The good, the bad and the not worth it

Nutrition team

You’ve heard it a thousand times - there are no good and bad foods. No doubt about it, the principle is solid: when it comes to gaining or losing weight, no one food is responsible.

A consistent effort to eat healthy meals is the key to pounds-off success. Indeed, eating too much of any food, whether it’s poached fish or fried burgers, can mean taking in excess calories and gaining weight.

However, if you’ve taken a look around the supermarket lately or set foot inside some popular restaurants, it’s hard to dismiss some culinary creations as anything but dreadful. Case in point: the McDonald’s Big Breakfast Bun currently being advertised in the window of my local McD. With 577 calories and 33g of fat (11 Units), or one-third of the average woman’s daily calorie needs, is this ever a good idea?

Most experts will tell you that a healthy, sustainable eating plan allows you to eat almost anything in moderation. But if you ask me, there are some foods that have no business in anyone’s food repertoire. Who needs 577 calories and 33g of fat first thing in the morning? Frankly, I think these items just aren't worth the damage they can do to your waistline. For this reason, making it a practice to find foods that give you the best bang for your buck – foods that are nutritious and fill you up - is one of the smartest strategies for winning at weight loss.

And breakfast treats aren’t the only malevolent morsels out there. Which foods aren’t worth their high potential price to your bottom line? Check out five common offenders of sensible eating and their better-bet replacements:

1. On your mark, get set, fry.
If you go out to dinner on a regular basis, every decision you make is an important one. Chicken wings, deep-fried cheese, nachos, tempura, cheesy garlic bread, spring rolls and won tons – one portion of any of these starters is almost enough to throw your diet over the edge. And if your starter has enough fat and calories to keep you going to half a day, just what do you order as the main event? At this point, a lettuce leaf would be about right. To enjoy a meal that goes the distance, choose wisely and well – at every course. Begin your meal with a broth-based soup (avoid anything with ‘cream’ in the name) or fill up on a bowl of greens and veggies with low-fat dressing on the side.

2. Multiple-meat items.
Cutting down on fatty meats in your diet will save on the saturated fat which can clog arteries and lead to heart disease. One way to do so is by keeping your meat portions small - three ounces of cooked meat or the size of a deck of cards is considered appropriate. It’s also a smart idea to think of meat as the condiment rather than the main meal, which is better made up of veggies, wholegrain complex carbohydrates and grains. Unfortunately, some restaurants have misinterpreted this advice, making meat a condiment for the main meat, as is the case in the bacon double cheeseburger. At McDonald’s, that'll earn you 480 calories and 24g of fat (7 Units) or 509 cals and 28g of fat (8 Units) at Burger King. You’re also adding to the already high saturated fat by piling on more meat. When you’re choosing meat from the menu, keep it simple by opting for a small hamburger (250 McCals and 8g of McFat or 3 Units, 290cals and 11g of fat or 4 Units at BK) - with lettuce, tomato and ketchup, if you can (372 cals and 20g of fat or 5 Units for a Junior Whopper), or a lean cut of meat such as loin or round.

3. Diet liquidators.
Ten years ago, you wouldn’t have even considered adding vanilla or hazelnut flavouring to your coffee – or topping it with whipped cream. So why is going crazy in the coffee shop a good idea now? Adding a drop of everything to your coffee could add more than 250 calories and 8g of fat (3 Units) to your day. And that’s not counting the muffin or scone… Flavoured waters can be a great way to relieve the boredom of those 2 litres of water a day – but at up to 125 calories (1.5 Units) per bottle, are they worth it? How about simply adding a squeeze of lemon, lime or orange juice to your tap water instead? And if you’re still choosing regular soft drinks, you’re taking in 12 teaspoons of sugar and around 140 calories (2 Units) per can. So if you’ve been wondering why you haven’t been losing those pounds as quickly as you’d like, don’t forget to count those liquid calories.

4. Invisible ingredients.
Can you really taste all of the full fat cheese on top of that shepherd’s pie or the butter in those mashed potatoes? Add these things to the 'not worth it' list. Unless you have extra-sensitive taste buds, you probably won’t miss the pound of butter in those spuds or the extra oil you used to sauté those green beans. The same goes for cream in soups, ice cream in smoothies and full fat milk on cereal. When it comes to eating economy, it’s best to downsize. After a week of using skimmed milk, sprinklings of parmesan instead of pounds of cheddar and low fat spread instead of butter, you’ll forget all about those high-fat embellishments.

5. Fattening finales.
The mastermind who invented low fat chocolate mousse deserves a medal. It’s hard to tell the difference between the low fat and high fat versions but we can certainly appreciate the fat-and-calorie discount. Or how about the guy or gal who discovered frozen yoghurt? When you’re craving a sweet ending to your meal, take a moment to consider the cost of sitting down to a piece of fudge cake that weighs in with 522 calories and 19g of fat (8 Units), when you could get your chocolate fix from an Entenmann’s fat free fudge brownie which has a scant 110 calories (1.5 Units). Portions will always count of course, but why not take advantage of the lower cal options available when cravings strike?

Each meal is a chance to make a better decision for your health and your weight. Eating should be a pleasurable experience, but remember that opting for Death By Chocolate probably won’t make you a better person, or a happier one. Be a calorie-bargain hunter at every meal.

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