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Delia on diets


Been there, done that - as a seasoned dieter, Delia knows a thing or two about successfully losing weight. But she also advocates a common sense approach to eating all foods, believing that 'you can have something of everything, but not too much of anything'.

delia-standThere are, it seems, millions of waist watchers out there asking for help: please can we have recipes that taste good but are not fattening; can you help us to eat well but stay slim? I’ve never been one to turn down a challenge! What we need to do, though, is stand back, rid ourselves of the myths and confusion, and focus on what the basic problem is.

Let me say from the outset that I am not a qualified nutritionist; I can only offer you my own views and thoughts, and what has been helpful to me personally over the years.

The problem Simply that we eat too much and do too little. During the war and for a while afterwards, we had fewer food choices than today and didn’t have cars, so we did a hell of a lot of walking or cycling to get around. Nowadays, we ride everywhere and consume far more snack-type foods and chocolate bars. If sweets and crisps and snacks are a regular part of your daily diet, then me offering you low-fat recipes won’t help one bit.

The myth of healthy foods I’m thoroughly fed up with hearing about ‘healthy’ foods. It’s an absolute con. What we have to grasp is there’s no such thing. All food, if it is pure and natural, is good for you: it provides pleasure, comfort, community – all that’s important in life. Imagine Mother Nature saying, here are all the good things of the earth to give you pleasure, and then rapping you on the knuckles, saying, but don’t eat this or that – it’s bad for you!

What is unhealthy is too much of something. I know it’s not sexy advice, but it does boil down to one thing, and that’s balance. A doughnut is not unhealthy, neither is a KitKat or a steak-and-kidney pudding (right) or even half a pint of double cream. If you’re not eating too much, you can eat anything. Those things (if they existed at all) were treats during the war, not something available every hour of every day. Cookery presenters like me are always in the firing line. How, people ask, can you be using all that butter, all that cream? But the point is, I’m not saying eat roast buttered chicken every day or even every week. I’m saying, if I’m not eating butter the rest of the week, why not have some on Sunday? I have always had an uphill struggle with my own weight, and what’s helped me is treating Sundays or dinner with friends as a feast day. I will always make a dessert or cake for weekends, but I very rarely eat sweet things on other days – it also gives me something to look forward to!

The big fat question Just as we’ve been duped into thinking some foods are unhealthy, so we are also victims of the commercial low-fat lobby. Yes, we may well need to cut down our fat intake overall (and if we’re not getting any exercise, we certainly do) but buying so-called low-fat products containing a load of other undesirable ingredients is sometimes not the way to do it. There is too often an unhealthy obsession with fat that regards it as poison. Spare me from egg-white omelettes, for instance, in which we are not allowed even the relatively small amount of fat contained in an egg yolk – it’s bordering on madness. So, despite what you might have heard, fat isn’t all bad, and we do need some in our diet.

The other culprit Cutting down on excessive fat is one way to lose weight, but there’s another ingredient that is often hidden away in all those manufactured low-fat foods and recipes. Carbohydrates, once consumed, are themselves converted into sugar, so any added sugar is going to be extra to that. (Also, lots of sugary foods contain lots of fat, too.) not that having extra is necessarily a bad thing, but think about it – are you a person who needs sweetness every day? Really enjoying something sweet is different to actually needing it. That need may not be a problem is you’re not overweight, but if you are, it could be. Enjoying sweet things now and then is part of the joy of eating. But if you need to lose weight, they have to be restricted, and sometimes it’s helpful to use a sweetener, but, again, not every day. Some of our weight problems can be put down to this addiction to unnatural sweetness.

Sugar (right) is a highly refined, concentrated form of sweetness and if you were to remove it (along with artificial sweeteners) from your diet, a minor miracle would happen: you would eventually cease to be an addict. In fact, in about six weeks, you would begin to discover how wonderfully sweet an apple or a glass of milk is. When I gave up adding sugar to tea and coffee I hated it for weeks, but when I put it back I hated it even more, and understood how the sweetness had been masking the real flavour. Once you’ve managed to kick the habit, you’ll find most commercial products too sweet and you won’t want them. (It’s my theory that chocoholics may not be addicted to cocoa, but simply to sweetness.)

Getting the right balance The now famous advice to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day is a sound one, and should also lessen the desire for sugary snacks – an excellent way of beginning to cut down on the wrong sorts of food. It’s also important to remember that you can have something of everything, but not too much of anything. As a seasoned dieter myself, I now feel that one of the best ways to achieve that balance and lose weight sensibly is the WeightWatchers programme. I like the fact that with the points system, no foods are taboo, and several of my friends – even if they’re not continuing to diet – have been helped to re-educate themselves into a much more sensible pattern of eating.

The recipes The question remains, what can the home cook do to make losing a few pounds more interesting? What I have attempted to do with my low-fat recipes on the site is provide recipes that contain the minimum amount of fat and hardly any sugar. In some cases, there may be a minimal quantity of sweetener, and I’m aware of the controversy surrounding its use, but soft drinks and most yoghurts contain it, and I would be far more worried about those being consumed on a daily basis than I am about its appearance in the occasional, once- or twice-a-week dessert.

You’ll find that cooking non-fattening dishes is a lot easier if you stock up on a number of basic ingredients. Click on the link below to find out more. 

Delia's low-fat feasts!
Delia's favourite low-fat ingredients

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