Eat your way to happiness

Spending summer at home is a minefield for healthy eating.

With parents doing the shopping and cooking, friends suggesting lunch and coffee dates and numerous hours spent in the pub, it’s easy to be led astray.

However, there is no better time to start a healthy eating regime and stick to it than right now, as you enter the new term.

This doesn’t mean fad diets; it’s a total commitment to health and well-being which is, surprisingly, much easier than you may think.

Not convinced? Let ALICE CRUICKSHANK put you on the right path…

DITCH THE JUNK

Most students are fond of processed foods. The problem with processed food is that it tends to be high in fat/sugar/salt/ calories and relatively low in nutritional benefits.

These include ready meals, biscuits, crisps, canned foods and cheap cuts of meat. If you rely on a processed diet then you may find yourself feeling sluggish, bloated, tired or run-down on a regular basis.

By cutting this junk from your everyday lifestyle you will find your energy levels soar.

FAD DIETS DON’T WORK

THE mistake most people make in relation to weight loss is that the fewer calories consumed, the more fat is burned.

This is entirely false.

An extremely low-calorie diet will be effective for a short while but within a few weeks results will start to plateau.

This is because you’re body has a ‘set point’ for how much energy it needs. Say your set point before dieting was 1,800 calories – by reducing your intake to only 1,000, your body will be burning more calories than it is consuming.

However, when such a low intake becomes the norm, the body compensates for this by lowering its set point to match.

Not only will you stop losing weight, if you do return to eating more calories, you will actually begin to gain pounds. You should aim to eat no less than 1,200- 1,500 calories a day.

The other main problem with traditional diets is they deny your body of essential nutrients and vitamins essential for healthy skin, bones, digestive system etc.

The only way to stay slim and healthy is to eat clean – a principle that is outlined below.

FAUX FRIENDS

IT is no wonder such a high percentage of the population consumes such an unhealthy diet when food companies give us the wrong idea of what is healthy.

Let’s expose the truth about so-called ‘healthy choices’.

Cereal: Most cereals are highly processed and full of sugar, with little protein or fibre, two essential components for keeping you full.

Fruit juice: Many fruit juice drinks can easily contain as much as 20g of sugar (The maximum amount recommended for men is 90g).

Not only this, but the ‘good stuff’, ie – the flesh of the fruit, containing fibre is discarded. Some fruit drinks don’t even count as one of your five-a-day. It’s much more beneficial to eat the fruit whole.

Fat-free products: In reality, ‘fat-free’ equals ‘chemical-laden’. The same is true for ‘sugar-free’.

A moderate amount of fat or sugar is much healthier than filling your system with artificial chemicals.

Olive oil for cooking: While olive oil is extremely nutritious straight from the bottle, as soon as it is heated up it loses all its health benefits. The best option is coconut oil as this keeps its nutritional value at high temperatures.

Cereal bars: these do not make a good snack. Cereal bars are of little nutritional value and can be full of sugar and surprising levels of fat.

Have an apple instead.

Breakfast

A LOT of students, in their rush to get out the door and get to college or uni on time, forgo what is the most important meal of the day.

Breakfast is so called as it breaks the fast your body has experienced during the night and is therefore essential for a healthy metabolism.

You should eat something within an hour of waking up – even if it’s just a piece of fruit – or your metabolism will enter starvation mode, meaning subsequent meals will be stored as fat.

A good breakfast should contain a large percentage of protein.

Believe it or not, a traditional Scottish breakfast is actually good for you (providing it’s grilled and not fried, that is!)

If you don’t have time to cook up a big meal first thing, then porridge is an excellent choice.

Adding berries, seeds and a sprinkling of cinnamon not only tastes delicious but also provides vitamins and minerals, while the cinnamon helps to regulate blood sugar levels.

Another foodstuff you should make friends with is the humble egg. Ignore any bad press eggs have had over the years; they are an excellent form of protein and one of the most nutrient-dense foods available.

Poached, scrambled, fried, in an omelette… they are also extremely versatile.

LUNCH

Lunch may be tricky if you are out all day. Fortunately, most college or uni canteens are beginning to embrace healthy options.

Believe it or not, it is much more beneficial to have starchy carbohydrates at lunch instead of at dinner, like we traditionally would.

Make sure you choose wholemeal carbohydrates. Wholegrains are not only much higher in fibre than their processed white alternatives, but also release their energy slowly.

And don’t be afraid of pasta. Wholemeal pasta has a low GI rating, which means it provides a gradual energy release and is an excellent choice to keep you going until dinner.

A good choice for lunch is a vegetable soup with a wholemeal roll, as this will fill you with nutrients and leave you feeling satisfied.

Alternatively, a wholemeal pasta with a bolognaise sauce or tuna is a sensible option – just be sure to have a portion or fruit or veg as well!

Lots of colleges and unis now have a salad bar and this is a perfect choice if you want to stay healthy.

However, a salad only consisting of greens is no good. You need to include protein to keep you going and a starchy choice such as new potatoes will complete the meal.

Be wary of dressings and creamy coleslaws or potato salads, as they are often processed and full of fat and calories!

DINNER

Traditionally, people eat far too much at dinner, particularly where starchy carbohydrates are concerned.

If you’ve fallen short of your veg quota during the day then this is a great time to make up for it.

Almost any vegetable works in a curry, stir fry or stew, while a side of ratatouille or other roast vegetables tastes great alongside chicken or steak.

The perceived effort and expense that goes along with buying and preparing vegetables may put many students off.

However, this is an inaccurate and outdated assumption.

Nowadays, supermarkets offer a variety of pre-prepared, frozen vegetables for as little as £1.

This not only saves preparation time but anything you don’t need can be put back in the freezer for another day.

Steam bags are also a great idea as they are a super-healthy and convenient way to prepare vegetables.

If you are short of inspiration then why not buy a student cookbook?

Eating the same thing day in, day out will not only get boring but prevents your body from getting the variety of nutrients it needs to thrive.

The six-step plan

IT’S not all about your diet; here are some other tips to enhance your lifestyle:

Walk to uni/college: The fresh air will wake you up and prepare you for the day ahead.

Back off the booze: Apart from being full of calories, alcohol puts your whole body under strain and many people when hungover crave fatty foods. Like everything, it’s all about moderation.

Get some sleep: So many people underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep. If you struggle to get a decent rest, then try turning off your laptop or TV or putting away your phone half an hour earlier.

Drink water all through the day:  When you first wake up, between lectures, before and after dinner…water will not only keep you hydrated but also prevent bloating and help keep your digestive system running as it should.

Be more organised: Leaving 1500 word essays until the night before is undoubtedly going to cause you stress, which will have a negative effect on your body.

By planning ahead you can make sure everything is done on time, meaning you can relax and enjoy yourself while your classmates sweat in the computer lab.

Watch your coffee intake: Too much caffeine can make you edgy and upset your stomach.