It happens to the best of us. You’ve been feeling a little sluggish and pudgy, and you’ve made up your mind to eat less or go on a boiled-food-and-coconut-water-only regimen.
But then you take a look at your Google calendar and the week’s already packed with breakfast meetings, business lunches, catch-ups over high tea buffets, family dinners, baby showers and gala launches where the canapés and champagnes continue to surface before you.
So, to eat or not to eat? Yes, go ahead. But it’s important to focus on what you are eating and how much of it you are eating.
There’s More to Soup and Salad
Case in point: You are at a business luncheon with a three-course set menu. Don’t be fooled by how wholesome the soup or salad sounds in writing. There’s a reason why their ingredients are usually listed on the menu. For Jaclyn Reutens, dietitian at Aptima Nutrition & Sports Consultants, tomato-based soups (such as minestrone) or clear ones (chicken broth) make better bets than something creamy such as lobster bisque.
Salads doused in dressing can be as sinful as the main course. She suggests “safer” salads such as mixed greens, Nicoise and Greek salads that tend to use vinaigrette. If you must have your Caesar or potato salad, which usually come with heavier creams and sauces, get the staff to leave the dressing on the side so you can decide how much (or little) you really need.
Also, take note of the colours on your salad plate. Greens don’t come in only green. After all, vegetables and fruit in different colours offer specific health benefits. Reutens explains that the various colour pigments are made up of phytochemicals which can be good for your health. So, the more colours you have on your plate, the more types of phytochemicals you’ll have doing good things in your body.
Dr Georgia Lee, medical director at TLC Lifestyle Practice, says that in general, red fruit and vegetables contain the antioxidant lycopene whereas purple and blue ones get their hue from anthocyanin which supposedly reduces risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease. Sweet potatoes, pumpkins and carrots owe their vibrant orange and yellow pigments to the presence of carotenoids which offer a myriad benefits including maintaining eye health.
This is also why some people believe in the 7-Day Colour Diet, in which they consume foods of a certain colour group on each day of the week — for instance, only red fruit and vegetables on Monday, green ones on Tuesday and so on — to get a rainbow of health benefits.
The Mains Subject
At any social gathering, the mains — well, okay, dessert too — will be the highlight of the menu. Most hotels and restaurants, or your home party host, now offer less sinful alternatives to white rice and potatoes. Think red rice, sweet potatoes, quinoa, barley and even cauliflower “rice”.
Here’s the surprisingly good news: There is nothing wrong with carbs, says Reutens, as long as you eat them in moderation. If there is a plain baked potato, go for that. Otherwise, have four to five potato wedges but be disciplined and stop at that.
You do not always have to pick the fish or vegetarian options. Roast chicken with baked potatoes and grilled vegetables or even tenderloin with sweet potato mash and a green salad can be just as healthy.
Instead, it’s more about the preparation method than the food. Reutens says to look out for descriptive words like “baked, grilled, steamed, seared, pan-fried” as these tend to use less salt and fat.
After all, a high amount of salt intake can cause water retention and bloating — not a pretty sight in those wefies. “At gala dinners, salt can be hidden in smoked foods and cold cuts such as caviar, cheese, smoked salmon, prosciutto and olives,” she cautions.
And if you love your wine and cheese, watch out. According to Reutens, one to two glasses of wine or champagne is reasonable but anything more than that — and taken with cheese — can fill up that Roberto Cavalli dress a little too much.
When it comes to hangovers, we all know the trick of padding your stomach with food (the greasier, the better). But that only means you have to eat more. Dr Lee’s modus operandi is to rotate one drink of alcohol with hot tea, to induce diuresis, and a drink of water to hydrate the body.
To prevent bloating, she stays away from cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and beans. These contain raffinose sugar that can release gas into the gut.
Sweet Nothings or Everything
When it comes to sugar, there’s always dessert. In the past, we could have simply declined the last course at a sit-down dinner. These days, some functions such as baby showers or boutique openings are entirely-desserts affairs. We are talking about elaborate dessert tables where the only guilt-free fruit you would find are caramelised bananas on your crepes or those sugar-glazed raspberries on your chocolate ganache torte.
“Too much sugar causes an insulin spike which boosts oil production in your oil glands. This can clog pores,” Reutens explains. In short, excessive sweets can cause adult acne flare-ups.
If you must have something from a dessert party (or risk going hungry for the rest of your meetings-filled day), she offers: Pick sorbets over ice cream, sponge cakes over creamed ones, carrot cake over chocolate mousse, and (one) mini crème brûlée over a double-fudge brownie.
For Dr Lee, it’s more about daily discipline. She has been having a banana with a non-sweetened hot green tea for breakfast every day for the last eight years, with Sunday being
her only cheat day.
Her advice: “(When you are out), eat everything presented to you if you have no alternatives. But take just one-third or half of what you will want to eat. This is called calories accounting.”