Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Making healthier choices

When you're eating out in a restaurant or café, or taking your own lunch to work, there are a few simple things you can do to make your meal healthier.

Practical tips

When you're eating out or buying food that has been prepared for you, it's often easy to have more fat, salt and calories than you realize.

You can also end up eating more than you would have done if you had made the food yourself.

Although it feels like good value for money when you get served a big portion, if you're trying to eat healthily this means it's all too easy to eat too much or have lots more fat and calories than you need to.

The simplest tip, but not always the easiest, is to remember that you don't need to clear your plate! Ideally try to eat slowly and stop when you're full.

Even when you're out, try to choose the healthier options, here are a few tips to get you started.

Go for dishes that are:

grilled, steamed, boiled, poached, stir-fried

chicken without the skin,lean meats such as ham and beef, fish and prawns

pulses such as lentils and beans

bread - wholemeal, granary, brown, seedy, bagels, and currant buns

low salt and low sugar breakfast cereals

fruit, fruit salad and sorbets

sauces based on tomatoes and vegetables

curries that are dry

vegetables and salads served plain

rice that is steamed and boiled

potatoes that are baked and boiled

Try to cut down on

dishes that are battered such as:

* sweet and sour pork
* scampi

or deep-fried such as:

* doughnuts
* samosas
# pies
# bacon
# sausages
# pâté

croissants and pastries
sugar coated breakfast cereals

cakes, puddings, biscuits, sweets, cream and ice cream

sauces based on:

* cream
* cheese

curries based on coconut milk

vegetables and salads served with:

* butter or buttery sauces
* oily dressings
* mayonnaise such as potato salads and coleslaw

# fried rice such as: pilaf
# egg fried rice

potatoes that are:

* creamy such as dauphinois
* chips

If you can't tell from the menu how a dish is cooked then don't be afraid to ask.

As well as choosing healthier options, it's also important to avoid eating too much. This isn't always as easy as it sounds, so here are some common sense tips that you might find helpful:

* Try not to have lots of bread or other nibbles before your meal arrives.
* You could try sharing a starter or dessert with a friend.
* When you're ordering a variety of dishes, for example in a tapas bar or restaurant, try not to order too many. Ask the waiter or waitress how many dishes they would recommend.
* Try waiting until you've eaten your main course before you order a dessert. You never know, you might already be full!
* If there is a dessert on the menu you really fancy, then don't have a starter and go straight to your main course, or don't have a main course and have two starters instead.
* If you want a healthy dessert, go for fresh fruit or sorbet.

And to help you on your way to your 5-a-day fruit and veg:

* If your meal doesn't come with vegetables, order some as a side dish or have a salad with your meal or as a starter.
* If you go for dessert, choose one made with fruit.
* Have salad in your sandwiches.
* Have a glass of fruit juice with your meal.
* Choose a meal made with lentils, beans or vegetables.

Choosing healthier meals

fish and chips 1

When you're eating at different restaurants or ordering takeaways, here are some practical suggestions for making healthier choices.

Choose lower-fat options such as:

* tandoori or madras with chicken, prawns or vegetables
* plain rice and chapatti instead of pilau rice and naan

Try to avoid creamy curries such as:

* korma
* passanda
* massala

Remember for a healthy meal you should try to:

* base your meal on starchy foods, so this means choosing plain rice or chapatti
* have plenty of vegetables, so choose vegetable side dishes and a dhal

If you're having pizza, choose lower-fat toppings, such as vegetables, ham, fish and prawns. You could ask for some extra veg on your pizza to bump up your daily fruit and veg portions.

But if you don't want to increase the saturated fat content and number of calories in your meal, don't ask for extra cheese.

When you have pasta, for the healthier option go for a sauce based on tomatoes or vegetables, rather than cream.

If you're having a starter or a dessert then you could go for a smaller main meal such as a starter-size pasta with a side salad - Italian restaurants often serve two sizes of pasta dishes.

Rather than garlic bread, which often contains a lot of butter (and so is high in saturated fat and calories), you could try bruschetta, which is a tasty ciabatta bread topped with fresh tomatoes and herbs.

Choose lower-fat options such as:

* steamed fish
* chicken chop suey
* Szechwan prawns

Remember anything in batter will be high in fat. Sweet and sour pork is usually battered (ask if you're not sure).

Go for steamed or plain rice rather than egg-fried rice and watch out for those deep fried starters such as prawn crackers, dim sum and spring rolls.

Try to stick to stir-fried dishes or steamed dishes containing chicken, fish or vegetables.

Green and red curries contain coconut milk, which is high in saturated fat, so if you do choose a curry, try not to eat all the sauce. And have some steamed rice with your meal.

Fish and chips
There are lots of ways of making your fish and chips a healthier option:

* Have a portion of baked beans or mushy peas and bread with your fish and chips.
* The thicker the chips the better because they absorb less fat.
* Try to have a smaller portion or share your chips.
* Ask for your fish and chips without salt - if you want some salt then add it to taste yourself.
* Don't eat all the batter, because it soaks up a lot of fat. If you can get it, fish coated in breadcrumbs soaks up less fat.
* If fish and chips are cooked in oil at the right temperature, they won't only taste better, but they absorb less fat. So watch out for soggy batter and chips because this is often a sign that the oil wasn't hot enough.

Burgers and kebabs
If you're having a burger you can still go for the healthier option:

* Choose grilled burgers made from lean meat or fish.
* Ask for your burger without cheese or mayonnaise.
* Ask for extra salad.

Go for a shish kebab served with pitta bread and salad rather than a donner kebab.

Healthier lunch options

sandwich blt and orange juice

Whether you buy your lunch from a sandwich shop, café, supermarket or work canteen, the good news is that there are usually plenty of healthy lunch options available.

And if you make your own lunch, the advantages are you know exactly what's in your lunchbox and you can save money at the same time.

There are lots of different salads available and many sandwich shops, supermarkets and canteens have salad bars with a good range to choose from.

Salads can be very filling, especially if they include some starchy foods such as rice, pasta, potatoes or couscous. Cold grilled chicken (without the skin), prawns, sardines, cottage cheese, mozzarella, or strips of lean ham are all healthy choices to add to a salad.

And choose a variety of veg - you could add roasted peppers and courgettes, avocado, spring onions, salad leaves, tomatoes, olives, radishes, grated carrot, raisins or green beans.

But remember to watch out for salads that contain a lot of mayonnaise or other dressings high in fat such as coleslaw, potato salads and some pasta salads.

Pre-packed salads often have a nutrition information panel on the label so you can check how much total fat, saturated fat, and salt they contain. Go for salads that are lower in fat, especially saturated fat and salt (or sodium).

If you are making your own salad at home, you could add leftover potatoes and veg such as broccoli and green beans. Or turn leftover rice into a tasty salad. If you're feeling adventurous, why not get some inspiration from the salads you see in sandwich bars - you could make them at home at a fraction of the price.

And of course there are a multitude of sandwich options you could choose.

Whether you're making your own sandwiches or buying them from a shop or staff canteen, here are some tips to help you make healthier choices:

* choose brown or wholemeal bread, in thick slices or rolls, when you can
* choose healthier sandwich fillings such as lean meats (this includes ham, beef, turkey and chicken without the skin), tuna, smoked mackerel, hard-boiled egg, and cheeses such as Edam, Emmental, gruyère, mozzarella and low-fat cream cheese
* go for a sandwich that contains salad. Add or ask for extra, if possible
* if the sandwich is home-made or made to order, try having it without butter, spread, mayonnaise or other dressing especially if the filling is moist, or just have a small amount
* if you do have mayonnaise, choose a low-fat variety, when you can

To add variety, why not try different types of bread? For example you could choose:

* squashy granary rolls
* brown bread with added nuts or seeds
* rye bread
* bagels
* tortilla wraps
* wholemeal pitta bread

Here are a few suggestions for different sandwich combinations:

* low-fat cream cheese, roasted red pepper and sunflower seeds in a toasted bagel
* Edam, tomato and cress in granary bread
* chicken tikka and cucumber with a mint and yoghurt dressing in chapatti or pitta bread
* lean ham, mustard and salad leaves on rye bread
* mozzarella, olives, roasted vegetables and red onion in a wholemeal roll
* turkey, cranberry sauce and baby spinach in brown bread

And to add interest and texture, try adding some of these: a few olives, sundried tomatoes (if possible remember to drain off the oil), gherkins, some seeds such as sunflower or pumpkin.

When buying pre-packed sandwiches, have a look at the nutrition information on the label to help you choose the healthier option.

It's better to choose a sandwich that is low in fat - 3g fat or less per 100g (and 1.5g saturates or less per 100g). Food is high in fat if it contains more than 20g fat (and high in saturated fat if it contains more than 5g of saturates) per 100g.

And watch out for the salt content too. Food is high in salt if it contains more than 1.5g salt per 100g.

Hot food
Baked potatoes are a good lunchtime choice, but it's better to leave out the butter, or just have a tiny bit. Healthy fillings include baked beans, cottage cheese and ratatouille. Try to avoid ready-mixed fillings that contain lots of mayonnaise, because these can be high in fat.

Pasta is another popular option. Avoid dishes served with a creamy or cheesy sauce, or mixed with lots of oil, because these tend to be high in fat. Tomato or vegetable-based sauces are a healthier choice. And the vegetables will count towards your daily portions of fruit and veg (aim for at least five portions a day).

Or you could try soup with chunky vegetables. Soups can also help count towards your five-a-day and to make it a filling and balanced meal you could add a wholemeal bread roll or two.

Healthier desserts

cherry pie

If you want something sweet, there are lots of healthier options you can choose. Fruit is an especially good choice and can count towards your 5-a-day, which we should all be aiming for whether it's fresh, frozen, tinned or dried.

You could try:

* seasonal or exotic fresh fruit salad
* a slice of melon
* baked apples
* rhubarb crumble
* tinned peaches with lower fat natural yoghurt - remember to go for fruit in natural unsweetened fruit juice rather than syrup
* low-fat fruit yoghurts - you could buy individual pots, or mix your own using low-fat plain yoghurt and soft fruit

Rather than desserts with cream or chocolate fillings, you could choose:

* fruit flan, tart or pie - the healthier option is pie with just one crust, either a top crust or a flan with a pastry base
* fruit crumbles
* steamed puddings
* rice pudding made with skimmed or semi-skimmed milk. If you're buying it tinned, go for lower-fat varieties. Try to avoid adding sugar, and throw in some bits of fresh or dried fruit instead such as dates

And rather than having cream with your dessert, which is high in saturated fat go for:

* low-fat yoghurt
* low-fat fromage frais
* fruit puré
* custard made with skimmed or semi-skimmed milk

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