Diet & Recipes

Dr Christian: Watch out for hidden calories

We think of junk food as deep fried chicken, salty chips and greasy burgers, but it lurks in surprising places according to Dr Christian...

We all know where the obvious junk food is, but it's also in more surprising places, from the farmers' market to the train station, local cafés to the juice bar and could see you unintentionally munching hundreds of extra calories. Here's what you need to know...

Kick-start your day the healthy way

We'd expect a large Wetherspoon's breakfast to contain plenty of calories, but 1,500 is three quarters of your entire day's worth. Even more innocent-seeming brekkies can be gut-busters too. An All Day Breakfast Panini from Caffè Nero contains 480 calories, while Pret A Manger's Sausage & Egg brioche contains 546 calories. If you go for something sweet like a Caffè Nero Triple Chocolate Muffin and you'll be having 34.9g sugar (nearly nine cubes), when you're supposed to only have 30g a day.

There are hidden sugars lurking in "healthy drinks" too; some juices and smoothies contain more sugar than a Coca Cola – as many as 12 cubes a glass. They might boast containing '1 of your 5 a day' and being 'wholesome' and 'natural', but you'll notice the sugar's traffic light is red. One Strawberry & Banana supermarket smoothie contained 10 cubes of sugar - Coca Cola contains about nine. You're better off eating a banana and having a glass of water or a tea.

Beat commuter cravings

A recent study found that British workers eat, on average, 800 calories a week travelling to and from work, largely thanks to snacking. Think of that sneaky burger at the train station, the family-sized bag of crisps on the drive home or a doughnut on the bus.

Commuting is stressful and boring – and stress and boredom can make us overeat. The study showed that the most popular things people ate were chocolate bars, followed by crisps, fizzy drinks, fast food, muffins and alcohol. Pack your own healthier snacks, such as flavoured oatcakes, a banana or a yoghurt, rather than relying on your willpower.

Be aware of the "health halo"

Recently, researchers found that even though food at trendy farmers' markets is good quality, often organic and fresh, nearly a third of it is refined or processed. They sell a variety of options, from fresh produce to meat and eggs, but they're also full of "gourmet" burgers, hot dogs and pies.

Even though your scotch egg is organic and locally sourced, it's still deep-fried and packed with processed meat. Words like "organic" and "natural" imply food is healthy, but it can still be laced with fat, salt or sugar – or all three.

Shop smart

US research showed that most Americans buy their junk food at the supermarket. People eat an average 439 extra calories per day from shop-bought sugary drinks, cookies, pastries, ice cream, cakes and sweets. And offers don't help matters. A new survey looked at 77,000 promotions at the biggest supermarkets and found that 53% of them were on foods high in fat, saturates, sugar or salt.

Those offers tend to go on the end of an aisle so there's no way you can miss it - putting fizzy drinks there boosts sales by a massive 52%. That's why they do it, but don't let them trick you into eating food you want to avoid – stay strong when faced with offers!

Retrain your taste buds

Regularly eating junk food resets your taste buds. You get used to high sugar and high salt - and everything else tastes plain in comparison - but that will revert back when you start eating well. Lots of people give up sugar and swap it for sugar replacements they think are healthier, like honey or maple syrup - but sugar is sugar, and you're still tasting lots of sweet flavours.

You're better off trying to slowly cut back and your taste buds should change so you don't crave it so much. US research showed that after three months on a low-sugar diet, people rated puddings as tasting much sweeter than people who hadn't cut back on the sweet stuff. Clearly, their taste buds had adapted. If you want to sweeten food, use cinnamon - it slows digestion, which can stop your blood sugar rising, then dipping so you seek out yet more sugar.

Cut back and reap the rewards

The biggest and most obvious benefit of eating less junk is losing weight. Some people say: "I eat loads of junk, but I'm not fat," but they will have fat sitting around their organs. Fat isn't just inert wobbly stuff, it secretes hormones which can make you ill. Lose weight and your hormones should be more balanced, which should improve mood and help PMS.

It can help alleviate acid reflux, so no more nasty burning sensation after eating, and can also help with asthma and allergies because being overweight puts a burden on the adrenal glands. You should sleep better because fat around your neck can cause breathing problems and make you more likely to snore. Joints should also ache less and you should have more energy plus slimming improves oxygen efficiency, so you won't get so out of puff playing with kids or running for the bus.

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