Healthy Eating

How To Stay Healthy Without Counting Calories

From delicious healthy recipes to the best nutritional advice, we guide you through what should – and shouldn’t – be on your plate this month

Since 1860, when German scientists began using calories to calculate the energy in our food, tracking a food’s ‘kcal’has been an established, science-backed method of helping people lose weight, with diligent dieters often dictating their food choices around their daily intake (which, as more recent research has shown, can vary dramatically from person to person). But, eat a croissant over a nutrient-packed smoothie and you’ll soon notice your energy flagging by mid-morning – despite the fact they have around the same amount of calories. So, is reading the numbers on the back of the packet the best way to stay healthy? Here, we asked the experts to weigh in.

Just a number

“The phrase, ‘a calorie is a calorie’ is a misunderstood concept,” says leading Harley Street nutritionist and author, Rhiannon Lambert. “Calories do have a place as a unit of energy and for some people, they serve as an invaluable tool for monitoring whether they’re eating the right amount of food to lose weight. However, we definitely shouldn’t rely on them to dictate what constitutes a healthy, balanced diet. In a world full of heavily processed foods, a calorie in one food, for example, a doughnut, can’t be the same as one in a piece of broccoli. So calculating and planning every single meal may not be the best way to nourish your mind and body.”

Consider:

If you regularly track your calorie intake, take a step back. Ask yourself, is calorie counting adding anything positive to your life? You might think that weighing and measuring the food is helping you lose or maintain your current weight, but when you prioritise hitting above or below a number over your body’s hunger cues or cravings, your body can find it difficult to recognise how to eat intuitively.

Variety is the spice of life

“When we reduce our calorie intake, we have to get all our nutrients from less food,” says nutritionist Dr Simon Steenson from the British Nutrition Foundation (nutrition.org.uk). “So, if we don’t have a varied and balanced diet, then it’s possible that we won’t get what our body requires. This is particularly relevant for anyone who cuts out whole food groups or specific types of food, such as dairy. The body needs a range of essential nutrients to function properly. Key foods to include in your everyday diet can be: wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, fish, lean meats and plant protein sources such as beans, lentils and nuts, as well as small quantities of vegetable and seed oils, such as olive or rapeseed oils.”

Try:

Choosing wholegrain versions of foods, such as wholemeal bread or brown rice, is a simple way to add more fibre to your diet, something that many of us don’t get enough of.

The matter of macros

“Macro counting is a new trend that’s becoming increasingly popular,” says Rhiannon. “If you’re not familiar with macros (short for macronutrients), they represent the amount of protein, carbohydrates and fat in the foods we eat. All of these are required in relatively large amounts each day and each one supports the vital functions in your body. However, counting macros down to the very last gram doesn’t take into account that we may not need exactly the same amount of Nutrition Foundation (nutrition.org.uk). “So, if we don’t have a varied and balanced diet, then it’s possible that we won’t get what our body requires. This is particularly relevant for anyone who cuts out whole food groups or specific types of food, such as dairy. The body needs a range of essential nutrients to function properly. Key foods to include in your everyday diet can be: wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, fish, lean meats and plant protein sources such as beans, lentils and nuts, as well as small quantities of vegetable and seed oils, such as olive or rapeseed oils.”

Try:

Choosing wholegrain versions of foods, such as wholemeal bread or brown rice, is a simple way to add more fibre to your diet, something that many of us don’t get enough of.

The matter of macros

“Macro counting is a new trend that’s becoming increasingly popular,” says Rhiannon. “If you’re not familiar with macros (short for macronutrients), they represent the amount of protein, carbohydrates and fat in the foods we eat. All of these are required in relatively large amounts each day and each one supports the vital functions in your body. However, counting macros down to the very last gram doesn’t take into account that we may not need exactly the same amount of need to ensure optimal health and prevent nutritional deficiencies,” says Rhiannon. “Getting a variety of nutrition and colour in our diets is key. The daily requirement of each micronutrient varies and if you don’t eat animal products, just be aware of potential deficiencies such as iodine, iron and calcium. However, a well-balanced diet should still provide the essential nutrients you need.”

Try:

All vitamins and minerals are ‘essential’ nutrients. These include calcium, iodine, iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamins A, C, D and E, vitamin B12 and folate and zinc.

Banana and almond porridge

Serves: 2

100g oats • 400ml plant-based milk • ½ tsp cinnamon • Pinch of salt • 1 banana, sliced • 1 tsp coconut oil • 1 tsp maple syrup Toppings: vegan yoghurt • chopped almonds • chocolate chips • almond butter

1. Add the oats, milk and cinnamon to a saucepan and gently heat until smooth. Add a pinch of salt before serving and a splash more milk if needed.

2. Heat the coconut oil in a small frying pan and add the banana slices. Fry for a few minutes and flip over. Pour over the syrup and fry until golden.

3.Top the hot oats with the yoghurt, caramelised banana, almonds, chocolate chips and almond butter.

Mexican burrito bowl

Serves: 2

Olive oil • 100g rice • 1 medium sweet potato (300g), chopped • ½ tsp cumin • 1 pepper, sliced • 120g black beans • 2 garlic cloves, crushed • ½ tsp cumin • ½ tsp smoked paprika 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar • 10 cherry tomatoes, small dice • ½ red onion, very small dice • 1 tbsp lime juice • 100g sweetcorn • ½ avocado • Pinch of salt and pepper • 3 tbsp tahini To serve: Fresh coriander • Spinach

1. 1Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Toss the sweet potato cubes with some olive oil, the cumin and salt and pepper. Roast for 30-40 minutes. Add the pepper and roast for 20 minutes. Cook the rice to the packet instructions.

2. Add the black beans, garlic, cumin, smoked paprika and apple cider vinegar to a saucepan and warm through for 5 minutes. Stir together the chopped tomatoes and red onion with 1 tbsp lime juice and salt and pepper. Put some spinach leaves in a bowl, top with the rice, roasted sweet potatoes, roasted peppers, garlic, black beans, tomato salsa, sweetcorn, avocado and a drizzle of tahini. Top with fresh coriander.

Follow Rhiannon at @rhitrition and visit rhitrition.com for more nutritional advice and information.

Health & Wellbeing