This week I’m going to chat about a topic that I get asked about all the time by members of my site Derval.ie.
The topic is calorie counting and weight loss. I’m going to share one of my favourite nutritious, low-cal dinner options – full of veggies and flavour. The recipe is Ratatouille and is a recipe I think everyone should have in their repertoire.
People talk about calories and a desire to lose weight all the time, ‘I’m on a low calorie diet’ or ‘wow there’s a lot of calories in that’ but what is a calorie and do they really matter?
Simply put, a calorie is a measure of energy just like a centimetre is a measure of length or a kilogram a measure of weight.
For a long time experts told us that counting calories was the best, if not the only, way to lose weight. The message was that if we ate less energy than we burned off we would lose weight and this implied that low calorie equaled healthy.
While I won’t argue with the laws of energy balance, I do believe there are points to be considered if you go down the road of simply counting calories to reach your weight goal.
It takes quite a bit of time to enter all your food details into a calorie tracker and that tracker will still have an element of inaccuracy. I definitely don’t have time in my day to day life to track everything I eat. Just counting calories can lead to eating lots of low fat yet highly processed foods.
I’ve always believed in good ingredients for how they are produced and like to look at the bigger picture. The number of calories to me feels a little limited. Many higher calorie foods are bursting with nutritional goodness such as avocado, nut butter and oily fish! If you judged these simply by calories you would be missing out on their goodness.
Breaking foods down into nothing more than numbers bypasses lots of the things which are important when it comes to having a good relationship with food. It may also lead to obsessive tendencies in people at increased risk of disordered eating patterns. Giving foods titles of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is in my opinion a really negative way to approach food. Most ‘Diets’ have notoriously high failure rates. I’d advocate lifelong health changes. So while yes, calories are important if you are trying to lose or gain weight, they do need to be considered in an overall context.
Here are 5 positive tips to consider:
If you really have no clue about what calories are in your foods consider doing a food diary or track your food on an app for a limited period of time, a few days. This will give you a good grasp on what you are consuming.
Eat whole foods that nourish and satisfy you. You may lose weight on a 1000kcal diet of biscuits but you’d be starving all the time and are not getting good nutrition.
Aim for variety and colour in your food choices. This ensures we are getting all the micronutrients our bodies need and is also good for our gut bacteria.
Choose a variety of foods from each of the food groups. Aim for a mix of fruits and vegetables, a mixture of whole grains and legumes, some nuts and seeds, plus protein from good quality sources such as fish, lean meats or dairy.
Look at your plate, aim for it to be the size of your hand and use that as a guide: I aim for ½ plate of vegetables, ¼ plate of carbohydrate and ¼ plate of protein plus some healthy fats to finish off. For example I might have spinach/ mushrooms/roasted tomatoes with sourdough bread, poached eggs and avocado or stir fried vegetables with Rice, chicken and some cashew nuts on top. That way I know I’m eating a balance of protein, carbohydrates, fats and veggies.
Challenge yourself during your next workout by adding some weight. Don’t worry if you don’t have weights at home – use a milk carton, bottle of water or bag of flour.
Spend 5-10 minutes walking barefoot in the garden or beach whenever you can. There are incredible benefits to moving around on a natural, irregular surface, I try to do it first thing in the morning, I take my coffee outside to the garden – weather permitting – and it is a lovely, very grounded way to start the day.
This is a wonderful dish in its own right but is also delicious served as a main course with meat or fish and a nice salad.
I tend to make a big pot of this and keep it in the fridge for a few days using it as needed.
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 35 mins
- 6 red peppers, roughly diced 4 green peppers, roughly diced
- 1 large onion, roughly diced
- 2 courgettes, roughly diced
- 2 aubergines, roughly diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 4 plum tomatoes, blanched briefly and skinned,de-seeded and diced
- Tsp tomato paste
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan. Pan fry the courgettes, onions, peppers and aubergines until golden in colour, placing in a colander to drain once done.
Leave to drain for 10 minutes, then put all the ingredients into a heavy-based saucepan or casserole dish.
Season well with salt and pepper and bring up to a simmer, stirring occasionally to avoid burning.
Lower the heat, cover with a lid and cook for 25 minutes or until all the vegetables are soft.