Weight Loss

How to make those health resolutions stick

Is 2016 the year you’ve vowed finally to give up smoking or cut down on sugar? Whatever your health goal, our experts show you how to achieve it…


After an indulgent December full of nights out, tins of sweets and creamy puddings, January seems like the perfect time to throw away the cigarettes, cut down on sugar and look after our hearts. But, according to research, the average British woman gives up on her diet just six days into January (men tend to last eight days longer), and a study by Nicorette found just over 50% of smokers who give up on New Year’s Eve start smoking again within 10 days.

‘Many of us vow to quit unhealthy habits at the start of January,’ says nutritionist and HFG expert Amanda Ursell. ‘But by February, boredom can set in, willpower declines and withdrawal symptoms start to increase.’ So are you doomed to fail? Not if you approach your health resolutions in the right way. If you’d like to make this the year you stay on track, our experts are here to help.


I want to improve my heart health 

‘Women often forget to think about their own heart health, but heart disease kills more women in the UK than breast cancer,’ says HFG expert Dr Dawn Harper. ‘Most women in my surgery enquire only about their husband’s heart health and associate heart disease with overweight, 50-plus men.’ Dawn says that every woman over 40 should know what their cholesterol level is, as too much cholesterol in your blood is one of the biggest causes of heart disease. ‘Ask your GP for a simple blood test,’ she says.

Whether you have high cholesterol or not, you should follow steps to keep it in the healthy range for the sake of your heart. ‘Maintaining a healthy weight can also help protect you against heart disease,’ says Maureen Talbot, a senior cardiac nurse from the British Heart Foundation. ‘Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, starchy foods like wholegrain bread and rice, some low-fat milk and dairy and lean meat and oil-rich fish. Limit saturated fats, as these are the main culprits for raised cholesterol, as well as sugar and salt. Your heart is a muscle and needs a regular workout to keep it in shape, so you should aim for 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five days a week.’

‘Make it an exercise you enjoy, though,’ advises Dawn. ‘Whether it’s swimming or a dance class, this will also help lower stress levels, which will benefit your heart, too.’ Amanda Ursell adds that it’s important to cut down on alcohol and eat plenty of soluble fibre – the easiest way is a daily bowl of porridge. ‘Also try cholesterol-lowering foods such as Benecol and Flora Pro.activ drinks and spreads. They’re not a gimmick – they really work,’ she says.


I want to quit my sugar habit 

Sugar is fast becoming the salt of the nutrition world, with several studies pointing to its harmful effects and the fact that it’s hidden in a lot of our food. ‘Sugar is found in so many things, from cookies and cakes to diet drinks and cereal bars,’ says Amanda. ‘It’s very fattening – especially when combined with fat, as it is in cakes – and causes your blood sugar levels to rise and fall rapidly, which reduces energy levels. Studies show it also breaks down the collagen in your skin, which leads to premature wrinkling.

‘Cutting down can prove difficult because it tastes so good and increases levels of feel good serotonin in the brain, so it’s quite addictive. But if you eat protein with every meal (such as chicken, eggs or fish), this helps to curb sugar cravings. Get your sweet fix from fresh berries with yogurt (try Total 0% Greek Yoghurt, which contains less fat and more protein than most yogurts) and a little honey. Or try Truvia sweetener, launching in the UK this month, which is extracted from a plant and is completely natural.’

If you do want the real thing – in the form of a piece of chocolate, say – just don’t go overboard. ‘Always have it immediately after a meal, which will help combat blood sugar swings, eat it in moderation and savour it slowly,’ advises Amanda.

Nutritionist Amanda Ursell talks us through the risk factors involved with type 2 diabetes and how one can cut down their risk of developing it with simple lifestyle changes…

Mediterranean olive oil and homegrown rapeseed are fighting for our attention on supermarket shelves – but is one better than the other?



The oil of choice in the Med is made from pressing whole olives from the native olive tree – different grades include blended, virgin and extra-virgin.

The nutritional lowdown

Olive oil contains more monounsaturated fat than any other oil – the type that helps to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol. That’s why it’s often touted as one of the healthiest oils. Extra-virgin olive oil contains polyphenols, too, which act as antioxidants in the body. Different oils are best suited to different uses. For example, extra-virgin is perfect for dressings but less ideal for cooking as it has a low smoke point (the temperature at which the oil starts to smoke and break down, losing its quality, flavour and health benefits).

Is 2016 the year you’ve vowed finally to give up smoking or cut down on sugar? Whatever your health goal, our experts show you how to achieve it…

After an indulgent December full of nights out, tins of sweets and creamy puddings, January seems like the perfect time to throw away the cigarettes, cut down on sugar and look after our hearts. But, according to research, the average British woman gives up on her diet just six days into January (men tend to last eight days longer), and a study by Nicorette found just over 50% of smokers who give up on New Year’s Eve start smoking again within 10 days.

Top weight-loss tips

Try our simple weight-loss strategies and tricks to stay on track


Avoid the distractions

Aim to eat at the table with the TV off several days a week. Studies have shown we tend to consume more when we’re distracted. ‘By eating mindfully – sitting down to meals, being aware of the appearance, smell, taste and texture of food, chewing slowly and putting down your cutlery between mouthfuls – you’re guaranteed to enjoy it more,’ says Bridget Benelam, Healthy Food Guide expert and senior nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation. Eating slowly allows time for your brain to send the satiety message to your stomach that you are full. The result? You’re less likely to overeat.

Rearrange your kitchen

Keep the foods you want to eat more of easily available – put a fruit bowl on the table, vegetable sticks in the fridge, and reduced-fat cheese and crispbreads to hand. If you must have calorific foods that will tempt you to snack, keep them up on a high shelf or at the back of a cupboard.

Rethink rewards

Write a list of the non-food-related luxuries you enjoy. They could include a long, lazy bath, reading a magazine from cover to cover or seeing a new film with friends. Whenever you’re tempted to reward yourself with food, give yourself one of the treats on your list instead.

Change the proportions on your plate

Bulk out your meals with low-calorie vegetables and wholegrains – you could save up to 400 calories just by taking out the higher-fat ingredients and replacing with some of these. Check out the Eatwell Plate for a simple guide to a well-proportioned meal.

Plan your meals and write a shopping list

Have a rule: if it’s not on the list, it doesn’t make it into the trolley – that way, you won’t be tempted by unhealthy BOGOF offers. Never shop when you’re really hungry.

Soup up your salad drawer

Soup is filling, low-fat and quick to make. Do a weekly salad drawer audit and chop up lingering carrots, celery, peppers, tomatoes and salad leaves. Cook with a little oil spray, then add chilli, garlic, a tin of tomatoes and reduced-salt vegetable stock and simmer until the veg are cooked. Whiz until smooth. It will keep in the fridge for a few days.

Fill up so you’ll eat less

Choose foods that are high in protein, such as fish, poultry, lean red meat and eggs, and fibre, such as wholegrain bread, pasta and brown rice, to feel fuller for longer. That way you’ll be less likely to succumb to a snack attack.

Ease off the booze

‘Alcoholic drinks contain more calories per gram than carbohydrate or protein, while offering little nutritional benefit. Overindulging can also lead to overeating – both at the same time, when your defences are down, or the next day, fuelled by a hangover,’ says Bridget. Stick within the Department of Health’s guidelines of a maximum of two to three units a day if you’re a woman, and three to four units daily for men – a small (125ml) glass of 12% ABV wine is 1.5 units – and aim for at least two alcohol-free days a week. On nights when you do drink, alternate alcoholic drinks with water.

Join an online club

If slimming groups aren’t your thing, join one online to keep track. MyFitnessPal (free from iTunes) has the world’s largest nutrition and calorie database.

Track your progress

If you’ve managed to become more active, try to achieve a bit more each time. Whether you use a pedometer to tot up the distance or a heart rate monitor, it’s very satisfying and motivating to see how you’re doing.

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How to fix your exercise mistakes

We help you correct the 10 most common causes of aches and strains


POORLY PERFORMED MOVES can result in aches, pains and strains. To get toned without feeling sore, check your technique and follow our simple exercise fixes.


Works The upper arms
The mistake Trying to lift too heavy a weight, which takes the focus from the biceps and on to the shoulders.
Get it right ‘For general strength training, pick a weight with which you feel comfortable performing 15–25 reps fully and slowly without losing control,’ says personal trainer Ruth Stone. ‘The last few reps should feel like real work, but shouldn’t be so tough that you compromise posture or technique. Make sure your back is stable and your shoulders are relaxed. Always confine the movement to the elbows and make sure you go from full extension to full flex every time. Also, avoid pushing your elbows in at the waist – this will transfer the weight from the arms to the torso.’



Works The biceps and all the major muscles of the upper back
The mistake Hunching your back forward while straining against too heavy a weight.
Get it right ‘Keeping the long line of the spine is imperative here, and engaging the stomach muscles, as you do for the plank, helps you do this,’ says Ruth. ‘The chest should be “open” throughout – visualise your shoulder blades as two pages of a book closing towards the spine to achieve what’s needed.’



Works Muscles through the body, especially abdominal and back muscles
The mistake Letting your body sag, which puts stress on the lower back.
Get it right ‘The body needs to be kept straight, with taught abdominal muscles and glutes,’ says Ruth. ‘If you can do this in front of a mirror, it helps. You want to avoid a banana-shape body – there should be a straight line running from your shoulders, through your hips, to the knees and on to the ankles. I always advise participants to visualise themselves in swimwear and someone taking a picture of them. Invariably, they engage their core and can achieve better posture and endurance as a result.’



Works Leg muscles, including, quadriceps (front of thighs), hamstrings (back of thighs) and glutes (buttocks)
The mistake Poor posture puts too much strain on the lower back and not enough emphasis on the legs.
Get it right ‘Ensure your heels remain rooted and your spine keeps its length,’ says Ruth. ‘The bend should come from the knees and there should be a natural flex of the hips to keep you balanced as you squat. If you’re new to squats, I’d advise keeping your legs wider apart to begin with, gradually working towards hip distance between the feet as your technique improves.’



Works The muscles in your back and upper arms
The mistake Pulling the bar behind the neck, which puts a heavy load on your spine instead of working your muscles.
Get it right ‘The bar should be pulled to the front of the body and level with the chin,’ says Ruth. ‘And try to keep your head up. Be careful with your weight selection and ensure you have as much control on the way up as you do on the way down. Aim for slow, continuous movement to initiate greater control and better results.’

Take your time. Learning correct techniques will help you get results faster



Works Pectoral chest muscles
The mistake Failing to keep the shoulders back, and squeezing the chest muscles together when bringing the weights in.
Get it right ‘Imagine your shoulder blades are the hinge and your arms the doors. So the hinges stay still in space while the door moves. If you squeeze the shoulders you’re narrowing the door frame, which is what you want to avoid,’ says Ruth. ‘Concentrate on keeping your shoulders back, while resisting the temptation to punch out with your arms – ensure you really push from your pecs. Also, keep your elbow joints soft when the arms are long because if you lock them, the load will leave the muscle and go to the joint.’



Works All the major muscles in your lower body, including the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes
The mistake Putting your knee over your toe, with the pressure on the ball of your foot, which will make you unbalanced and prone to injury.
Get it right ‘As with the plank, a mirror is sanity, not vanity,’ says Ruth. ‘It’s best to start in the low position to get your footing right: both knees should be at a 90° angle, with the front one positioned over the heel and the back one under the hip. As you advance the exercise, you can work smarter by peeling the toes of the front foot off the floor.’



Works The abs
The mistake Straining with your neck as you curl up.
Get it right ‘Speed is more important than range here, so keep it slow and low to avoid putting strain on your neck,’ says Ruth. ‘Watch out for rounding the shoulders and keep your elbows level with your ears (don’t bring them forward). Try to exhale through the mouth as you lift and inhale through the nose as you lower. Also, be wary of any lightness or lifting in the legs – this is an indication your hips are assisting.’



Works Leg muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes)
The mistake Setting the seat in the wrong position, so you go ‘too deep’, with the danger of putting too much stress on the lower back and locking your legs as you come back up.
Get it right ‘Bending to a 90° angle at the knee is adequate here – you should keep the knees aligned with the heels,’ says Ruth. ‘If you’re guilty of locking your knees when your legs are extended, try slowing the movement down and stopping with the legs just shy of full extension.’



Works Muscles in the hips
The mistake Thinking you’re working your abs when you’re meant to be working your hip flexors.
Get it right ‘This one is not so much about technique as muscle focus,’ says Ruth. ‘If you want to strengthen the hips, stick with it, but if you’re looking to work out your core (abdominal area), try leg extensions instead. Lie on the floor with your feet up and knees bent at 90°, then progress to extending your legs away from you and bringing them back to the start position.’

How the Portfolio Diet can help lower cholesterol

The Portfolio Diet is an eating plan that has been proved to lower cholesterol. We explain how to follow it

MEDICATION MIGHT SEEM like the only solution if you have high cholesterol. But following an eating plan known as the Portfolio Diet has been clinically proved to give similar results to statins.

The portfolio approach

This eating plan involves a portfolio, or group, of foods, each of which has a proven ability to help lower blood cholesterol. When eaten together, they’ve been shown to have an even more profound effect. For many people with raised cholesterol and no complications, it can be a useful starting point for helping lower cholesterol. If you are taking medication for high cholesterol, you should continue. But the diet can work alongside statins – talk to you GP if you’re thinking of trying it. The diet can be quite hard to stick to at first. But it’s an incredibly healthy way of eating and you may find you lose some weight, too.

So what can I eat?

These are the foods you need to include daily:


Rich in vitamin E, these also seem to reduce certain proteins involved in making LDL cholesterol. They also provide fibre and are low in saturated fat.
TRY a handful (about 30g) as a snack, or add to cereal, salads or stir-fries.


Think soya milk, soya yogurt and tofu. Aim for 50g but that’s a lot, so start with 25g daily and work up.
TRY soya milk in porridge and use to make a latte or cappuccino and you’ll get 17g soya protein (a 300ml serving of soya milk can contain up to 8g protein). Add 200g tofu to a stir-fry or smoothie for another 17g soya protein.

Soluble fibre

Foods such as oats, barley, lentils, peas, kidney beans, chickpeas and fruit (particularly pears and oranges) are rich in soluble fibre. This mixes with liquid in our stomachs and forms a gel, trapping some cholesterol in our digestive systems, then excreting it – lowering the level of cholesterol absorbed into the blood. Best results are seen when eating 20g soluble fibre each day.
TRY porridge or an oat-based breakfast cereal, plus soups, casseroles and salads that include beans, chickpeas, lentils or barley. You could also replace some of the flour in baking for oats or swap bread for oatcakes. Eating at least five portions of fruit and veg each day will also increase your levels of soluble fibre.

Plant stannous and sterols

These are naturally occurring substances found in foods such as nuts and seeds, fruit and vegetables, olive oil, chickpeas, soya and other beans, and cereals. Research suggests they help lower cholesterol in a similar way to soluble fibre. Products such as Benecol and Flora Pro-activ spreads include these.
TRY two servings of Benecol or Flora Pro-activ (around 2g in total a day). Check the labels for the content of plant stanols and/or sterols per serving. Have yogurts, yogurt-style drinks and cream cheeses, which also have these plant extract.

General tips

In addition to eating the foods shown above…
MAKE SURE your diet is low in saturated fat and salt and high in fibre, fruit and vegetables. Include oil-rich fish (such as salmon and sardines) once a week. Other foods to fill up on include wholegrains, such as wholemeal breads, pittas and tortilla wraps, brown rice, pasta and wholegrain cereals.
CUT BACK ON saturated fat by saying no to fatty cuts of meat, pies, pastries and full-fat dairy food. Reducing the amount of red meat is also advised… Stick to two portions of lean steak and pork weekly.

As for liquid, take in plenty…
TRY smoothies, lattes, cappuccinos and milky coffee made with unsweetened soya milk. Also a non-dairy oat drink, such as Oatly Oat Drink, may help lower cholesterol.
AVOID sugar in hot drinks and don’t have sugary and fizzy drinks. Limit your intake of alcohol to the odd glass of red wine and half a lager at the weekend.



Porridge made with unsweetened soya milk, plus an orange. Or sugar-free muesli made with oats, prunes and unsweetened soya milk


A pear and a latte made with unsweetened soya milk. Or a fruit soya smoothie


Pitta bread with hummus and salad, plus a yogurt with added stanols and/or sterols (eg Benecol/Flora Pro-activ)


An apple and a yogurt drink with stanols and/or sterols


Stir-fry made with tofu, almonds and lots of veg, served with brown rice. Plus a big bowl of raspberries and a small pot of soya yogurt

10 ways to cut down on fat every day

Try these small changes to your cooking and eating habits – they could make a big difference to your heart health

1. Stop frying your food – grill, poach, steam, boil, bake or microwave – or dry-fry.

2. Use non-stick pans so you need very little oil. Measure it with a spoon rather than pouring freely from the bottle, or use a spray oil.

3. Replace biscuits, cakes and chocolate with dried or fresh fruit, and swap crisps for low-fat dips with crudités.

4. Choose lean cuts of meat and skinless chicken, and cut off any visible fat before cooking.
Avoid fatty meat products such as sausages, burgers, pepperoni, salami and pies.

5. Roast meat on a rack so the fat drips into the tray below – then drain and discard the fat before using the meat juices to make gravy.

6. Skim fat from the surface of casseroles and stews.

7. Use less butter or margarine on toast and in sandwiches, or switch to a low-fat spread – but whatever you use, get into the habit of spreading it thinly.

8. Opt for reduced-fat dairy products such as semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, reduced-fat cheese and
fat-free yogurt.

9. Serve puddings with low-fat yogurt or fromage frais instead of cream or ice cream (natural yogurt is a good substitute when a soup or sauce recipe calls for cream or crème fraîche).

10. Use fat-free or low-fat dressings rather than French dressing or mayo – try a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.


  • DAIRY PRODUCTS contribute 15% to an adult’s total fat intake and 24% of our saturates
  • MEAT ACCOUNTS FOR 23% of the average adult’s total fat and saturated fat intake
  • WOMEN SHOULD HAVE a maximum of 70g total fat a day. The recommended daily limit of saturated fat for women is 20g – yet on average, we consume 22g. For men, the limits are 95g (total) and 30g (saturates).

How to eat healthily when travelling

Clocking up the air miles this summer? Make the right choices and eat healthily while you’re travelling and you’ll disembark feeling relaxed and ready to go

HFG DIETITIAN Amanda Ursell advises on what to choose from the trolley and what to steer clear of when travelling, plus wise choices for a mid-air picnic:

Going long haul?

1. GO HERBAL Take chamomile tea bags so you can have a mug as soon as in-flight service begins. It can help to calm nervous flyers and relax all flyers. We often feel tired after a long flight because our muscles have tensed from sitting for so long, so anything that helps muscles relax when travelling is a bonus.



  • Bach Rescue Pastilles (Boots)
  • Lavender pulse-point oil
  • Flight socks (from pharmacies and airports)
  • Vitabiotics Valerian Tablets – a herb known to help anxiety and promote sleep (Boots)
  • Vicks First Defence – a nasal spray shown to stop the cold virus in its tracks (Boots)

2. SAY NO TO PASTRY Opt for the lightest choice on the menu, avoiding pastry or creamy sauces, which take longer and are harder to digest than white fish, chicken or many vegetarian dishes. Choose salmon or other oil-rich fish if offered – the omega-3 fats may help to counter the blood-thickening effects of flying at altitude, which may have an impact on the risk of blood clots.

3. CHOOSE FRUIT Swap puddings, chocolate and cheese and biscuits for fruit. They’re full of vitamins and super nutrients to boost antioxidants and help counter the stressful effects of flying.

4. SNACK ON NUTS Nibble on a small handful of salt-free nuts if you get peckish. These are filling and contain good fats, but won’t lie heavily in your stomach.

5. KEEP SIPPING Alternate drinks of orange juice and water. Orange juice provides vitamin C and other antioxidants, which may help to counter the stressful effects of long-haul flights. If you’re not sleeping during the flight, have a drink every half an hour. As well as countering the dehydrating effects of flying, it means you’ll have to nip to the loo quite often, which will help to keep your circulation going and, potentially, even blood clots (request an aisle seat if you’re worried about disturbing fellow passengers).

6. BE TACTICAL WITH CAFFEINE Avoid tea, coffee, cola and hot chocolate if you want to sleep or if you’re an anxious flyer, but have a cup of tea or small coffee before landing if you need to be alert when you arrive. If you’re heading straight for bed, opt for decaf or another chamomile tea (see above).

Just a short hop?

1. STOCK UP ON SNACKS Eating healthily on short-haul flights is more about having sensible snacks to hand, to avoid tucking into the unhealthy options often available on board. Bring a small bag of unsalted nuts or dried fruit or any of the snacks below.



  • Eat Natural bar
  • Packet of Pop Chips
  • Fruit oatcakes (eg Nairns Mixed Berries Oat Biscuits)
  • Quaker Oats So Simple Pot
  • Chamomile tea bags
  • Digestive mints (Dills Sugar-free Digestive Mints, farmaline.co.uk)

2. CHEW ON GUM Carry your own sugar-free gum so you can satisfy your sweet tooth. You’ll also find it easier to resist the temptation of the passing trolley, with its inevitable sweets and chocolates.

3. BRING A BOTTLE Take a bottle of water, however short the flight (you’ll need to buy this after you’ve been through security). Being thirsty on board and having no access to a drink is stressful both physically and mentally.


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