Healthy eating outside of the office is possible
Paying attention to what we eat every day is essential and necessary for looking after our body and avoiding diseases such as obesity, type-2 diabetes, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, etc.
Maintaining a healthy diet is not always easy, especially when we go out to eat, when time restrictions, or simply a lack of attention, “temptations” usually distract us from making the right choice. The FOOD Programme and Spanish Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offer the following tips on choosing the right menu:
Watch portion sizes, only eat what you need
Did you know that studies have shown that people eat more the larger the portion size or quantity of food available? It’s important you adapt the amount of food you eat when you eat out to your lifestyle and physical activity. Remember, if you go back to work and spend hours sitting down after you finish your meal, reduce your portion sizes! Here are some tips:
- Think about how hungry you feel
- Decide how full you want to feel based on the activity waiting for you after you eat
- Are you going to do any physical exercise or are you going to sit in front of the computer?
- Order according to your answer. If you don’t need to eat a full set meal, ask the restaurant if you can order a half menu or a full menu based on half portions.
Choose water as your usual drink
To accompany your meal, you should drink water both while you eat and between meals. Drinking water can be complemented with teas, stocks, fruit juices or other drinks with no added sugar. The regular consumption of sugary drinks increases the calories in your diet and has been linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.
Careful with the salt!
In general, dishes are already seasoned, so try the food before asking for salt. To reduce salt consumption and enhance the flavours in the dish, you can try using aromatic herbs, garlic, celery, vinegar or spices. Salt consumption in Spain is almost twice the recommended level and is one of the main factors involved in high blood pressure, which is in turn a key risk factor for strokes and other cardiovascular diseases.
Excessive salt consumption has also been linked to gastric cancer, obesity, kidney stones and osteoporosis. Only 20% of the salt in Spanish diets is added during the cooking process or at the table; the rest mainly comes from processed foods, such as sausages, bread, cheese, snacks and other processed food.
Excessive salt consumption has been linked to an increased risk of developing a gastric ulcer or even stomach cancer, as well as the aggravation of respiratory symptoms in people affected by asthma. One of the latest links to be found between salt and health relates to an increased risk of obesity.
Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per dayFruit and vegetables are key to a healthy diet because they provide water, fibre, vitamins and minerals. They are especially rich in vitamins A, C, K, B6, and folic acid, and such minerals as potassium and magnesium. The regular consumption of at least five portions of fruit and vegetables has been associated with a lower risk of death, excess weight and obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Fresh and dried fruit are the best option for breakfast, dessert and snacks. Make sure you eat a portion of vegetables at lunch and dinner, as a course or a garnish.
Reduce the amount of meat and replace it with pulses
People in Spain consume more than twice the maximum recommended amount of meat, which is the main source of saturated fats - a type of fat that increases cardiovascular risk when consumed in excess, among other things.
Choose lean meats that are low in saturated fats, such as chicken, turkey or rabbit (up to four portions per week, which equates to one chicken fillet or a small quarter chicken). If the meat is high in fat, such as lamb or beef, do not have more than one portion every two weeks.
Pulses are a good alternative to meat: they provide fibre, slow-release carbohydrates, iron and calcium. They are also a good source of proteins when combined with cereals over the course of the day, with the advantage that they contain hardly any saturated fats. This is not the case with meats and their derivatives. Pulses are tasty when made into salads, creams, purées or stews. There are many winter stews and refreshing summer salads to experiment with.
When including meat or meat derivatives in their preparation, as in some traditional dishes, we recommend only using a small amount. The absorption of iron from pulses improves when combined with foods that provide vitamin C, such as raw vegetables in salads or fruit for dessert.
The recommended consumption of pulses is at least two portions per week (between two and four). One portion corresponds to 60-80g when raw, which equates to about 150-250g when cooked. Pulses should be cooked in low-mineral or soft water so that the soft textures can be enjoyed. Pre-cooked pulses can be used if you prefer, which will save soaking and long cooking times. In this case, select those that contain the least salt and rinse them under running water.
Avoid cooking techniques that add too much fat to your dishesSteam, sauté, roast or grill your dishes. Order your sauces separately so you can add only the amount you want. Avoid too much fried food. Do not forget that such products as olive oil, nuts and fish contain healthy fats and should form part of a daily diet because they help maintain normal levels of blood cholesterol. Use olive oil for dressing, extra virgin olive oil whenever possible. When cooking, use olive oil or sunflower oil that is high in oleic acid. For set meals of the day, prioritise light dishes that are griddled, steamed, en papillote, roasted, boiled, grilled, sautéed, etc. and, to improve flavour, add various condiments and spices that enhance dishes.
Fruit, your dessert of choicePrioritise fresh fruit as your regular dessert instead of sweets, dairy and cakes. Fruit is the main source of vitamin C, which contributes to the normal functioning of the immune system, bones and gums, skin and protects cells from the damage of oxidation. Fruit contains about 75-90% water, which helps keep you properly hydrated.
Dairy products, always skimmedMilk contains a sugar called lactose, which can cause intolerances or malabsorption in people who lack the digestive enzyme lactase, needed for its effective digestion. Yoghurts contain less lactose than milk, and mature cheeses also contain less. Some people with lactose malabsorption can eat small amounts of mature cheese and fermented milks, such as yoghurt, but it depends on individual tolerance. Two-thirds of the fat in dairy products is saturated, so given the dietary importance of this food group for certain nutrients, we recommend the consumption of skimmed dairy products - low in fat or 0% fat - for all age groups except children under 3.
Avoid snacking on foods with saturated fats, excess salt or added sugarsWhen snacking between meals, choose whole foods because of their higher fibre, vitamin and mineral content. This means wholegrain bread, pasta or rice. However, fibre can also be found in fruit and vegetables, pulses, seeds and nuts. The Spanish population consumes between 17 and 22 grams of fibre, meaning that 90% consume less than the recommended 25 grams per day. Fibre fills you up, contributes to regulating intestinal transit and regular consumption is associated with a lower risk of diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
When snacking, we recommend eating foods that fill you up and do not contain too many calories, such as fresh fruit, skimmed sugar-free dairy products, small sandwiches of wholegrain bread and fresh cheese or lean meat products, a handful of unsalted nuts or dried fruit, etc.