Top ways to ruin a good meal

Susan Burke
Nutritionist

I don’t really think that food is inherently good or bad. I save those adjectives for people who drop their litter on the ground, or who think an amber traffic light means "go faster." Food is fuel, and in its simplest form, food is a bunch of different chemicals organised into groups namely protein, carbohydrate and fat. No matter what the science, people are often emotional about food, projecting their perceived values onto it, as in when someone says "it was so bad, but it tastes so good!"

What makes food bad is when it's unbalanced, over processed and adulterated from its natural state. It's possible for a bad food to be better.

Think potatoes. One medium-sized baked potato has only about 100 calories, without any fat, cholesterol or sodium. If you eat them with their skins, potatoes are a good source of carbohydrate energy and fibre, plus a mass of beneficial vitamins and minerals; they are especially rich in potassium and vitamin C.

Baked sweet potatoes are also powerful sources of vitamin A and beta carotene. But the quickest way to ruin a potato is by scooping out the insides and mixing with gobs of saturated fat and cholesterol (butter and cream). You can prevent the damage and preserve the flavour by using a bit of semi-skimmed milk and low fat spread.

My favourite is to scrub the potato, bake until just done; split and brush with olive oil and bake or grill ‘til toasty, and serve with salsa. Yum! That’s called prevention with a capital “P” because you eliminate the heart-rending added fats and add antioxidants and fibre, not to mention flavour and sensory satisfaction.

Here are some other ways to ruin components of a good meal, and ways to repair them:

1. Salads: Most popular restaurants offer wonderful main course-sized salads, featuring grilled chicken or fish. Sounds healthy, right? Not so fast, because they can ruin a “healthy salad” by overloading with fat and calories. Lose the added cheese and croutons, and save yourself a couple of hundred calories. Add lean, grilled meat or fish, and if you like poultry. Be sure it’s skinless because the skin is where the saturated fat lives.

Keep the dressing on the side, maybe use just a forkful, but add balsamic vinegar for flavour. I like to sprinkle some good olive oil, squeeze some lemon and grind some pepper for the best tasting salad imaginable.

2. Soups: Starting a meal with soup is a smart strategy for maintaining a healthy weight because, with the right soup, you’re going to be satisfied with a smaller main course. A bowl of soup before dinner helps control your appetite, but the type of soup, and the portion size counts. The quickest way to ruin a good soup is to load it up with cream and cheese.

Cream-based soups have more calories and fat than clear soups. Add a couple of hundred calories to soups topped with cheese such as French onion soup. A thick bean or lentil soup or chicken or vegetable soups are good choices.

3. Main courses: Chicken and fish definitely belong on the menu when you’re trying to lose weight or just trying to stay healthy. But topped with heavy sauce, or slathered with butter, or deep fried…now you’ve ruined a healthy meat. Baked, grilled, poached (as in salmon!) or even stir-fried means cooked with a minimum or no added fat, and you can actually taste the food, rather than the sauce.

Steak can be on the menu too, even if you’re on a weight-loss plan, just grill or bake, and eat approximately a palm-sized portion (about 100 grams).

4. Bread: I love bread. But not all bread is created equal. If I’m served white bread, the choice is easy, I skip it. If it’s wholegrain, then I’ll indulge, but I won’t ruin a good piece of bread by making it a vehicle for fat.

I’ll usually ask the waiter to take away the butter, and don’t be fooled by the “olive oil dipping sauce.” Each dip adds about 50 calories, so by the time you’ve dipped enough, you may eat as many extra calories as are in your entire meal. Remember, the quickest way to ruin a good meal or recipe is to add unnecessary ingredients in large amounts.

5. Drinks: Over the August bank holiday we went out to our local pub and sat outside in the early evening enjoying a glass of wine before dinner. I noticed quite a few people drinking huge colourful drinks. Turns out, the potion was a mixture of juices and rum and vodka…pretty potent and about 350 calories per drink…it had 2 measures of spirits (about 200 calories) plus another 200 ml of juice and a splash of sugary pop. Added mixers can ruin a nice cocktail and they could have enjoyed a nice light Pino Grigio or vodka and soda with lime for about 100 calories.

If you’re trying to lose weight, stick with soda water with a fresh wedge of lemon or lime, because alcohol may interfere with weight loss - your body will burn alcohol before it burns fat.

6. Desserts: Dessert is a celebration and by all means, you shouldn’t feel you need to deprive yourself all the time. And “in moderation” doesn’t mean daily, it means a moderate amount for a special occasion. Don’t undo your diet by overindulging in the fattiest, gooiest concoction you can find. After all, it’s just sugar and fat in a dish.

A good choice is fruit sorbet, a lower-fat and calories alternative to full-fat ice cream. Don’t forget extra forks and spoons so you can share the treat.

Start a diet plan at tescodiets.com

Thanks to tescodiets.com who have provided this article.