A healthy, long-term diet that can be modified for weight loss is easy to explain, and should be reinforced by a written summary and some websites to research. The healthiest diet is no mystery, it is science.
1. Choose foods that are low in glycaemic index (low GI)1,2 and reduce portion sizes if trying to lose weight (having a smaller plate helps at dinner). Reduced carbohydrate portions and low GI choices are the basis of medically approved diets for diabetes and for weight loss.1,2
2. It is unsustainable long-term to have a high protein, low carbohydrate diet and it is not recommended.3 A low carbohydrate intake causes ketosis, resulting in fatigue, constipation and bad breath.3 This diet is also not safe for the very elderly, children and those who have significant kidney disease or diabetes.2,3
3. Eat more freshly cooked vegetables, porridge and roughage.2,4 This will improve satiety, with an increase in dietary fibre.
4. Choose foods that are low in saturated fats (fats from animals, such as low fat dairy products, cutting the fat off meat before cooking it).1,2 Substitute olive oil for cooking and instead of butter.2 It is important to have low fat dairy products in moderation for calcium intake and these should not be eliminated from a weight loss diet.2 Low fat dairy products tend to be low in GI.1
5. Increase water intake and decrease sweetened drinks.2,4 If weight loss is desired, fruit should be limited in juicing as it is higher in calories than vegetables. Alcohol should be restricted as per guidelines.5 If on a weight loss diet, alcohol takes up unnecessary calories that should go towards nutrition.
6. Reduce salt intake.6 This is most easily done by cooking for oneself and avoiding salt, soya sauce and prepared sauces, and choosing foods that have under 200mg of sodium (ideally under 120mg sodium) per 100g of the food,6 as found on the nutritional information panel on the side of the packaging.7
7. Understand how to read the nutritional information panels on the various foods. It helps if the GP can illustrate this to the patient (via pictures of the panel from the Internet).7
8. Shop and cook for oneself rather than buy ready made foods. This way foods can be chosen that are low in GI, saturated fat and the portion size can be controlled. Foods most liked that are healthier can then be substituted for others that are not, and thus the diet can be individualised.
9. Exercise and a healthy diet should be thought of as going together. An individual cannot be optimally healthy without exercise, even with an excellent diet.8 These two lifestyle changes may be easier if the whole family is involved. Daily exercise amount and type should be tailored to the individual by their GP, depending on their age, health and fitness.
10. Stay motivated to change to a healthier diet, even if a relapse into poor eating habits occurs. A few days of bad food choices will not make a person unhealthy and it is important to look towards the long-term. This is especially important for people trying to lose weight. There are a lot of good quality books and educational sites that can be researched for motivation. An accredited dietitian can help if the individual feels overwhelmed, is not making progress or if has medical conditions that a change in diet might be particularly impact.