This is an article to focus on what matters most when it comes to food for health and weight loss – nutrition, simplicity and enjoyment.
My goal is to give you the key info to know, so you’re armed with knowledge, and the confidence to make choices that serve you.
There’s also some healthy recipe inspiration for you to download, including the salmon egg bake from the photo above. You can do that now if you want (then come back and read the rest of this post!):
Are you back? Awesome.
Let’s get straight into it with some simple ideas and strategies for you.
Nutrition 101 – the Three ‘Macros’
First we need to know what to eat to be well-nourished and feel at our best. This is essentially a good balance of the three macronutrients (or ‘macros’) – protein, fat and carbohydrates.
Here’s a quick breakdown on where to find each macro, and how to make up a healthy balanced diet.
Good daily goals would be…
- Protein in each meal will support your body, help you build or maintain muscle and keep you full.
- Lots of veg – half a plate full at dinner is a great goal to shoot for, plus some in your lunch or snacks.
- Fruit – add a serving to breakfast, always great for snacks.1 or 2 servings of whatever other carbs you like
- 1 to 3 servings of healthy fats daily to support energy, hormones, heart and brain health
Along with this, a really important factor is to go with what you enjoy and what makes you feel best.
It doesn’t need to follow that structure the whole time, and you can absolutely include ‘fun foods’ too. 80-90% natural, colourful, minimally processed food and 10-20% whatever else you love is a good balance to aim for.
Now let’s break down the three key macronutrients – protein, fat and carbs.
Helping you feel fuller for longer – Protein
These are the key points to know:
- Protein is the building block of our muscles and all the cells in our body, so plays a big role in maintaining optimal health
- It helps with weight loss by keeping us fuller for longer
- Most women don’t eat enough of it
- Ideally we want to get a source of protein in each meal (3-4 servings per day)
- Protein helps repair and strengthen your muscles after exercise – this boosts your metabolism and helps you burn more fat
- Protein may also help with anxiety – foods such as eggs, turkey, tofu, legumes, salmon, nuts, seeds, cheese and milk contain tryptophan, which is a building block that the body uses to create calming neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin.
So… where do you find protein? There’s an infographic above full of high protein foods, plus one here with good vegetarian choices.
A list of some of the best protein sources:
• Lean beef
• Grilled bacon
• Whey protein powder (this is best form of protein powder if you’re not vegan – it’s cheapest and most easily used by the body)
• Vegan protein powder (rice / pea / soy / hemp)
• Greek yogurt
• Beans and pulses (especially puy lentils)
• Nuts and seeds (just be mindful of portion sizes if you’re watching your weight – 25g is a good general serving)
Supporting Hormones and Energy Levels – Healthy Fats
Key points to know
- Eating some healthy fats regularly is essential for health and hormone function
- Around 2-3 servings of good fats daily works very well for many women
- Every cell in your body needs fat in order to exist and function properly
- The body also needs fat to help it absorb vitamins A, D, E and K
- Fat helps you stay fuller for longer and keeps your blood sugar levels more stable
- Depending on your current intake, replacing a portion of processed or starchy carbs with a serving of healthy fats can boost energy levels, hormone health and long term weight loss
Fats are more ‘calorie-dense’ than protein and carbs. This means we need to be careful with portion sizes, but we definitely DO want to include them in our diet, for all the health benefits they provide.
The infographic gives a guideline on good portion sizes for each ‘healthy fat’ food choice. 2 – 3 of these each day would be ideal, and variety is great to incorporate different vitamins and minerals too.
For Gut Health and Energy – Quality Carbohydrates
Key points to know
- Carbs are your body’s preferred source of energy
- They wont make you gain weight unless you eat enough to push you over your total calorie needs
- It’s a good idea to eat carbs before or after exercise to fuel your body
- If you’re less active, swapping some carbs for extra vegetables will help reduce calories while still keeping you full
- Natural, minimally processed carbs such as oats, potatoes, sweet potato, lentils, beans and pulses contain good amounts of fibre (a hero for gut health), vitamins and minerals too
- Fibre is something that’s good to focus on – as well as improving gut function, high fibre foods generally contain more nutrients and keep you fuller for longer
High-fibre Sources of Carbohydrates:
- Potatoes (sweet and white)
- Chick peas
- Beans (all types)
- Rice (wholegrain is better for fibre)
- Wholemeal bread
- Wholemeal pasta
What about other carbs? White bread, white pasta, baked goods, chips, and all that other yummy stuff we love? They’re fine too in moderation. Lower in fibre and nutrients (and higher in calories if we’re talking baked good and chips), but still ok in the context of a generally nutritious and well-balanced week.
If you’re looking to lose weight, just keep aware of overall calories – for everything, not just carbs. For general health, mostly eating natural minimally processed foods will give you the highest intake of nutrients. If you’re wanting to improve gut health, experiment with slowly increasing your ratio of high fibre foods while drinking plenty of water too.
A meal plate for health and weight loss
It doesn’t have to look like this in every meal, but the infographic below is a good template to aim for.
Don’t forget to combine it with the mindful eating reminder at the bottom – eat when hungry, eat slow, stop when satisfied.
So, that’s the three macronutrients, and how much of each to aim for. Now let’s move on to…
Supporting Your Immune System
To this we could add a few supplements – potentially vitamin D, zinc and vitamin C (although you may be getting enough zinc and vitamin C in your food already). You can find out more about supplements and food choices, and get some immune-boosting recipe ideas, in the free guide here:
But it’s food, and simple healthy lifestyle choices, that make the biggest difference to our health and the strength of our immune system.
Right now you may need to create new routines and plans to ensure that healthy lifestyle stays intact. Ask yourself a few questions to get the ball rolling…
- Are there any of these points that are not quite where you want them to be?
- What’s one thing you can improve this week?
- And one small action step you can take to make that happen?
- When will you take that action step?
Make it feel doable, then make it happen.
Easy options – snacks and ready meals
You don’t need to eat perfect. Easy choices, packaged snacks, ready meals… they’re all fine in the context of a week where you’re doing your best.
You can still get decent nutrition from shop-bought snacks and ready-meals. And you can still keep aware of calories in the less-nutritious choices, which will help a lot too.
The infographic above gives some ideas for snacks that could help you. High protein snacks to keep you fuller for longer, and other low calorie choices if you’re craving something sweet or savoury.
Here are some ideas for ready meals from various supermarkets, with calories and protein listed too:
Ready meals can be a big help when you’re tired, stressed or just haven’t got the motivation to cook. From a health and weight loss perspective, it helps to look at:
- Calories (350-600 is a good range, and if it’s at the lower end you could bulk it out with extra protein or veg).
- Protein – 25-40g is ideal
- Vegetables – if there’s not much, could you add some? Frozen veg can come in really helpful here – stir fried, roasted or steamed in the microwave are all good easy options.
The ideas above are just a small selection of choices from various supermarkets – there are plenty more that are good. A number of my online clients have found two companies very useful. Cook – who do some great frozen ready meals, and Gousto who deliver delicious healthy recipe boxes to your door.
How to Create a Food Plan
This template is designed to keep things simple, and the foods listed are just some ideas. Nutritious, easy options, with plenty of protein to keep you full, and a variety of nutrients for health. You can eat in a range of different ways and be successful with health and weight loss, so adapt this template to suit you.
The main point here is that having meals and a couple of snacks planned for the day can really help you stay on track.
Also, plan in what you will want to eat! Seems obvious, but a common mistake people make is planning a ‘perfect diet’ day, with ultra healthy choices, and then not wanting to eat it. This is where the all or nothing mindset can rear it’s ugly head.
The solution – plan mostly healthy foods that you actually like, and some of the not so healthy stuff you really like too. Tweak portion sizes if you need to, so that calories stay in check. Remember – you don’t have to eat perfectly to lose weight. Nutrition is important, but calories will make the difference. Right now especially, it’s best to go for what feels realistic, easiest and most doable.
Foods to Keep in Stock for Easy Healthy Meals
Below are ideas for versatile foods to keep in various parts of your kitchen. With these in stock, you’ve got what you need to knock up a meal that’s quick and nutritious.
Writing down a few ideas of back-up meals can save your bacon (mmm bacon) when you’re tired and considering a takeaway that you’d later regret. Chicken fajitas is one of our favourites. An omelet or eggs on toast, with some stir fried frozen veg, is another good option. Or tuna and pasta with chopped tomatoes, and some frozen veg stir-fried while the pasta cooks, then mixed in. If it’s an easy option with protein and vegetables, you’re winning.
So, here’s some ideas…
In the cupboard
- pasta, lentils, rice
- ready to use sachets of rice, quinoa or lentils
- ready to use sachets of cauli rice or vegi rice (made out of steamed sweet potato) for low calorie options
- Chopped tomatoes or passata
- Chick peas, kidney beans, other beans, and pulses
- Tuna – great for a low fat, high protein option
- Canned salmon – with bones in this is a brilliant source of calcium as well as protein and healthy fats
- Pesto – reduced fat version is helpful and still tastes great
- Curry paste
- Tinned fruit
- Herbs and spices
- Fajita seasoning
- Condiments such as apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, balsamic glaze, red wine vinegar
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Spray oil such as frylight
In the freezer
- Bag of frozen peppers
- Ready-to-cook bag of Mediterranean veg
- Stir fry veg
- Other veg such as mixed bags of broccoli / carrots / cauliflower
- Bag of frozen mixed summer fruits
- McCain 5% fat oven chips
- Lightly dusted fillets of fish (that can be cooked from frozen)
- Wholemeal / reduced calorie wraps
- Wholemeal / granary bread
- A back-up ready meal
In the fridge
- Greek / high protein yogurt – Liberte plain, Total 0%, Arla and SkyR are all great options
- Fresh berries
- Apples / peaches / plums / nectarines / other fruit of choice to snack on or use for puddings
- Fresh vegetables of choice (carrots, peppers, cucumber and celery are all great to snack on too)
- Reduced fat hummus
- Tofu / feta cheese / parmesan
- Fresh meat or fish for a stir fry, chilli, or baked with vegetables (Keep an eye on the use by date and freeze if needed)
Food inspiration from my online client Jennifer.
Food for health and weight loss – would you like some recipe ideas?
Thanks for reading and I hope that helps.
You can find the info we’ve covered today, plus lots of help with emotional eating, in my free Lockdown Survival Guide on this link:
And for a selection of tasty recipe ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, click on the link here: