Whilst embarking on fad diets or quick blitzes never ends well, there’s no harm in feeling inspired to improve your diet and health come January – or any time of the year.
Out go the crisps, chocolates and biscuits, and our shelves are stocked with avocados, coconut oil and houmous.
The trouble is, it’s easy to forget that just because something is healthy, that doesn’t give you a free pass to binge and still reach your health and fitness goals, be that slimming down or building muscle.
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Few nutritionists or dieticians would recommend counting calories – counting nutrients is a much more sensible way to go – but that doesn’t mean the quantity of food you’re eating isn’t important.
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“Everything can be ‘unhealthy’ if consumed to excess; even water!” specialist dietician Nichola Ludlam-Raine of Nic’s Nutrition explained to The Independent.
“Foods that are high in fat and low in nutrients, such as fries, doughnuts, crisps, chocolate and cake should definitely be kept to an ‘occasional’ food, but when it comes to foods that are high in fat and high in nutrients we can indeed have them more frequently.”
It’s essential to get your portion size right though.
“There are days where we overindulge and eat more than we usually would but in general it can be helpful to be mindful of what a portion size is for different foods,” leading Harley Street nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert explained to The Independent.
Fats contain over twice the number of calories per gram as protein and carbs – nine kcal vs four kcal.
“Consuming calories in excess of your daily needs on a regular basis will result in weight gain and although we should be getting 30 per cent of our calories from fats, it’s important to keep to the recommended serving sizes,” Ludlam-Raine says.
Healthy foods to watch out for include avocado, natural nut butters, houmous, coconut oil, dried fruits and dark chocolate.
So how do you know how much is too much?
Here are the recommended portion sizes from both Lambert and Ludlam-Raine.
- Avocado – half a large one or one small one
- Houmous – two to three tablespoons
- Nut butters – two tablespoons/30g
- Nuts – 25/30g
- Dark chocolate – 30-60g
- Dried fruits – 30g (around five dried apricots, four dates or two to three figs)
All of these foods have health benefits – avocados provide us with essential fats, nuts, nut butters and houmous are also sources of healthy fats as well as protein, dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids and dried fruits are full of fibre.
It’s also worth noting, however, that portion sizes can vary depending on how active you are, so there’s no strict one size fits all rule. With that in mind, the above recommendations should be considered a guideline rather than law.
“If you are physically active everyday you need to fuel your body with additional energy,” says Lambert, whose new book Re-Nourish: A Simple Way To Eat Well is out now.
It’s not a case of demonising foods – nut butters, avocados and houmous are all undeniably good for you – it’s just important to be aware of how much you’re eating.