Everyone has their own opinion on what does healthy eating means. For some healthy eating means eating organic. For others, healthy eating means eating without fat. Then for some, it’s eating without sugar, for the other it’s gluten-free and for me it’s exclusively vegan. For my husband it’s banning industrial products and making everything homemade, for the woman next door it’s eating everything and variety. I’m sure you have lots of examples and opinions on how to eat healthily.
We’ve recently been trying to eat more healthily. Our aim was to have a more balanced diet, get fit and keep active, and lose a little weight at the same time. Nothing drastic, just to feel more comfortable in our clothes and to feel better in ourselves.
I’ve also been testing Panasonic NN-SN686S combi steam microwave as a Panasonic ambassador, and as part of their experience fresh campaign. What better time to try an easy way to steam all my lovely fresh vegetables.
The aim was to create a healthier lifestyle that we would find easy to stick to, and to feel better in the process. We don’t follow any set diets or fads, it’s more about balance. My work schedule means my diet is usually similar to that recommended by the 5:2 diet, because some days in work I just don’t get much chance to eat properly, but the rest of the week I would eat normally.
We have paid more attention to our macros – as in macro-nutrients, the big food categories that make up the bulk of our diet. Such as carbohydrates, proteins, fats.
Carbohydrates in our foods are usually split into three types; starch, sugar and fibre.
Our diet was naturally way too high in carbohydrates. We also tended to lean towards the higher starch and sugar carbohydrates like potatoes, white rice and white pasta.
I would never cut these out of my diet completely, but I wanted to reduce my carbohydrate intake and eat a more varied diet at the same time. Although we were aiming to reduce our carbohydrate intake to the recommended daily allowance based on our macro calculations, we were not following a low carbohydrate diet like Atkins.
Why Swap Carbs?
We’ve been trying alternatives to potatoes, white rice and white pasta which used to feature a lot in our weekly diet. But why?
In general starchy carbs are recommended as part of a healthy diet, as they keep you full and provide you with energy. The recommended daily intake is around a third of your total intake. But when you actually look at what you have in a typical day it is SO easy to go over this. For example, a typical day could be:
Breakfast = A bowl of cereal (mainly carbs and some dairy, fat)
Lunch = A sandwich and a packet of crisps (mainly bread and potatoes, fat)
Dinner = Spaghetti bolognaise (mainly pasta – carbs, with some protein and fats)
If you think about what proportion of each meal is carbohydrate, it could easily be half of each meal, so by the end of the day you’ve eaten around 50% carbs – or at least that was the case for us.
We wanted to swap from the more processed sugary carbs to alternatives, which are more fibrous and help us to reduce our overall carbohydrate intake for a more balanced diet. The most important thing is to reduce fast sugars, especially fructose, which is bad for your health. Fructose is present in large quantities in fruit juices, syrups and in white sugar, sucrose, which, in simple terms, is a molecule of glucose linked to a molecule of fructose.
Carbs, Proteins and Fats – What’s the Difference?
Proteins and carbohydrates yield around the same amount of energy, but they’re good for us in different ways.
We need carbohydrates because they also contain fibre, which is good for our digestive system, they’re also processed or metabolised differently. Focusing on fibre-rich sources such as wholemeal products, fruit and vegetables rather than refined and processed carbohydrates such as white bread would be sufficient to stay fit and healthy.
Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and if we have an excess it is stored as glycogen, as a long term energy store (ie our fat). It is our main source of energy for even simple tasks like breathing and just staying alive.
It enters our cells with the help of insulin, and different carbohydrates give varied responses in our insulin production.
So foods that are a starchy, high fibre carbohydrate like vegetables, beans and lentils will release sugar (or glucose) into our blood stream at a slower rate than carbohydrates that are sugary like chocolate.
Whole grain carbohydrates also release sugar at a slower rate than the refined white versions, like white pasta, bread and rice, which is why we have been trying to reduce our intake of these refined carbohydrates. We’ve also tried to reduce our intake of peeled potatoes, as there are plenty of alternatives that are more nutritious.
Proteins are broken down into amino acids in the body, and into ketones (you may have heard about ketone diets – similar to low carb or Atkins diets).
These ketones can be used to synthesise glucose too, so you can still get energy from proteins. This tends to happen when there is a lack of carbohydrate, so the proteins are used to synthesise the glucose we need to provide our bodies with energy. For this reason proteins can also be associated with the use of insulin and sugars in our blood stream.
Fats are essential in our diets as our body uses them to help absorb vitamins. They also help promote healthy processes in our body like our tears.
There are lots of different types of fat, which I won’t go into in this post. But it is worth noting that each gram of fat yields just over twice the energy as carbohydrates and proteins, and like with the other macros, an excess will lead to fat storage (unused glucose being converted to glycogen and stored in the body).
When we refer to energy yield, that is essentially calories. So very simply put the more calories, the more energy is produced, and excess is stored as fat. But as you see from the information above, there are lots of different ways we can get energy from our food, so variety and balance is key.
So no fad diets or drastic changes here, just a switch from processed, higher sugar starchy carbs, to more balanced fibrous carbs and a better balance of our proteins and fats too. All while trying to stay within our recommended calorie allowance.
6 Carb Variations We Love
We’ve been trying various alternatives to the refined white bread, pasta, rice and potatoes and here are our favourites:
1. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are so versatile, we eat them mashed, baked and diced in sauces.
They make a great substitute to potatoes, although be careful as they’re a lot more soft so are a little less forgiving for making things like wedges or chips.
My favourite way to eat them is mashed and they are brilliant as a mashed potato substitute. They’re awesome in things like shepherds pie too.
Higher in fibre and vitamins than potatoes, but not necessarily all nutrients as there are some that potatoes score better for. However, they are included as one of your five a day whereas potatoes aren’t.
Cauliflower has become massively popular recently. When blitzed in a food processor it makes a perfect rice or cous cous substitute. I also love it diced and roasted in salads to help keep me fuller for longer.
Broccoli in everything. Period. So as opposed to a substitute I try to sneak it into most of my recipes to fill it out a little and make it feel more substantial. For example, I often reduce the amount of pasta or rice and top it up with broccoli florets instead.
4. Butternut Squash
I usually use this as a meat substitute. Although it obviously isn’t a protein, so no good if you need to up your protein intake. It’s also great diced in stews or roasted as a potato substitute.
5. Courgette or Zuchini
Have you seen the spiraliser craze? Well courgette is it’s biggest star, and I must admit it’s really good! It’s a great pasta substitute. Even if you don’t have a spiraliser I often cube a courgette and halve the amount of pasta, and top up with the courgette instead as a half way balance.
This isn’t anything to do with wheat! In fact, it’s a seed! It’s really nutritious, low carb and tastes surprisingly like a chunky cous cous, so great as a substitute. It’s also lovely in salads to beef them up too.
These are my top 6 ingredients to help us eat a more balanced diet at the moment. Nothing ground breaking, but reliable which I think is sometimes more important.
Steam Cooking with Panasonic Combi Steam Microwave
My favourite way to cook all of the above is to gently steam them. I love steaming my food as there are some considerable advantages over boiling it.
- It’s quicker – Steam is the gas that’s released from boiling water, so it’s hotter and naturally it cooks the food faster, which is always a bonus.
- It’s easier – no draining needed, once it’s cooked just remove from the container and you’re done.
- It retains more nutrients – unlike boiling the nutrients tend to be retained in the food rather than leaching out into the water.
I have LOVED using my trial of the Panasonic Combi Microwave for this.
Not only is it a microwave, and grill, but it also has a steam function too.
What’s better is that you can have a combination of cooking modes in action at the same time, so the possibilities are endless.
I received it at a great time for our healthy eating kick as it helped me make fresh, steamed meals much more easily.