26 Easy Get-Slim Food Commandments
By Celeste Perron; photograph by Stephen Lee
Follow these easy food commandments and you’ll not only slim down fast, you’ll also never go hungry again! Read on for your win-win recipe…
While dietary guidelines and food pyramids are important to remember, eating well is like assembling your own TV cabinet: the less complicated the instructions, the easier they are to follow. So to simplify the dining rules for you, we asked dieticians, food gurus and international authors to share their personal commandments for eating healthily, cutting kilojoules, cooking well and savouring every bite.
1. Pucker up
“Lemon is my secret weapon,” says Katie Lee, author of The Comfort Table. “Squeeze the juice or sprinkle zest over vegetables instead of using extra oil, butter or salt. You can sauté spinach with a teaspoon of oil, then add a little lemon juice for a lot of flavour without a lot of kilojoules.”
2. Taste the rainbow
“I always ask, ‘Where are the colours?’ when I look at a plate,” says dietician Ellie Krieger, author of So Easy. “Ideally, there should be a full spectrum, since differently coloured produce offers different antioxidants.”
3. Embrace your inner carnivore…
“Chicken can contain as much unhealthy saturated fat as lean cuts of beef or pork. While both red meat and chicken provide good quality protein, red meat provides more iron, vitamin B12 and zinc,” says dietician Celeste Naudé. The best way to reduce your fat intake is to eat leaner cuts. Or opt for ostrich; it’s lower in fat and, once braised, makes a delicious steak, says Luke Dale-Roberts, chef and owner of at Cape Town’s Old Biscuit Mill.
4. … And your hidden vegetarian
“Vegetarianism is the new vogue,” says Jodi-Ann Pearton, four-time chef of the Year and owner of Joburg-based . Veggies are packed full of vitamins, minerals and fibre – the essential building blocks of the body. “Be kind to your waistline by making a move to eat less animal protein,” says Pearton. “Try substituting meat with veggie stacks or stuffed Mediterranean vegetables. My favourite is risotto-style barley with roasted butternut and spinach,” she says. And if you need more reason to chow on veg: “Meat is resource-intensive and takes a big toll on the planet,” adds Pearton.
5. Sharpen your knives
A dull knife can lead to even duller food. “This is one of my most important rules,” says Cat Cora, author of Cat Cora’s Classics With a Twist. “Cutting with sharp knives makes cooking more of a pleasure, and you’ll be more likely to chop up lots of healthy veggies if it’s easier.” Invest in a knife sharpener and make sure you use it.
6. Turn off the stove
That’s right – shut down the heat a full three minutes before you think you should. “Overcooking removes flavour and nutrients,” says food writer Merrill Stubbs. “Internal heat keeps food cooking after you remove it from the stove or oven, so let it rest for a few minutes before serving.”
7. Think before you drink
“Sweetened beverages like fizzy drinks, fruit juice, juice-milk blends and milky coffee drinks may quench your thirst, but they can add loads of unwanted kilojoules and sugar to your daily intake,” says Naudé. She adds that people generally don’t eat less when they drink their kilojoules, because in most cases drinking liquid kilojoules doesn’t make you feel full. “Drink water first and swap sweetened drinks for low- or no-kilojoule options like unsweetened tea.”
8. Make Mother Nature your top chef
“That means using organic sugar instead of sugar substitutes, and fresh fruit and veg instead of processed food,” says Maria Rodale, author of Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed The World And Keep Us Safe. “If nature made it, it has to be better for you.”
9. Stick to home made
Besides being more cost-effective, cooking at home rather than getting takeaways or eating at a restaurant means you know exactly what you’re eating – no hidden fats, flavourants or additives, says foodie Nikki Werner. “Plan your meals for the week. Often it unravels when we’re too exhausted to come up with supper ideas after a long day at the office,” she says. “Shop beforehand where possible so once you’re at home there’s no thinking required, just cooking.”
10. Have a change of seeds
Try pumpkin or sunflower seeds – two more great sources of healthy fats and some fibre, says dietician Keri Glassman, author of The O2 Diet.
11. Go nuts
If you’re not eating your nuts, get cracking. “Nuts are one of the best sources of plant-based protein and are loaded with dietary fibre, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, like vitamin E and selenium,” says Naudé. Researchers tell us that people who eat nuts regularly have a lower risk of heart attacks and developing heart disease. Nuts are also high in fat and kilojoules, so it’s recommended to only have up to 40g per day. Unsalted, unflavoured and dry-roasted are the best, she says.
12. Toss the shop-bought dressing
Really, it’s easier than getting the protective seal off a store-bought bottle. “Shop-bought dressings can be high in sugar and contain thickening agents and other undesirables, so I like to keep it pure and make my own as and when I need it,” says Werner. It’s simple: all you need to remember is one part vinegar to three parts oil. “I often dress a variety of different leaves with my favourite Alice Waters dressing: crush one garlic clove with some sea salt flakes and whisk in one tablespoon of red wine vinegar. Then whisk in three tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. If there’s any left over, store it in a small jar in the fridge.”
13. Order the weirdest thing on the menu
“Unusual food tends to be healthier because it’s raised or grown in nature or in small operations, not giant concentrated feedlots or massive, pesticide-heavy farms,” says Stephen Perrine, author of The New American Diet. Think venison instead of beef or pork, and duck and ostrich instead of chicken or turkey.
14. Raid your spice rack
“Cinnamon may help regulate blood sugar, turmeric may help prevent Alzheimer’s and origanum may possess cancer-preventive properties,” says Glassman. So sprinkle cinnamon on your latte, curry powder on your sautéed veggies and big handfuls of herbs on salads and in pasta sauces.
Read More: 3 DIY Spices That’ll Boost Your Body
15. Turn the box around
The front of any food product is where marketers stick claims like “natural”, “low-fat” and “no added sugar” – all of which can mean squat. “The most fail-safe way of knowing the quality of the food is to look at the ingredients list,” says Dale-Roberts. “If you’re on a diet or have allergies, get a book on nutritional values. Learn how to read ingredient lists and you’ll have no problem opting for the healthier alternative in the shop,” he continues.
16. Go with the grains
“When making oats for breakfast on a Monday morning, I’ll often cook extra so I’ve got breakfast ready to go for the week – especially if it’s a busy one,” says Werner. “And on a Sunday night I’ll cook grains like brown Basmati rice to have on hand for post-gym stir-fries and work-day salads.” You could do the same with other grains like quinoa and barley.
17. Get on track
You don’t need to start your healthy eating habits or training routine on the first of the month or a Monday, says lifestyle and wellness expert Lisa Raleigh (you’ll know her from SA’s The Biggest Loser). Start on a Sunday if the time is right. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. If you do something wrong, just make it right for the rest of the day or week. Try to keep a balance – when things don’t seem to be going well, just shake it off and carry on,” says Raleigh. “You’ll become your own worst enemy if you’re constantly stressing and being hard on yourself.”
18. Balance your meals, balance your body
In order for the body to function at its optimum it requires a perfect mix of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, says Pearton. By cutting out an entire food group, the body can’t absorb certain key elements or function normally. “By consuming many small meals throughout the course of the day, your metabolism is enhanced,” she says. “And snack on a handful of toasted nuts and seeds rather than a packet of chips.”
19. Opt for just one course – and not dessert
“If I treat myself by going to a restaurant, I usually only order the main, ensure there’s a salad on the table and only eat half the meal. I take the rest home as a takeaway,” says dietician Charlene Giovanelli-Nicolson.
20. Watch the clock
Dedicate at least 20 minutes to finishing your meal, suggests Raleigh. “Keep a clock in plain view to adjust your eating speed, and eat your last portion really slowly. If you’re still hungry after 20 minutes, it means you’re eating too fast,” she says. This is because there is a sensor in your brain that needs about 20 minutes to activate, as digestive and hormonal processes need to take place before your brain realises that you’re no longer hungry. “If you still feel peckish, drink some water and wait five minutes – you’ll feel full by then,” says Raleigh.
21. Relax, then eat
“The whole world is not going to end if you take a break to eat,” says Cora. It’s better for your health, both physiological and psychological. “Have a glass of wine and savour whoever you’re with.” (Alone? Savour the silence.)
22. Shake up the salt
“I mostly cook with coarse salt. It enhances the flavours of your dish and you tend to use less, thereby reducing sodium intake,” says Giovanelli-Nicolson.
23. Be an egghead
“Eggs are rich in folate, vitamin B12, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and contain only 300kJ. Be creative with eggs – they’re fabulous poached and served with a fresh vegetable salsa and whole-grain toast for a breakfast that is sure to keep you full for longer, says Pearton. “Or try boiling eggs and keeping them refrigerated as an excellent and quick snack, simply sprinkled with a little salt and pepper,” she adds.
Read More: How To Perfectly Poach An Egg Every Time
24. Eat whole foods
“Whole foods are minimally processed, meaning they usually contain less salt, additives, preservatives, unhealthy fats and added sugar,” says Naudé. Think foods eaten as they are when they are grown or produced, so they’re as close to their natural state as possible, like a fresh orange versus orange juice. Or try foods that don’t need a lot of fancy packaging and marketing, like a fresh mealie on the cob versus a maize-based snack. “Focusing on whole foods is a simple way to eat healthily,” she says.
25. Accept the whole food pyramid
“Don’t only eat one food group,” says Giovanelli-Nicolson. “Diets that recommend only eating protein, for instance, or only eating raw vegetables, are only gimmicks to sell a book or a diet pill. They’re scams,” she adds.
26. Rise and dine
“Eat a breakfast that contains fibre with protein and a little fat because it kick-starts your metabolism and fills you up until lunch,” says Glassman. “My go-to meals: a slice of wholewheat toast with natural peanut butter, or a scrambled egg with some berries.” Bonus: research shows that eating breakfast may help you lose weight and keep it off.
Read More: Are You Making This Breakfast Mistake?