Go nuts and eat healthier

22:19, Mar 07 2012
tdn nuts
Walnuts are brilliant brain food for a snack, but get them fresh

First up, dump the word diet from your vocabulary forever. Instead, think health, nutrition and a balanced lifestyle.

By going on a diet you set yourself up for failure. Why? Because nobody can maintain a diet forever and at some stage you will have to go off it. It's simply not sustainable.

When you're off the diet you tell your mind that you can eat badly, so you do and inevitably put the weight back on. Even worse, you will often pack on more than you lost in the first place.

People who struggle with weight issues know about this yo-yo effect of dieting, but still live in hope that the next fad will be the one.

It won't be.

Instead, you have to throw the whole diet regime out the window and go for a new tactic; one that is exciting, life-sustaining and nutritious.


You have to decide that now is the time to make a lifestyle change.

Start by re-educating yourself to choose healthy options 98 per cent of the time. The 2 per cent left is there for a touch of indulgence, like dark chocolate or a glass of wine, cheese or the occasional dessert.

Nothing is forbidden. The second you say, "I'm not allowed that", you'll want it. Instead, say to yourself: "I can have that, but would prefer to choose something healthy."

It's called being mindful.

Before you make any changes to your eating, you have to be incredibly honest with yourself. What are your bad habits? What snacking are you doing on the sly? What have you convinced yourself is healthy, but isn't? Mine was coming home from work and eating blue cheese and crackers, which were both high in fat. Or sitting at the computer writing, munching through a whole packet of crackers convincing myself I was eating health food.

When I started to read the fat and carbohydrate contents of these items, it was obvious I was stuffing myself with energy I had no way of burning off.

It's here that I must confess that I was a carbohydrate junkie. Toast and fresh bread were my comfort foods. Next were crackers, rice and potato chips. I carbo-loaded with no race in sight, except the adrenaline-rush of writing to deadline. Unfortunately, fast- moving fingers and quick thinking don't equate to a marathon.

Then I learnt that carbohydrates turn to sugar and when not metabolised as energy become body fat. What I actually needed was protein, which was a huge revelation to me.

I balked at first, so foreign was this concept. But now, when I head to the pantry for a "quick fix", I seek a handful of untoasted almonds or walnuts, which I put in a tiny bowl and eat slowly, enjoying the crunch and flavour.

There has been a huge amount written about the low- carbohydrate "diets".

And while I refuse to adhere to the Atkins, South Beach or Zone diets, I have found great success by increasing lean protein and fresh vegetables, while cutting right back on rice, potatoes, pasta, bread. All food cravings (apart from dark chocolate) have gone.

But while there are those advocates who say all protein is good, even the saturated fats, it is here I bow to the experts and follow my own heart.

Let's go straight to a new release from Harvard University, which reports that several large controlled trials have shown that low-carb regimes are as good as low-fat ways of eating for losing weight and may even be better.

But researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health say there are good and bad proteins - and bacon isn't on the tick list.

They have been following 85,000 female nurses and 45,000 male health professionals since the mid- 1980s. Every few years, the participants fill out questionnaires detailing what they eat and provide other information on their health. This is giving data and insight into the long-term effects of different low- carb diets.

In one study, the researchers created scores for each nurse's intake of protein from red meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, nuts and beans.

They have found the more protein from red meat, the higher the chances of developing heart disease.

Women who averaged two or more servings of red meat a day had a 30 per cent higher risk of developing heart disease than those who had one or fewer servings a day. Replacing one serving of meat with one of nuts reduced the risk of developing heart disease by 30 per cent.

In a separate study, the researchers created scores that reflected both the amount of carbohydrate in the diet and the main sources of protein.

Among the nurses and male health professionals, those with a low-carb diet heavy in animal protein were 23 per cent more likely to have died over 20-plus years of follow-up than those with "regular" diets, while those following a low-carb diet rich in plant protein were 20 per cent less likely to have died.

What all this is saying, then, is that if you are going to go on a low-carb, high-protein diet, your best sources of protein are from lean white meat, fish, chicken, unroasted nuts and seeds, boiled green soybeans and black beans. Go for light coconut milk and, yes, avocados are absolutely fine because they have good fats.

In fact, the two Harvard studies add to a growing body of evidence that say plant protein sources are a better option for long-term health.

"To your body, protein from pork chops looks and acts the same as protein from peanuts," the Harvard report says.

"What's different is the protein 'package' - the fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that invariably come along with protein."

"If you are overweight, shedding pounds can improve everything from your blood pressure to the way you feel. Do it the wrong way, though, and shrinking your waistline could also shrink the number of birthdays you get to celebrate.

"Instead of having bacon and eggs for breakfast, a burger for lunch, and steak for dinner, getting more of your protein from plants may help you steer clear of heart disease and live longer," the Harvard experts say.

So there it is. Forget bringing home the bacon, opt for almonds and avocado, beans and sprouts, seeds and tofu.

The vegetarians get the big tick on healthy protein. Time to break out the nuts!


1. Chickpeas, a great source of protein and can even be added cold to salads.

2. Kidney beans, which can be used instead of mince in any dish.

3. Tofu, which is a great alternative to meat and is also rich in iron and magnesium.

4. Baked beans, a cheap Kiwi staple.

5. Almonds, but always opt for unroasted. You can then dry-roast your own.

6. Walnuts are brilliant brain food for a snack, but get them fresh.

7. Peanut butter. Use in moderation and always choose the unsalted, unsweetened version.

8. Avocados - the perfect high-vitamin food. They also rich with minerals and vitamins, especially potassium.

9. Pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds all have protein, so add them to salads, muesli, baking and just have them to munch. Pumpkin and sunflower are wonderful dry-roasted.

10. Salmon, tuna and other oily fish. High in Omega 3s, which are natural anti-inflammatories and also help with brain functions.

11. Lean chicken - don't ever eat the skin. Try boiling your chicken and shredding it. This is delicious in Mexican dishes.

12. Eggs. Omelettes, poached, scrambled or boiled, these are a quick and simple way to get a protein boost when you need it.

Taranaki Daily News