Forget everything you thought you knew about losing weight .
The latest research supports a view long held by many scientists – that shop-bought ‘diet’ foods can actually make us fatter.
Not only that, a second new report claims eating ‘naughty’ fats, such as cream and butter, isn’t bad for our hearts or waistlines after all.
So now our experts have used the new medical advice to help you drop up to a dress size in two weeks – just in time for the summer holidays .
And luckily there’s not a kale smoothie in sight. Instead it’s all about enjoying real home-cooked food, including pancakes, spaghetti bolognaise and even steak.
How could that possibly work? Well, it’s all down to the science.
The first study, by the University of Georgia, found rats fed food high in sugar but low in fat (imitating popular diet foods) put on weight, despite not consuming any more calories.
Lead researcher Dr Krzysztof Czaja explains: “Most so-called diet products containing low or no fat give the impression they are healthy, but they have an increased amount of sugar, which can damage the liver and lead to obesity.”
Meanwhile, another group of leading doctors, led by cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, announced that the widely held belief that saturated fats (found in meat and dairy foods) clog the arteries is misguided.
Instead, they said, people can best avoid heart disease and obesity by eating ‘real’ home-cooked food, walking daily and avoiding stress.
Dr Malhotra said: “Eating real food low in refined carbohydrates (sugars) and high in fats, ideally cooked at home – is the way forward.”
Admittedly, not all experts support the view that saturated fat is harmless, but one thing they do largely agree on is people who eat home-cooked meals are slimmer and healthier.
What is a real food diet?
Rather than yet another faddy spin on the idea of eating more or less of individual food groups – be they fats, carbs or proteins – the simple idea behind a real food diet is to avoid processed foods and only eat meals you’ve cooked yourself.
After all, as acclaimed US food writer Michael Pollan points out, the recent decline in home cooking “closely parallels the rise in obesity”.
And the benefits go beyond weight loss.
Multiple studies show diets rich in whole foods, such as wholegrain carbs, nuts, fruit and veg, and low in processed foods, such as ready meals, biscuits and fast food, can reduce the risk of life-threatening conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even certain cancers.
While home cooking does require a little more effort in the kitchen, with a bit of planning it’s surprisingly easy to whip up tasty meals from scratch in half an hour or less.
Provided you use unprocessed ingredients, pretty much anything is allowed in moderation – from roast dinners to home-made cakes.
How cooking helps you shift weight
You might think a diet of home-made lasagnes, cottage pies and stews isn’t likely to shift that spare tyre, but cooked the right way it could do just that.
More and more weight-loss experts now believe successful dieting isn’t simply a case of counting calories in versus calories burnt – it’s understanding what those calories are made up of.
“Fresh, natural foods tend to be more satisfying and rich in nutrients, such as protein and fibre, than processed ones,” explains nutritionist Linda Foster.
“This slows the breakdown of sugar into the bloodstream, keeping you fuller for longer.”
There’s also evidence to suggest we need to eat a certain physical amount of food a day to feel satisfied – regardless of the type or calories it contains.
For example, to eat 350 calories you could munch through a portion of the healthy shepherd’s pie in our meal planner (around 325g of food) or gobble two Cadbury’s Creme Eggs (around 70g in weight).
You will almost certainly be left feeling fuller and more satisfied after the much larger serving of pie.
The sugary chocolate, meanwhile, would leave most of us feeling hungry again half an hour later.
Your real food diet
On our food plan, rather than limit calories, the idea is to eat better-quality, freshly-cooked food.
You’ll be steering clear of diet foods labelled ‘low-fat’ and ‘sugar-free’ and other processed foods with ingredients you don’t recognise.
But the good news is, you’ll be cooking and eating meals both easy to make and so delicious you’ll completely forget you’re eating ‘healthy’ food.
Follow our food rules and meal planner– and you could drop up to a dress size in two weeks, just in time for summer.
Your five food rules
1 Only eat what your gran would recognise as food
This means buying everyday unprocessed ingredients – ie. fruit, meat or dairy – to turn into meals at home, and avoiding processed and packaged foods.
For example, use whole oats, milk and blueberries to make porridge instead of eating sugar-frosted factory cereal.
At times when you do have to eat packet foods, only buy ones with ‘real food’ ingredients you recognise.
In other words, the ingredient list should be the same one you – or your gran – would use to cook the food from scratch in your own kitchen.
2 Keep meals simple
Delicious, healthy food doesn’t have to mean hours in the kitchen. Keep your ingredients to a minimum – just be sure to include a source of wholegrains (brown rice or bread), vegetables, lean protein and healthy fat at every meal.
For example, lean beef and red pepper stir-fried with a little soy sauce and served with basmati rice takes around the same time to cook fresh as a Chinese ‘ready meal’ takes to heat up – and definitely less time than a takeaway takes to arrive.
All the meals in our plan take half an hour or less to cook.
3 Slow your eating speed
Numerous studies have found that the faster we eat, the more we consume. Not to mention that we also enjoy the food less.
So chew slowly, rest your cutlery on the plate between bites to reduce your pace and savour the flavour of your meal.
4 Stick to three regular meals
Never let more than four hours go by between meals or snacks. This will help regulate blood sugar, keeping you energised and curbing your appetite.
5 Learn to listen to your body
It sounds simple, but only eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full – meaning satisfied, not fit to burst.
Unlike most diets, the recipes below don’t include precise amounts – that’s because real-food dieting is all about learning to listen to your natural hunger and fullness cues to tell you when to eat and when to stop.
Foods to avoid
- Ready meals
- Shop-bought cakes and biscuits
- Jars and packets of sauce
- Sausages, ham and bacon
- Sausage rolls and pastries
- Fizzy drinks
Foods to enjoy freely
- All fresh fruits and vegetables (including canned and frozen)
- Beans and pulses, such as lentils
- Meat – chicken or lean red meat
- Fish – aim for at least one portion of oily fish, such as salmon, and one of white fish per week
- Nuts and seeds
- Eggs – free range or organic if possible
- Wholegrains, such as wholemeal bread and pasta, popcorn, oats and brown basmati rice
- Dairy – cheese, milk, butter
- Olive oil
Your meal planner
Prepare and eat one of the following for your three meals a day, serving sensible portion sizes.
Also allow yourself two snacks from the list below. Drink water, tea or coffee (no sugar) freely, but avoid all soft drinks – diet and full-fat – and have no more than one small glass
of juice a day.
- Spinach and mushroom two-egg omelette
- Porridge, make with whole oats, semi-skimmed milk and a handful of berries
- Small pot of full-fat Greek yoghurt with berries and a handful of almonds
- Banana and nut smoothie made with banana, milk, a teaspoon of almond or peanut butter and a teaspoon of cinnamon
- Pancakes made with wholemeal flour, milk and one egg, served with raspberries and blueberries
- Lentil and vegetable soup with a granary roll
- Salmon salad made with fresh salmon, green leaves, one can of kidney or cannellini beans, handful of cherry tomatoes, half a sliced avocado, and balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing
- Tuna and salad wholemeal wrap with half a chopped red pepper
- Grilled chicken with avocado slices on a bed of spinach and pine nuts
- Baked sweet potato with home-made veggie or beef chilli topping
- Shepherd’s pie made with half lean minced lamb, half canned green lentils, onions, carrots and tomato puree, and topped with sweet potato mash
- Chicken and any mixed veg stir-fry with soy sauce, ginger and garlic
- Prawns cooked with green peppers, cherry tomatoes, mango slices, coconut milk, grated ginger and three chopped spring onions, served with brown
- Pan-fried sirloin steak with a tablespoon of Boursin cheese melted on top, served with oven-roasted red peppers, tomatoes and courgette
- Spaghetti bolognaise, made with lean mince beef, canned tomatoes, onion, chopped carrot, served with wholemeal pasta
- Full-fat fruit yoghurt with no additives
- Hummus with carrot sticks
- Small handful of any unsalted nuts
- Piece of any fruit
- Matchbox-sized piece of any cheese
- Apple slices with peanut butter