WHAT counts as a ‘healthy’ when it comes to food can be really confusing.
We’re told avocados are good for us, but also chock-full of fat, and nuts are a super healthy snack – as long as you don’t eat the whole packet.
There’s so much advice to wade through, and then once you do decide on an ingredient, it’s hard to know what a portion size should actually look like.
Suzie Sawyer, clinical nutritionist from the science backed multivitamin range Alive! (www.feelaliveuk.com), gets it.
She says: “When it comes to portion sizesmany people are unaware of what’s right or wrong.”
“They’ll ask: ‘How much should I put on my plate and how much energy (also known as calories) will that deliver?’
“There’s no doubt that some Brits just eat too much.”
Suzie says “many people avoid certain foods because they think they’re ‘bad’ even though they’re actually healthy”.
Here, we give a breakdown of foods that are staple items in most kitchens, and how they could be adding to your waistline:
Most read in Diet & Fitness
Per 100g: 200kcal
Per large avocado (around 160g): 320kcal
Either you’re told avocados are super healthy and should be part of your diet, or that they’re high in fat and should be avoided.
Well, both statements aren’t wrong. Avocados are high in calories per gram, since they are rich in fats, but they provide lots of health benefits.
Suzie says: “These guys get really bad press and are often avoided because people think they are too high in fat and calories.
“However, they are so rich in nutrients that they should be included in diets.
“For example, if you’re struggling with skin issues, avocados are rich in vitamin E, needed for healthy skin.
“Plus, they’re rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and help reduce blood pressure.
“You don’t need a whole one – just have half, which provides 160 calories and 14 grams of fat.
“We need fat, particularly to absorb our fat-soluble nutrients, [especially] vitamin D.”
Per 100g (cheddar): 420kcal
Per 30g serving: 125kcal
A 30g serving of cheddar cheese is a block the size of a matchbox, providing 125 calories.
But it’s so easy to grate loads more than that and pile it on top of your pasta.
Soon, you could be adding 400 calories or more to your dinner.
Suzie says cheese is a great source of protein, calcium and minerals, so there is no need to stop having it.
In fact, “More people would give up chocolate than cheese, so people may be happy to know it’s not all bad news on cheese.”
To save on some calories, buy a cheese that’s “lighter” (lower in fat) and less than 100 calories per 30g serving.
Suzie’s advice is to go for cheeses that still contain enough fat, but are naturally lower in calories.
“A 28g portion of goat’s cheese has around eight grams of fat which is about the same as low-fat cheddar cheese,” she says. But it’s around 80 calories.
“So, you can take your pick and eat in moderation.”
Per 100g: 100kcal
Per 15g serving: 15kcal
It’s unlikely you’ve ever measured out your ketchup.
But if you have it regularly – multiple times a week – it’s something that could be adding hundreds of unnecessary calories.
Suzie says: “For those that shake the sauce liberally, they’re also having 3.5g of sugar per serving.
“And this can really add up over the week.
“This is where unwanted sugars can creep into diets relatively unnoticed.
“The recommended portion size is 15 grams, which is no more than about one tablespoon.”
If it’s too hard for you to pull back on the red sauce, try the reduced salt and sweet versions.
“They are often sweetened with natural stevia, so there’s still some sweetness but a lot less salt too,” says Suzie.
The switch could save you five calories per serving, or 35 calories per 100g.
Buying the zero added salt and sugar versions cuts calories by more than two-thirds per serving.
Per 100g: 360 – 400kcal
Per 30-40g serving: 115 – 160kcal
Depending on your favorite breakfast cereal, the calories, sugar and fat can reach astonishing levels.
Even the “healthy” looking ones can contain 250 calories in a 50g portion (filling about half the size of an average bowl).
You don’t need to throw out the cereal in your cupboard. It’s simply about being aware of a sensible portion size.
Suzie says: “Most nutrition labeling on cereals uses a portion size of 30g, which is certainly not a huge bowlful.
“Some people will be eating double this at every breakfast.
“A typical popular chocolate-based cereal could contain as much as 7.5g of sugar and 23g of carbs in one 30g bowl.
“It’s worth measuring it out just to see what it looks like and then try to stick to that portion size.”
Per 100g: 700kcal
Per 25g serving: 175kcal
Brazil nuts, among many other nuts, are moreish. Sadly, they are considerably high in calories.
Snacking mindlessly on nuts could see you eat up to a third of your daily calorie allowance, or the same amount as your dinner.
But there’s no doubt that nuts are “super healthy”, says Suzie.
“Just two Brazil nuts provide all the selenium, a key mineral for the immune system, we need in one day.
“However, if you eat six of them, you’ll be having 186 calories and 19 grams of fat!
“Whilst it’s certainly good fats, if you’re watching overall calorie intake, you also just need to be aware of the portion size.”
Per 100g: 415kcal
Per 15g serving: 62kcal
Health gurus love chia seeds and throw them into smoothies, onto salads and into cereal bars.
Suzie says: “Chia seeds are a great example of a super-healthy food, rich in the essential omega-3 fats, but will also add to the calorie load if you’re not careful.
“One tablespoon is 70 calories, so it’s not difficult to add another 200 calories to your smoothie.
“It’s always best to measure them out first.”
Caesar salad dressing
Per 100ml: 470kcal
Per 15ml (tablespoon): 70kcal
“When we hear and see the word ‘salad’ we automatically think it’s healthy,” says Suzie.
“However, as tasty as it may be, turning your salad into a ‘caesar’ variety is burdening you with unnecessary calories.
“Two tablespoons of dressing will add around 163 calories to your salad and 17g of fat (although some are healthy monounsaturated ones).”
Salads can be pretty boring without a dressing of some kind though.
Suzie says: “Think about the amount you’re putting on those leaves or go easy on the dressing for a while and use balsamic glaze and lemon juice instead.”
Per 100g (uncooked): 350kcal
Per 60g (uncooked)/195g (cooked) serving: 210-270kcal
Be honest – when’s the last time you actually weighed out a serving size of basmati rice?
Going by eye most often leads to a huge plate full, amounting to 100-200g, which is high in calories with less nutritional benefit than brown rice.
Katherine Kelly, a Registered Nutritionist at Doctify and Founder of Renua Nutrition, says: “Rice is a food that can be great for our gut health but not so good for our blood sugars.
“White rice has a very high glycemic load meaning it can spike your blood sugar levels quite rapidly.”
A spike in blood sugar levels is quite often followed by a drop just as drastic, which causes feelings of low energy.
Katherine suggests alternating with brown rice, which isn’t much lower in calories but at least has a higher fiber content (1.6g per serving compared to 0.7g).
“This means it doesn’t have the same impact on your blood sugars,” she explains.
“Fiber also feeds the good microbes in our gut, and we know that a more diverse gut microbiome is associated with better immune function and mental health.”
She adds: “If eating white rice, a good tip is to have a smaller portion and combine it with a healthy source of protein.”
Per 100ml: 830kcal
Per 15ml (tablespoon): 125kcal
Olive oil undoubtedly has its benefits, as dietitian at The Gut Clinic, Josie Porterdots out.
“Extra virgin olive oil packs an antioxidant punch. These compounds can improve inflammation, reduce disease and be protective of the heart.
“Extra virgin olive oil contains fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin E and K, which have multiple roles in the body from blood clotting to bone health.”
But, Josie adds: “It is an oil which means it’s a source of fat. Fats are higher in calories than other nutrients such as carbohydrates and protein.
“We definitely need fats in our diet, but we can get a lot of the fats we need from food such as oily fish, cheese and nuts.
“Keep the added fats such as extra virgin olive oil to a more moderate amount to prevent over consuming calories.”
So watch how much olive oil you use when cooking or adding to a salad.
Per 100g of almond butter: 580 to 650kcal
Per 15/20g serving (about a tablespoon): 80 to 130kcal
Spread on toast, added to smoothies or used to top your morning oats, nut butters are versatile and are packed with nutrients.
Simone Fabyhas Doctify-reviewed Registered Nutritional Therapist, says: “They are very appealing to vegans as a dairy butter alternative, they help you feel full and satiated.
“But should be spread sparingly due to their calorie content.
“Read labels to avoid the ones with added sugar.”
Per 100g of 20%: 275kcal
Per 100g of 5%: 170kcal
Minced beef is a weeknight dinner staple in most households.
The type you pick up in a packet from the supermarket could drastically change how many calories you’re consuming though, without compromising taste.
“Fat content is often in the area of 20 per cent, so opt for leaner versions with less than five per cent fat to reduce calorie intake while benefiting from the whole range of nutrients,” says Simone.
This includes protein, vitamin B12, zinc, iron and selenium.
Per 100g: 335kcal
Per 30g serving: 100kcal
Dried fruit may appear to be a healthy snack.
“Often part of healthy breakfast cereals such as muesli or a healthy snack option, it is a good source of fiber and antioxidants,” says Simone.
“But when fruits are dried, their sugar concentration and therefore calories increase and can be two to three times higher than their fresh counterparts.”
For example, a serving (30g) of mixed raisins and sultanas contains almost 20g of sugar.
A serving of grapes more than double the size (80g) contains half the sugar – 11.6g.
Apple rings contain almost 17g of sugar per serving size – around half an adult’s daily allowance.
This would rapidly rack up if you mindlessly snack through a large bag without accounting for serving sizes.