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A new report points to massive under-reporting of calorie intake by Britons, explaining why obesity levels are rising despite surveys showing that we are eating less. The study by the Behavioural Insights Team calculated that although official data suggests most people eat around 2,000 calories per day, the actual number was closer to 3,000. National spending figures also show that how much we spend on food does not correlate to how much we report we eat. Here’s our guide to the best calorie counting apps.
The BIT is an independent company but began in 2010 as a government policy group known as the “nudge unit” because it was tasked with encouraging people into making better life choices.
Although counting calories is not fun, it can be very educational and really teaches you the value, in energy, of certain foods. Although calorie counting may not be the right choice for some over the long term, we do ask clients starting out with us to keep a detailed diary of all the energy that they take in. This “opening set of accounts” shows us exactly what is happening; only with this detailed food diary can we give the best possible nutritional advice.
So what are the best ways of counting calories? It’s not just the accuracy of counting that’s important, but ease of use, lack of stress and sustainability that’s also important, especially for those looking for long term weight loss. With those needs in mind, coupled with the fact that nearly everyone has a smart phone, the easiest way is using an app. So here are the best calories counting apps.
1 – Lose it. The app is really easy to set up and you get a great visual graph on your homepage that shows your calorie count. It also has a weekly graph so you can see how well you are doing overall. Lose it! uses the accountability that social media provides to connect with friends and show them how well you are doing. It also sends you posts about how to improve your eating
2 – Myfitnesspal. More of a complete weight loss tool, and our favourite of the best calorie counting apps, myfitnesspal incorporates a pedometer (using your phone), includes a large exercise database so you can add exercise calories and has great visual tools to help you keep track of macros, weekly progress, and the smallest details of what you’ve eaten. It syncs with all your devices so that wherever you are you have myfitnesspal to hand. There is also a great barcode scanner so food input is totally accurate.
3 – Calorie counter by calorie count. This app has a great voice activation feature, so you don’t even have to manually enter in foods. Just say “large tub of ice cream” and it’s entered into your diary. Like MFP it has a barcode scanner. It also has a neat goal setting section where you can set simple goals like “run for 20 minutes” and then tick them off when you’ve done them. It then grades you (like you’ve done an essay) at the end of the day!
4 – Fooducate. The more nerdy app here fooducate attempts to really educate users by giving pros and cons for all foods that you search for. It also has an allergen locator so is great for people with certain allergies. It’s good at giving you a full nutritional breakdown for everything that you’re eating.
Weight Watchers. This well known franchise has an app that you can use whether or not you’re actually doing the full program. Weight watchers tries to simplify calories by assigning foods points, and this carries on through the app. This can help to show clearly which foods are good value, which are poor. It assigns each user a points allowance for the day. It provides you with inspirational success stories to keep you going.
More people than ever (and their children) seem to have allergies or intolerances, from hay fever to gluten to lactose intolerance. But what is lactose intolerance and how many people actually have it?
Lactose is a natural sugar that occurs in milk. Along with fats, protein, vitamins and minerals, it makes up everything that a baby needs to thrive in the early stages of life. However, in recent times dairy has been the victim of some bad press, from making us fat to making us react in a bad way, dairy seems to have a lot to answer for.
Lactose intolerance is the body’s inability to break down and digest the sugars found in milk and other dairy derivatives. Although yoghurts can be classed as dairy, the bacteria present in them makes the lactose easy to digest, so they are less likely to produce an adverse effect.
Those with lactose intolerance do not produce a specific enzyme in the gut that breaks it down. Any dairy produce consumed has to broken down instead by the digestive system, which can cause discomfort, gas, bloating and cramps. There are, however, various degrees of intolerance; one person may still have the necessary enzyme to break down lactose, but not in sufficient quantities. These people are more “maldigesters” than actually lactose intolerant. We are all born with the enzyme needed to break down our mother’s milk, so we all come into the world fully lactose tolerant. As we grow older some of us lose that enzyme and can become intolerant. However, it’s important to know the difference between lactose intolerance and an allergy to milk. An allergy is where the immune system reacts to a certain type of food and causes symptoms like itching, wheezing and itching.
Research in the 90s shows that this number is actually large; up to 70% of the world’s population lose their lactase enzymes (the ones needed for milk digestion) after weaning. So all those lactose intolerant people might not actually be faking it.
As well as getting a bad rap for causing tummy upsets, dairy has also been targeted by dieters who believe that its high fat content contributes to weight gain. This is unlikely to be the case though. The high fat and sugar in dairy is mitigated by its protein content, so it dosen’t have a huge effect on blood sugar levels. It’s glycaemic index is moderate at around 35. So in moderate quantities it won’t make you fat. It’s rather the low fat and 0% fat milk, cheese, yoghurt, and ice cream that are the culprit for the weight gain myth. In the wake of mixed messages about the dangers of saturated fats we’ve turned to these low fat options but they are often worse as as they’re loaded with sugar and salt.
There’s no treatment for lactose intolerance, so the only treatment is the avoidance of dairy products. This avoidance though means that you may be lacking some very important vitamins and minerals, so nutritional supplements like calcium and vitamin D are advisable.
Is butter healthy, asked a new study released in the US this week? Butter and other saturated fats may not be as bad for us as previously thought; in fact, swapping them for unsaturated fats like olive oil and other plant oils may actually lead to an increase in life expectancy.
These are the surprising findings of a new study in the US that has re-analysed the data from a trial that was conducted 50 years ago, the results of which were never published in full. This data showed that although those who switched from saturated to unsaturated fats had lower levels of cholesterol, this did not translate into higher life expectancy through a reduced risk of heart disease.
In fact, the death rate was actually higher in those subjects with lower levels of cholesterol readings throughout the 5 year trial. Running from 1968 to 1973, the 40-year-old study known as the Minnesota Coronary Experiment was thought to prove the link between heart disease and coronary heart disease, but may only show a link to higher levels of cholesterol, not morbidity.
The Minnesota study, conducted from 1968 – 1973, involved some 9,000 people, mainly in a nursing home and mental hospitals. The patients’ diets were easily controlled and one group was fed foods high with saturated fats; another ate a diet with little saturated fat and replaced with lots of corn oil, an ingredient common in processed foods today.
Published in the British Medical Journal, the new analysis of the old data was done in the US by the national Institute for Health. The conclusion goes against much modern nutritional guidance:
“Available evidence from randomized controlled trials shows that replacement of saturated fat in the diet with linoleic acid (corn oil) effectively lowers serum cholesterol but does not support the hypothesis that this translates to a lower risk of death from coronary heart disease or all causes,” said the authors.
Although contentious, leading nutritionists and scientists in the US point to the subtleties in the findings, and the importance of what food was swapped for what. “For years now, we have been recommended to cut out animal fats and replace them with plant sources of fats,” said respected US dietician John Rickards. “But when you swap out bacon for a bagel in the morning – you essentially cut out fat and replace it with refined carbs – you run the risk for raising your triglycerides and lowering your HDL cholesterol – increasing your risk for heart disease.”
He added that fats should still be sourced from natural plant sources like nuts, seeds, avocados and coconut oils. The results of the study might not actually advocate lots of saturated animal fats, but rather that they should not be substituted for low fat/high sugar/high processed carbohydrate alternatives. The reinterpreted research does not claim saturated fats are good for you. It claims instead that eliminating them is not necessarily good for heart health. And that’s a crucial distinction. Remember also that many vitamins and minerals that we need are fat soluble, i.e. we need fat present to digest them. So the message is not to eliminate saturated fats, rather to include them in a healthy, whole food diet that also contains plant based fats, unrefined carbohydrates and clean sources of protein like fish and chicken. So is butter healthy? Yes, and no…like most foods.
Over Christmas the average UK adult will put on 5lbs of weight. On Christmas day itself we consume an average of 7,000 calories. This is roughly the equivalent to 6 days’ worth of calories all in one go. Not only will the weight gain take effort to shift but it will also expand your stomach and cause large swings in blood sugar levels. This in turn can also lead to you feeling hungry and getting into a vicious cycle of hunger and unhealthy eating.
Although losing weight over the festive season might not be the most realistic of goals, how about a more achievable weight maintenance program? With just a bit of timely activity and some clever food choices – both in terms of timing and content – you can have your cake and eat it.
Doing all of the above may seem like a bit of an effort, but it will be much more of an effort to try and lose 5 lbs later on down the line. Especially in depressing January.
So take these simple steps and have a happy, but slim (ish) Christmas!
From supermarket chains to celebrity chefs the gluten free diet is becoming more and more popular. Gluten-free cafes are sprouting up all over the country; at least 4 gluten-free cookbooks are due out in January and even brewers are getting in on the act by producing gluten free ales.
This gluten-free diet boom is not, however, being driven by the tiny minority of people who actually have coeliac diseased cannot digest gluten (1% of the population), but by healthy people who have decided that gluten is bad for them too. Ask someone you know who claims to be gluten intolerant what disease they have. See if they can answer.
What is gluten? Gluten is a naturally occurring protein that occurs largely in grains, including wheat. Protein is essential for a healthy metabolism, muscle repair and growth.
There is scant scientific evidence that giving up gluten is beneficial in any way, in fact doctors in the US have reported deficiency in particular vitamins found in grains among normal people adopting gluten-free diets. psychologists report that the name Gluten sounds glue combined with gluttony, a factor that may put the more dim-witted off eating it. Forgoing gluten means saying no to many common and nutritious foods. Gluten is also found in wheat, barley, and rye. It also shows up in many whole grain foods related to wheat, including bulgur, farro, kamut, spelt, and triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye).
“Sort your surroundings” is a great mantra that weight watchers use. If you prepare well and fill the cupboards and fridge with healthy foods and snacks then it’s much easier to eat well and lose weight. Exercise is also easier. You can plan ahead and make time for it. At home you know where the local gym is, or the park and you can keep class appointments or sessions with your personal trainer.
When that routine is broken, however, both eating well and exercising can be left behind in the change of pattern. Many of our personal training clients don’t just have stressful jobs, but jobs that involve lots of travel, both domestic and international. It only takes a few days of “travel eating” to undo weeks of fitness gains and weight loss.
But…it is perfectly possible to eat well when travelling; with these tips and snack ideas you can come back even trimmer than you left.
Plan ahead. Look at your trip as a short military campaign. Plan. Use the internet to check out what restaurants you will be going to; check the menus and earmark some healthier choices. Look on the map to see what shops are nearby. A fruit and vegetable store, or even a Tesco express would be a better choice than a Costa, for example. This information will also help you decide what to pack food wise. This is another travel tip; read on..
Portion control. Just because you are at a business dinner doesn’t mean that you have to go mad. Just be aware of what you are eating…and drinking. If you have followed tip 1 above then you’re already ahead of the game. Think about having a couple of starters and a healthy desert rather than a whopping main. Eat slowly, always have a glass of water to hand – take sips often. Be aware of how full you are.
Stay close to your normal routine. If you are used to eating a certain way, say 3 meals a day, then try to stick to that. If you are used to having smaller meals more often then stick to that.
Don’t switch off! Even if it’s not something you normally do, use a calorie counting app when travelling. These are great and most are free. Myfitnesspal and weightlossresources are two of the best. They just keep you aware of how many calories you are eating. Seeing how many calories are in certain foods is also a great way to make smarter choices that are better calorific value. Simply noting things down on a bit of paper will help, even if you chuck it away afterwards.
Drink smart. On holiday or at a conference, there’s going to be booze. But being aware of some good choices will help you make good choices! See our list of low calorie cocktails; substitute wine and beer for spirits and low calorie mixers. Best tip of all – drink a glass of water between each round.
Have smart deserts. Swap cakes for sorbets. Pastries for yoghurts. See our blog post on healthy eating out options.
Take snacks with you. Just like a short military operation, being prepared and having the right equipment is half the battle. Pack the following:
Keep moving! The other big thing you can do to come back from a trip the same as you went away is of course exercise. This doesn’t have to be structured gym work, but staying on your feet, walking to meetings where possible, taking the stairs and standing when typing will all add up over the course of a day. Structured exercise will also keep you alert as well as trim. Many personal training clients who travel only book hotels that have good gyms. Others go away armed with an exercise routine (part of the DDW service) and some modern, light fitness kit, like a trx. With a bit of knowhow you can do a challenging routine right there in your hotel room.
Most of you should know by now that drinking is the secret fattener. It’s hard enough being careful with your eating, exercising and getting enough sleep (all essential for healthy weight loss), but if you drink then it gets much, much harder.
You could have been looking good after a day of careful eating, but three large glasses of wine later and whoops you’ve just had an extra 350 calories. Or the same as a small meal. Or 1.5 lbs of fat over week. Or 3 stones over a year. You get the idea.
But don’t fret, all is not lost. As per our article on the lowest calorie drinks (anything slimline with a spirit is best) you can still have some fun while staying slim. Here are our6 best low calorie cocktails.
The first step when on a cocktail night out is to ask the bartender to make any cocktails from scratch. Many bars use sugary mixes that have been pre-made but you don’t want these. Instead get your man (or lady) to do it old school. This their actual job, by the way.
1 – Old fashioned
Long before cosmos and mojitos this, the first cocktail to be invented, was being enjoyed. They are clasically simple with few ingredients to mount up the calories or confuse the taste buds.
Granulated sugar, sugar in the raw, or simple syrup can be used to sweeten the cocktail. Use whatever you have on hand. But be sparing.
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 ounces bourbon
1/2 teaspoon water
1 twist of lemon peel
2 – Margarita – Without any pre-made sugary stuff, the margarita should be clean and simple. Mix in tequila, lime juice, and a tiny bit of agave syrup or Cointreau. Fresh lime juice and a dash of simple syrup is a-ok too.
3 – Bellini. These can be made with various fruits, but the usual version would be with peach puree. So you’ll be getting some vitamin C. And it comes in a champagne flute. Posh. Pour peach puree into chilled flute, add Prosecco. Stir gently.
4 – Cosmopolitan. Carrie and the girls in SATC didn’t look great by accident. They probably ate well but also knew what cocktails to order. Made of vodka, lime juice, and a splash of cranberry juice, a cosmopolitan barely goes over 150 calories.
5 – Mojitos. The modern mojito has been brought down by a reliance on too-sweet mixers. Always get them made fresh. It should just be white rum, fresh mint, soda water, lime, and just a touch of sugar. Be sure to ask your bartender to comply on the “touch of sugar” and you will be coming in around 150 calories. One of our favourite low calorie cocktails.
6 – Gimlet. These come in a variety of guises and can be made with gin, vodka or tequila. They are both simple and tasty. Gin is the more usual choice; mix with lime juice and a dash of sugar. You can also add cucumber or mint for added zing.
Although Jamie Oliver has recently visited some of the world’s longevity hotspots and recommends certain foods to mimic the lifestyles of centenarians that live there, a US researcher had already made the trip and has published a book about what to eat to prolong not just life, but quality of life.
Dan Buettner spent 10 years looking at communities who lived the longest and then examined their eating habits. People living in these so-called “blue zones” significantly outlive the rest of us, with lower rates of disease like diabetes, heart disease and dementia. They also produce a high proportion of the world’s centenarians.
In his subsequent book “The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the Worlds Healthiest People” Buettner says that genes dictate only around 20% of health and longevity, with lifestyle and environment making up the rest.
Where are the Blue Zones?
The zones were in Ikaria in Greece, Okinawa in japan, the Barbagia region of Sardinia, Loma Linda in California (which contains the most seventh day adventists in the US), and Nicoya in Costa Rica.
Rather that preach a tee-total life of diets and abstention, the book says that’s where the western world has actually gone wrong. Self discipline can only hold sway for so long, says Buettnor. These lifestyles of diet and abstention have a failure rate of 90%; the people he spoke to who were over 100 didn’t have super discipline, harsh exercise regimes or diets. The key to their age and great quality of life came from living in a culture that made the right choices without people noticing.
“None of these people set out to be 100” says Buettner; “they are products of their environment”.
So what’s the key? Those living in the blue zones usually did lots of walking, grew their own food and went to bed late, waking up late. But the biggest factor of all is….beans. All those in the blue zones were eating beans; on average a cup a day, and of all varieties. Beans are thus the “cornerstone of every longevity diet”.
The other noticeable element of “blue zone” foods is a lack of meat. In the majority of the blue zones meat is eaten only 5 times a month, and only in a small, “deck of cards” sized portion. Only 5% of their food came from meat, with 95% from plants and vegetables. It isn’t that they don’t like meat, it’s more a case of treating it like a condiment or “special occasion” food than a regular daily item.
Buettner now describes himself s a pescatarian, and believes that our present meat eating will be looked at as we now look at smoking in the 60s and 70s.
The importance of beans is not just down to their protein, fibre and vitamin rich ingredients. It’s the way they effect out gut bacteria, says the author.
“When you eat a lot of meat, the gut bacteria, the flora, of your gut changes to digest it,” says Buettner. “So a certain type of bacteria thrives when you eat a lot of meat; that bacteria causes inflammation, which is at the root of every age-related disease.”
When you eat beans, however, you switch to another type of flora (it is during this changeover that flatulence occurs, but he says it only lasts a couple of weeks), which lowers inflammation and is “highly correlative with lower obesity”.
The author is not a total follower of the blue zone diet. He knows that people will occasionally want to go a bit mad and eat and drink what they want. He recommends instead reshaping your environment gradually, so changing shopping patterns over a few weeks, walking more and other small but significant lifestyle changes.
He says the single most surprising thing he found was that nobody who has lived a long time ever set out to. “Longevity is not something to pursue,” he says. “It is something that ensues.”
The Blue Zone Foods
Vegetables: Fennel, kombu (seaweed), wakame (seaweed), potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, squash, sweet potatoes, wild greens, yams.
Fruits: Avocados, bananas, bitter melons, lemons, papayas, plantains, tomatoes, pejivalles (peach palms).
Beans: Black-eye, lentils, chickpeas, fava beans, black beans, other cooked beans.
Grains: Barley, whole-grain bread, brown rice, maize, oatmeal.
Nuts and seeds: Almonds, all other nuts.
Lean protein: Salmon, soy milk, tofu.
Dairy: Feta, pecorino.
Added oils: Olive oil.
Drinks: Coffee, tea, red wine, water.
Sweetener and seasonings: Garlic, honey, mediterranean herbs, milk thistle, turmeric.
Eat at least three of these blue-zone foods daily: beans, greens (spinach, chards, kale, fennel tops, beet tops), sweet potatoes, nuts, olive oil, oats, barley, fresh fruit, green or herbal tea, turmeric.
Food principles from the blue zones
1. Plant slant: Aim for 95pc of your food to come from a plant or plant product.
2. Retreat from meat: Eat this no more than twice a week.
3. Fish is fine: Eat up to one fillet daily.
4. Diminish dairy: Cow’s milk doesn’t figure much in any of the blue zone diets.
5. Occasional egg: No more than three a week.
6. Daily dose of beans: At least half a cup of cooked beans daily.
7. Slash sugar: No more than seven added teaspoons a day.
8. Snack on nuts: Two handfuls a day.
9. Sour on bread: Replace white bread with sourdough or 100pc wholewheat bread.
10. Go wholly whole: Eat foods that are recognisable for what they are, eg, made of a single ingredient, be that raw, ground, cooked or fermented.
We’ve all heard about fasting diets or variations of them. Some advocate eating a healthy balanced diet all the time but cutting calories to about 25% of required maintenance energy for 2 days of the week. Others preach the benefits of fasting for 16 hours a day and eating for 8 hours only.
Some believe that these fasting diets replicate the way we evolved to live as cavemen, a point which we have not yet gone beyond; stone age man would have gone for periods of fasting while hunting and gathering, then feasting on the rewards.
Recent studies have shown that this can lead to weight loss, correct hormonal balance, improved sleep and improved blood markers. Blood markers are signals that show levels of growth hormones, which can be lowered by feast/fast diets. When growth hormones are lowered, the body moves from “growth” mode to “repair” mode. This in turn leads to a lower risk of disease, a longer lifespan and healthy weight levels.
Variations of the feast/fast are the 5:2 (probably the most well known), the ADF diet (alternate day fasting) and the 16:8 as described above.
However, as there have, as yet, been few studies on feast/fast diets, scientists are loath to recommend them for fear of liability. But now they say they have developed a five-day, once a month diet that mimics fasting and is also safe and effective. In a new study funded by the ational Institute on Ageing in the US, participants who intermittently fasted for a period of three months had reduced risk factors for an amazing variety of issues: ageing, cancer, diabetes and cardio-vascular disease.
The scientists behind the study likened mimic fasting as a way to “re-boot” the body, cleaning out damaged cells and regenerating new ones. So how does it work? For 25 days a month those in the study ate normally. Some good, some bad, some mediocre. Then on day 26 they ate only 1090 calories consisting of 10% protein, 56% fat and 34% carbohydrate. Then on days 27 through to day 30 calories were reduced further to 725; 9% protein, 44% fat and 47% carbohydrate. On these low calorie days they consumed 54 to 34% of their average daily maintenance calories. Foods typically eaten during this stage were vegetable soup, kale crackers and chamomile tea.
The participants in the study completed 3 cycles (or 3 months) of the mimic fasting, after which researchers measured them, finding lower bio-markers and risk factors for disease – with no side effects.
Petronella Ravenshear, a nutritional therapist in London, said that the new diet “is less of a stressor on the body than complete fasting.”
“It supplies most of the carbohydrates in the form of vegetables which are packed with phytonutrients and minerals and positively good for us, rather than grain-derived carbohydrates which don’t supply much except sugar,” she said.
Read more about mimic fasting here.
If you would like your children to eat their greens you really need to start early, says a study released last week by University College London. It shows how to make babies like vegetables – if they are fed them in the first 15 days of weaning. For the study, researchers asked mums to introduce their babies to a variety of vegetables (five a day) over the course of 15 days during weaning. Then, after a two week Hiatus with no vegetables, they were then fed an unfamiliar vegetable, artichoke puree. The artichoke puree was also fed to an opposing control group who’s babies had been weaned on baby rice.
When the scientists measured how much of the puree the babies had eaten, and asked the mums how keen their little ones were on the puree, on a scale of 1-9, they found that the veggie babies had eaten twice as much as those who had previously been on the baby rice. The mums of the vegetable group also said that their babies had “quite liked it”, with an average score of 6.7/9. Those in the other control group only scored their babies 4.3. So as soon as weaning starts, start the veg – this is how to make babies like vegetables
Many people will also agree that what you are given at a young age influences what foods you like when you grow up. So start them early, be patient, and you will reap the rewards!