Are you trying to keep healthy? Does the thought of stodgy winter eating make you want to hibernate under the duvet until it’s all over?
Winter is something of a minefield for those trying to watch their weight.
The cold weather makes a nice warm bowl of carbohydrates much more appealing than a light salad and the dark nights make going to the gym a chore.
Thankfully, there are several seasonal foods that are bursting with nutrients, meaning keeping healthy over the festive period is not as hard as you may think.
ALICE CRUICKSHANK helps you out…
Rich hot chocolates, starchy hot meals and sumptuous desserts; one of the best parts of winter is the rich and delicious food.
However, this can be a tough time of year for you digestive system and, indeed, your waistline.
Why not try one of these eating plans that have been filling column inches whilst whittling away real inches?
The Paleo Diel
Our eating habits these days are a far cry from the diet our ancestors lived off.
The principle of the Paleo plan is to reintroduce us to a natural, hunter-gatherer diet that our body is designed to cope with.
As well as helping weight loss, the diet also claims to minimise the risk of chronic disease.
The cornerstones of the diet are thus:
Consume more protein (around 35% of total food intake)
Eat low GI carbohydrates
Up your fibre and vitamin intake
Higher potassium and lower sodium intake
So what does this mean food-wise? Well, you should be eating plenty of lean meat and fish, accompanied by lots of fresh fruit and veg.
On the no-go list are cereals, dairy and potatoes as well as any form of processed food.
I know what you’re thinking, being on a student budget: all this fresh produce sounds expensive, right?
However, once you cut out all the crisps, biscuits, ready meals and the like out of your shopping trolley, you’ll realise the cost isn’t actually that bad.
The 5:2 Diet
Move over South Beach; 5:2 is the trendiest diet right now.
Celebrities such as Miranda Kerr, Beyonce, Ben Afflek, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Hugh Jackman (in an effort to tone up for Wolverine, not to become emaciated for Les Mis, don’t worry!) are passionate about the benefits of going 5:2. But does it work?
The idea is to eat reasonably for five days a week then ‘fast’ for two, i.e. consume around 500 calories.
This apparently activates a gene called SIRT1, which inhibits fat storage and has anti-aging properties.
This diet is a great one for the festive season as you can still have your (Christmas) cake and eat it, as long as you fast on two other days.
However, don’t see this as a license to binge.
The diet recommends that during the rest of the week a Mediterranean-inspired diet is consumed and no, this doesn’t mean bountiful bowls of pasta!
Plenty of lean protein, fresh veg and wholemeal carbohydrates are the backbone to this way of eating.
So while you can enjoy mince pies and roast dinners if you want to, moderation is key.
It’s not essential to commit yourself to a formal diet this winter to stay slim. In fact, many foods we love to eat this time of year can be extremely beneficial!
Spice it up
Your winter diet need not be starchy and bland. Winter is the perfect time to make rich and colourful stews that you can add almost anything to. The best thing about these stews is they can be loaded with delicious herbs and spices that contain many nutritional benefits.
Add fennel to aid digestion; rosemary as an antioxidant and cayenne pepper to help boost your metabolism.
We can’t forget about the season’s trademark spice: cinnamon. Cinnamon is a good source of manganese, iron and calcium. It also helps to stabilise blood sugar and reduce sugar cravings- perfect for when you’re fighting the temptation of a box of Quality Street!
Zest is Best
Winter is the season for fresh citrus, which means we can get a healthy boost of vitamin C during the cold and flu season.
One orange contains more than 100 per cent of your RDA for vitamin C- it’s also seriously delicious.
Then we have grapefruit. This tangy fruit contains lycopene, an antioxidant with anti-cancer properties. Grapefruits are also renowned for their fat-burning properties. What’s not to like?
At first thought, Christmas dinner seems to be Mission: Impossible for those trying to be healthy but its actually not as bad as you may think.
Firstly, the meal is based around turkey – a superfood for dieters! Turkey is lean meat and packed with protein plus its relatively low-cal.
Just watch your stuffing/rich gravy intake. Leftover turkey is great for a wholemeal sandwich or a nutritious soup in the days after Christmas.
Instead of roasting your spuds in goose fat, why not try sweet potatoes? They are packed with vitamin C, potassium and calcium plus has a lower GI rating than the standard white potato, meaning it stabilises your blood sugars for longer.
Our American counterparts are huge fans of the sweet potato and we should adopt this nutritional powerhouse.
We can’t forget about Christmas’s most loved/loathed vegetable: the humble Brussels sprout. It takes just four to six sprouts to fulfill your daily vitamin C requirement? And sprouts have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory properties.
JAMIE’S CAULIFLOWER AND BROCCOLI CHEESE
Jamie Oliver is your man when it comes to fast and affordable recipes. Here’s a low calorie, delicious take on the classic cauliflower cheese.
Serves 4 as a main.
2 cloves of garlic
50 g unsalted butter
50 g plain flour
500 ml semi-skimmed milk
500 g fresh or frozen broccoli
75 g mature cheddar cheese
1 kg fresh or frozen cauliflower
2 slices of ciabatta or stale bread
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
25 g flaked almonds
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4.
Peel and finely slice the garlic and put it into a medium pan on a medium heat with the butter.
When the butter has melted, stir in the flour for a minute to make a paste, then gradually add the milk, whisking as you go, until lovely and smooth.
Add the broccoli and simmer for around 20 minutes, or until the broccoli is cooked through and starts to break down, then mash or blitz with a stick blender (adding an extra splash of milk to loosen, if using fresh broccoli).
Grate in half the Cheddar and season to perfection.
Arrange the cauliflower in an appropriately sized baking dish, pour over the broccoli white sauce and grate over the remaining Cheddar.
Blitz the bread into breadcrumbs in a food processor, then pulse in the thyme leaves and almonds.
Toss with a lug of oil and a pinch of salt and pepper, then scatter evenly over the cauliflower cheese.
Bake for 1 hour, or until golden and cooked through, then enjoy!
GORDON’s CHICKEN STIR FRY
Gordon Ramsay has the kitchen at Claridges so the man clearly knows about good food!
Thankfully, he also has a selection of simple and nutritious recipes to try. Serves 2.
200g flat, wide rice noodles (similar in shape to tagliatelle)
250g chicken breast fillet
Flavourless oil, eg groundnut, for stir-frying
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
200g tenderstem broccoli, cut in half lengthways
About 2 tbsp soy sauce, to taste
2 eggs, beaten
Wedges of lime, to serve
IF using dried noodles, soak them in warm water until softened, according to packet instructions. (This will take about 10 minutes)
Meanwhile, butterfly the chicken fillet by slicing through it horizontally, but leaving it joined down one side, then open it out. Flatten it with a rolling pin, then cut it diagonally into strips.
Heat a wok over a high heat and add a dash of oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and stir-fry for about 3 minutes until golden brown all over but not quite cooked through.
Add the garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds, then add the broccoli and continue to stir-fry for a few minutes until tender; add the soy sauce to season.
When the broccoli is tender, remove the contents of the wok and set them to one side. Wipe out the wok, add a dash of oil and heat through.
Drain the soaked noodles. Add the eggs to the hot wok, season and stir over the heat, allowing the bottom of the egg to cook.
Add the noodles and toss well, breaking up the egg as you do so. Return the chicken and broccoli mixture to the wok and heat through, stir-frying over a medium heat.
Serve the noodles immediately with wedges of lime to squeeze on top.