Every time I go to the supermarket to buy just few items, I may end up spending half hour in there. Part of it i cause there are way too many things that catch my interest (the cake and the wine section for example…), but part of it is cause I spend time selecting the products I buy.
I love eating, and eating A LOT. The only way I have to keep doing it without gaining 1 stone a month but also without giving up the food I like and my dietary habits, is to follow few small tips when I do my grocery.
1) Fruit juices with no added sugar. Several fruit juices are made from concentrate. If they are obtained only adding the right amount of water back into the concentrated juice, juice from concentrate should have no nutritional difference from freshly squeesed juice. However, in both cases, sugar may have been added. You may avoid few dozens of calories just by drinking a glass of juice with no-added sugar instead of the other one; so check the label before you buy it.
2) Plain Croissant. If in the morning you NEED a slice of cake or a croissant, then keep eating it. BUT get a plain one instead of one stuffed with jam or chocolate: 1 spoon of spread chocolate corresponds to over 110kcal (about 6% of your daily amount of needed calories!). It’s a small sacrifice for a remarkable benefit.
3) Avoid sodas and gassy drinks. Sodas and other gassy drinks are not good for your body, and both contribute to make you gain weight (yes, even the diet drinks). And despite thousands of pages have been written to prove it and as many has been written to prove the opposite of it, my motto is: natural is better. So I’d rather have a glass of sparkling water, maybe with a spoon of squash/concentrate if I really need some taste in my drink.
4) Measure the oil. The rare times I am on a “today I am on a diet” mood, I tend to eat a salad with some chicken breast and a bun of wholemeal bread. Sounds light and healthy… until I realise I season it pouring half glass of olive oil on top of it. Only use one teaspoon of olive oil to season your salad, and then mix the salad so the oil gets well distributed. 1 teaspoon of olive oil it only corresponds to 40kcal. 1 tablespoon is already 120kcal! I saw some people using spray oil pump bottles to vaporize the oil and better distribute it on food; it’s an option, but I have never done it. NB: don’t use the sachets of “italian dressing” (or similar) they provide with the pre-packed salads: they have low quality oil and lots of sugar: why should we eat that slimy low-quality stuff?
5) No butter on bread. We all know that butter on bread is delicious. But when you eat a sandwich, if you season the sandwich with the right ingredients, the lack of butter will be almost unnoticeable. For example if you prepare a chicken and tomato sandwich and you want to add some creamy texture, moist the bread with a bit of olive oil or with some light spreadable cheese (e.g. Philadelphia light). 1 spoon of light spread cheese contains roughly 40kcal = the same amount of butter goes up to 150kcal, over 3 times the amount!
6) Hands off from the nuts! I am a nut addict: hazelnut, peanuts, walnuts, pine-nuts and the king of nuts: pistachios. I can’t stop eating them, they are literally an addiction for me. Few years ago, while working in the desert in the Emirates for the whole month of December, I received as a Christmas gift from one of my coworkers there a 1kg package of local huge pistachios. Believe it or not, I ate them all on Christmas day, while working at my microscope: I was so sick after, but I so much LOVED the taste. Well…nowadays I still buy large packs of nuts as they are cheaper for the amount you get. If I want to avoid eating too many of them, the only way I have is rationing them: before leaving my house in the morning, I warp in cling-film two handful of nuts (one for mid-morning snack, one for the afternoon snack). In this way I don’t have more available, avoiding the temptation. Remember…100g of nuts correspond to almost 700kcal!!!
7) Fat-free yogurt; but the sugar? I see a lot of people buying light yogurt believing it contains less calories, so they can eat 2-3 pots a day. The truth is, very often a fat free yogurt has been stuffed with even more sugar than a normal one. So if you like yogurt as a snack when hungry, check it is fat free if you prefer so, but also check it has no sugar added. It makes a big difference. I usually eat the low-fat, no sugar, greek style yogurt, adding to it a teaspoon of honey and few berries to add sweetness. It’s creamy and tasty and it’s a great alternative for a dessert!
8) No pre-cooked meals…or at least pick the right ones. I work in an office most of the time. I have very little time to cook during the week and I admit I got tempted by the pre-cooked meals: they look yummy-ish, they are relatively cheap but, most of all, they are ALREADY COOKED an I just have to re-heat them. I tried to buy them as less than I can, as they are heavily processed and generally not made with good ingredients. When I have to buy one of these though, I always look at it first: if it’s creamy, generally it’s full of fat and sugar. Then I read the label. Even the “thai noodles with coconut cream and prawn”, that sound quite healthy, have an outrageously high amount of sugar (even more than fat), not considering the other 10 lines of unknown chemical additives listed in the ingredient box: they are not just noodles, prawn and coconut as you may naively think. So when I want to buy a pre-cooked meal, I usually choose something with plain-ish rice, maybe with veggies and/or chicken, with no cream or creamy fatty sugary sauce; these types of meals are usually the ones with lower sugar content. Though, if I can avoid any of them, it’s even better. When I don’t have time to cook, a salad with bread and some ham cubes or roasted chicken (they sell it in every supermarket nowadays) is much healthier.
9) Quinoa instead of rice or cous cous. I know it sounds hipstery, but quinoa has been for me a great occasional alternative for food like rice or cous cous. Not every day and not for every dish, of course. But sometimes, when I am preparing a “rice salad” for example, and I am mixing vegetables and rice, I switch some (or all) the rice for some quinoa. Quinoa is almost as cheap as rice, quicker to cook, but much richer in proteins and with an incredibly lower carbohydrate content. Same if compared to the cous cous. And once quinoa is well seasoned with all the other ingredients for a rich variegated salad, its nutty taste comes out and contributes to obtain a delicious dish.
10) Wheat bread. I tried several times to go on a low carb diet: it never worked. I can’t give up neither pasta nor bread: I am italian, for food sake! Though I noticed a big change in my weight when I started switching from white bread to brown bread. Both of them are high in carbs and of course if you eat 15 slices a day, it doesn’t really matter which one you eat: you will get wight anyway. BUT if you usually eat 2-4 slices a day during your meals, wheat bread would make a difference for several reasons, including the very simple fact that makes you feel full for a longer time. I don’t want to bother you here will all the benefits related to brown bread; from medical journals to the web…you can find details everywhere. Just be aware that it’s tasty, it’s delicious even when toasted and it’s healthier. I love wheat bread. OF course I have white bread now and then, as I love that too. But I stick to the brown one as much as I can.
Just summing up these small tips, my old dietary habits haven’t changed much but my consumption of calories has changed a lot! And even to someone like me, all about flavors and taste and texture, these tips seem acceptable compromises that contribute to a healthier diet and to avoid some unnecessary calories.
Though the real secret above all these little tips is “eat everything but with moderation“: it’s the deliciously healthy Mediterranean diet!