What to eat
Ever wished there was a simple list of the foods that make a good diet, without any of the complicated stuff about macronutrient splits, calorie counting and what our ancestors ate? Well, here it is.
Below are the main types of food and examples of each. This information is relevant to everyone – male or female, old or young, trying to gain weight or lose it. Simply adjust quantities to suit.
Fish is fantastic! High in protein and good fats (particularly the oily varieties such as salmon), so you really can’t go wrong. However, avoid fish in batter; breadcrumbs are not too bad unless you are trying to lose weight. Try to buy fish that is caught sustainably or not over-fished.
White fish (high protein, low in fat): haddock, cod, pollock, plaice, seabass
Oily fish (high protein, high in good fats): tuna, sardines, salmon, trout, anchovy, mackerel
Shellfish (high protein, low in fat): prawns, scallops, mussels, crab, lobster, crayfish, oysters
Meat is another great food, both for fat loss and for muscle building, as it is so high in protein. Meat tends to have a higher saturated fat content than fish but you can limit the amount of fat you take in if you choose lean cuts of meat. White meat is less fatty than red meat.
White meat: chicken, turkey, rabbit
Red meat: beef, pork, lamb, mince (choose the leanest mince), ham
Very fatty meat (limit intake): bacon, sausages, duck
Try to choose meat from free range, grass-fed animals as it is much healthier. Avoid meat that has been processed or reconstituted, e.g. chicken nuggets.
All beans are good for you. They are a good source of protein (especially for non meat and dairy eaters) and complex carbs. Complex carbs take longer to break down in the body, so they give you a steady source of energy for longer than simple carbs like sugar.
Baked beans, kidney beans, soybeans/edamame, chick peas, azuki beans, mung beans, broad beans
Eat vegetables in large quantities, with every meal (even breakfast if you can). Dark green vegetables are particularly are good for you (spinach, broccoli). Vegetables are low in calories, of course, and high in vitamins, minerals and fibre so they make you feel fuller – great if you are on a diet.
Spinach, broccoli, carrots, peas, lettuce, green beans, cucumber, peppers, tomatoes, avocado, radishes, mushrooms, courgette, aubergine, celery, cauliflower, onion, beetroot, leeks, parsnips, brussels sprouts, parsley, garlic – and many, many more…
Examples of starchy carbohydrates are pasta, white rice and bread. Otherwise known as white foods, they tend to be highly processed and are less nutritious as a result. They break down into a very accessible form of energy for the body, but if it isn’t used, it is stored as fat.
Starchy carbs are not verboten but try not to over-indulge. We tend to consume more carbohydrate than we really need, so limiting it where possible is a good thing (don’t forget that vegetables and fruit are good sources of carbohydrate too).
The brown versions of these foods – e.g. brown rice, brown bread – are a bit better (and more nutritious) but should still be consumed in modest portions.
Potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, porridge, muesli, oatcakes
Dairy products are high in protein. They also contain saturated fat but if you go easy on portion sizes you will be getting good nutrition without too much saturated fat. If you want to really cut down on the fat content, stick to egg whites and skimmed milk. Try to avoid ‘fat free’ yoghurt though as it is high in sugar and additives.
Eggs, milk, cheese, cottage cheese, quark (lower fat content than cream cheese), yoghurt (full fat in moderation, since ‘low fat’ yoghurt is high in sugar),
Great source of protein, good fats and complex carbs. If you are trying to lose weight, eat nuts in moderation as the fat content is high. Fat isn’t bad for you per se, but it is unwise to eat loads of it if you want to lose weight!
Almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, peanuts, coconut, nut butters (peanut butter, almond butter), pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, olives.
Fruit is good for you, of course, but aim to eat more vegetables than fruit, rather than making fruit your only regular source of vitamins and minerals.
Watch those fruit juices and smoothies if dieting – they are nutritious but also fairly high in calories for a drink. It would be better to drink water and eat an orange than to drink orange juice.
Apples, oranges, bananas, plums, pears, cherries, tangerines, kiwi fruit, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, pomegranate, melon, mango, blackberries, cranberries.
Honey (great to add to yoghurt, porridge etc as a sweetener)
Dark chocolate (good for you in moderation!)
Protein supplements are a very useful source of extra protein and are surprisingly filling. However they are usually very sweet and sugary as well. Protein shakes are better than protein bars, since the sugar content of bars tends to be higher. Useful for non meat-eaters of course.
Many people supplement with fish oil. This is high in the good fat, omega-3, and very useful if you don’t eat much oily fish.
A daily multivitamin is also a good supplement to a healthy diet.
Don’t consume/severely limit:
- Alcohol (useless calories)
- Foods marketed as diet foods or low fat foods (low fat = high sugar!)
- Sweets, cakes etc
- Chocolate (apart from high quality dark chocolate)
- Takeaway pizza, kebab, curry
- Ready meals
- Any junk food really. C’mon, you know that.