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How-tos and TIps

Like most of us, you no doubt presently buy much of your food at the supermarket:  prepared, packaged and convenient. There is no law against this, but become aware of labels and read them carefully, get to know what the strange numbers and symbols and names mean and reject any that are highly salted, sugared or use artificial flavouring, colouring  or preservatives. Learn the foods that share a food-type but not necessarily a name. Did you know, for instance, that sucrose, maltose, fructose, honey, malt, corn syrup are all some form of sugar?

Become aware too of what some of the claims made on food actually mean.

Some meats may have a stamp saying 94% fat free, but this means 6% fat and may be higher than you want to go.

Milk is often eliminated in lowered-fat diets, yet it is only 4% fat and low when compared to butter and cream. It is all a matter really of how much you are going to use of any particular food.

Watch out for claims that say something is '25% fat reduced'.You need to know the fat content in the first place to see if it is still too high for your diet.

'No added sugar' can be a tricky one too. Sometimes this is printed on the labels of foods that have been prepared using concentrated fruit juices which might be 3-4 times their strength (and therefore sugar content) and even though it is a 'natural' sugar may be over-the-limit in a weight-watching context.

Some preservatives and colourings and flavours may be natural in origin and so a manufacturer is entitled to say 'no artificial...'  on the label. Read the ingredients list carefully to make sure your own diet needs are not being challenged.

If you are hoping to begin eating according to the food pyramid you will need to begin thinking differently. Plan a weekly or even twice weekly trip to the fruit and vegetable markets to see what is fresh and in season. Stock up on a range of pasta, legumes, grains and rice, then plan your meals around these. You will find that you need to shop less often for meat, but more often for fish and seafood, perhaps.

Even your cooking habits will change. Rather than automatically reaching for the potato peeler to 'start the potatoes' when getting dinner ready, and defrosting meat every morning, you may find yourself putting on a pot of water to boil ready for some pasta that will only need about 5 minutes to be cooked al dente by the time you are ready to eat. Or you may cook a pot of brown rice at night which will become the basis of a hearty stroganoff or multi-coloured fried rice the next evening.

One great benefit will be time-saving. You will find you can toss a main-dish salad while the pasta cooks, simmer a few vegetables and some seafood or open some homemade pasta sauce in just a few minutes and have a marvellous one-dish dinner on the table in under thirty minutes. The benefits don't end there though either. One-dish meals mean less washing up and that is quicker too if you use less fat and meat. You'll be surprised how quickly and easily you can clean the plates and cooking pans.

Desserts, especially thick stodgy ones, creamy store-bought tortes or routine canned fruit and icecream, may become a thing of the past, or a special occasional indulgence. Once you discover how good fresh fruit is, or poach or bake it to be served simply with yoghurt or muesli, you will wonder why you bothered with the others.

Perhaps the hardest eating habits to alter is with snacks. You may have to be strong-willed and pass those rich cakes and biscuits, leaving them right there in the shop, because once they come home, it is impossible to ignore them.

Collect some great low-fat, lower-sugar cookie and cake recipes and make those, switch to fresh fruit - lots of it everywhere - to tempt the family, or nibble on nuts, fresh vegetables, dried fruit or seeds when you need a boost.

Look long and hard at breakfast cereals and what goes on them. Depending on your diet needs, you may want to switch to a lower-fat milk, but check out the fat and sodium in those cereals too. And don't get locked in a routine. Do you even need milk on them? Perhaps skim yoghurt and fruit might be a great change, or toss the cereal in favour of a bowl of fruit and nuts and yoghurt. There are no hard and fast rules, so long as you are eating good healthy, fresh food, and you enjoy it.

Any change of a lifestyle habit takes time, and our diets are perhaps harder than any others to alter. Don't panic if you take weeks to begin to  automatically think in this new healthier way. Listen to your body too. Some people need longer to adapt, some bodies rebel if changes are too sudden. There is no time-frame we have to adhere to. Just move at your own pace and enjoy eating fresher, different food and, ultimately feeling fitter and healthier.



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