can help lower cholesterol levels. You could have porridge or a wholegrain bagel for breakfast, wholemeal pasta salad for lunch and grilled chicken and brown rice salad for dinner. Wholegrain rice cakes topped with banana are an easy snack. 

Go for fish

Aim to have two portions of fish a week and make one of these an oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout or fresh tuna (not tinned). Oily fish is a source of protein and provides omega-3 fatty acids, associated with reducing your risk of heart and circulatory disease. Adding fish to your diet can help reduce your meat intake and the saturated fat and salt that can come with it. 

Buy more food

Being prepared and buying more of the right foods makes it easier to follow a healthy diet and means you’re less likely to eat out or order takeaway food. 

Planning meals in advance and going to the supermarket with a shopping list for the week ahead will help you stay on track. Be realistic about how much you will cook and eat in a week, so you don’t waste food. 

Going to the supermarket with a shopping list for the week ahead will help you stay on track

Cooking your own meals can help you eat healthily by allowing you to control the amount of fat, salt and sugar you add. 

If cooking from scratch seems difficult, start small with a plan to cook once or twice a week, or cook one thing you can eat over a couple of days at the weekend and build up from there. If time is an issue, make the most of your weekend and batch cook and freeze meals for during the week. 

Colour it in

Making meals colourful increases their appeal. Add a variety of coloured vegetables such as tomatoes, spinach, yellow peppers, beetroot, carrots and sweetcorn to make your meals look great on the plate, and more nutritious too. It’s also good from a nutrition perspective to eat a range of colours, as different fruits and vegetables have varying nutritional benefits. 

Sweet potato salad

There’s even evidence that using coloured plates (or cups or straws) can influence your perception of foods. Pink and white striped straws create an illusion of sweetness, making vegetable-based smoothies more palatable. Likewise, eating leafy green vegetables like spinach or broccoli can be more pleasant from a red plate. 

Enjoy your food 

There’s no point eating food you don’t enjoy. Try out different foods to find ones you love. Find hundreds of heart-healthy recipe ideas. We’ve also got healthy versions of your favourite takeaway dishes, such as chicken and green bean curry, dry masala prawns, and red onion, courgette and pepper pizza

It takes around 20 minutes to feel full once you’ve finished eating. Slowing down as you eat and taking time to enjoy your food can help you resist a second helping or dessert. 

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