Dietitian Juliette Kellow’s tips will help you stay healthy at Easter. Here’s how you can enjoy all the traditional food without piling on the pounds or ending up in a chocolate coma:
1. Cool down your hot cross buns for a healthier treat
Hot cross buns aren’t necessarily the waistline disaster we think they are. Most contain around 200 calories, with some brands being low in fat and saturates. This makes them a much better option than other sweet treats such as doughnuts, muffins or biscuits. But what we put on them can change that! Top a bun with 2tsp butter and you add an extra 74 calories and 8g fat – as well as around a quarter of the maximum amount of saturated fat you should have for the day. If you can’t resist, have a little low-fat spread instead for half the calories and fat. If you have them toasted, let them cool first – spread melts into a warm bun, so you’ll probably add more. Choose wholemeal versions to add a little more fibre to your diet.
2. Make this the year you eat more eggs
We’re not talking chocolate ones, but those with a yolk and white… Why? Eggs are rich in protein and, like oily fish, are one of the few foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium, needed for strong bones. They’re also full of B vitamins, including B12, folate, pantothenic acid and biotin, all of which are important for mental wellbeing. They’re also rich in choline, a nutrient needed to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is vital for nerve and brain functioning and memory. Eggs contain vision-friendly vitamin A, as well as two antioxidants – lutein and zeaxanthin – good intakes of which are linked to a lower risk of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
3. Don’t save the fish for Good Friday
It’s traditional to eat fish on Good Friday, but it’s also a great choice throughout the rest of the Easter break. Seafood is rich in protein, which can help control your appetite, and supplies a range of vitamins and minerals. These vary depending on the type, but most provide phosphorus, selenium, vitamins B3, B6 and B12 and iodine. White and oily fish usually add blood pressure-controlling potassium, too, while shellfish contain copper and zinc, which are vital for healthy immunity. Oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon, pilchards and herring are also packed with omega-3 fats, which are important for heart health, normal brain function and vision. Plus, they’re among the few foods that are naturally rich in bone-friendly vitamin D. All these nutritional benefits explain why health guidelines recommend we eat at least two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily.
4. Give Easter Sunday lunch a makeover
Lamb is traditional on Easter Sunday, but it’s one of the fattiest red meats. Choose your joint wisely, however, and you can save significant amounts of calories and fat (see the table, below). Or go for another kind of meat – for example, rabbit of the non-chocolate variety can be an inexpensive, healthy choice (100g stewed rabbit has 114 calories and 3.2g fat). Swap traditional roasties for new potatoes in their skins tossed with fresh mint for less fat and more fibre, and fill your plate with seasonal vegetables to boost vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and to help you reach five-a-day. Spring greens, baby carrots, asparagus, spinach and purple sprouting broccoli are all delicious at this time of year.
5. Enjoy chocolate… but in moderation
Much is written about the potential health benefits of chocolate. This largely focuses on the fact that cocoa contains antioxidants called flavonoids, which have been linked to heart health. Indeed, studies have shown that cocoa products increase HDL or good cholesterol, lower LDL or bad cholesterol and reduce blood pressure – all risk factors for heart disease. However, a new review of the research suggests the most appropriate amount for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease is just 45g a week – that’s equivalent to one small chocolate bar. The scientists go on to say that more than 100g a week may negate any health benefits and induce adverse effects associated with high sugar consumption. In other words, you still need to keep to small amounts. Try these tips:
● Choose plain chocolate. With at least 70% cocoa solids, it has around twice as many antioxidants as milk chocolate. As a rule, the more cocoa solids the less sugar, although the extra cocoa usually means a little extra fat and a few more calories. Fortunately, the flavour is more intense so your taste buds should be satisfied with less.
● Keep the foils of individually wrapped chocolates to remind you how many you’ve already eaten!
● Keep chocolate in the fridge. When it’s cold, it lasts longer in your mouth, which helps to slow down the speed at which you eat it.
● Make it go further by combining it with nutritious foods. Mix 2tbsp unsalted almonds with a little melted dark chocolate, tip on to greaseproof paper, then chill until the chocolate sets. Or mix 2tbsp dark chocolate chips with 1tbsp each of unsalted peanuts and raisins.
● Downsize eggs. Children’s Easter eggs are usually smaller than those meant for adults, which means fewer calories, fat and sugar. Or enjoy a single-serve egg, such as a creme egg, or a couple of mini truffle eggs.
● Don’t assume exercise will burn off extra chocolate calories (you’ll have to do an awful lot – see our chart, below). Compensate for any indulgence by having slightly smaller portions for a day.