Getting it wrong easier than getting it right

I read a frightening article in the Observer’s Food Monthly magazine. It was frightening to me, even though I probably have a relatively good diet. But I can see how people could very easily fall into the trap of eating badly even with the best intentions.

Read this on The Observer’s website here — Running on Empty Carbs.

I’m a fruit fiend. Every day, I typically eat a banana, two oranges and an apple. I’ve known for a while that each orange has the same calories as a small chocolate bar. The article confirms this:

‘Even fresh fruit… is a highly calorific food that should be treated with caution. “One consequence of the government’s Five-a-Day campaign is that children are eating fruit rather than vegetables to meet their target… If you are consuming an extra five pieces of fruit a day and changing nothing else, it will give you more calories because fruit is very sugary.” ‘

There are other depressing revelations (or reminders) about mashed potato, chorizo sausages, apple juice, Rice Krispies (like Rice Bubbles in Australia), muesli bars, dried apricots, bread and crumpets.

Why is it so hard? Why is it much easier to get it wrong than to get it right?

I’m trying to find ways of increasing the protein in my diet but I don’t have the skills or knowledge. It’s also expensive. What can I snack on, if not fruit, rice cakes, muesli bars or salted almonds? Am I meant to keep cans of tuna and boiled eggs on my desk?


  1. Beldar says:

    If you need to snack a lot, maybe you can do something like split your lunch serving into two and have two smaller lunches? That will let you eat ‘proper food’ rather than snacks. Some fruit should also be okay.

    I don’t think the article really says much that we didn’t know already. It reiterates the fact that we should eat healthy and get exercise, and points out that many people still don’t do this — especially the exercise, even though most of the article is about food.

    Maybe the article is useful for pointing out that some foods that people think are a ‘healthy’ option are actually not? However, most of the examples seem obvious to me. Rice Bubbles, muesli bars and sausages are clearly processed, and it is fairly common knowledge (right?) that they tend to be high in salt and sugar. Maybe the examples of mashed potatoes and fruit juice are not quite so well-known?

    Some of the statements in the article, including the example you give, are of the form ‘if you ate heaps of X, but changed nothing else, you get fat’. These can sound scary at first glance, but aren’t too meaningful as a practical reference — unless you eat to excess, which we already know is unhealthy. I don’t really approve of the statement: ‘even fresh fruit…is a highly calorific food that should be treated with caution’. Okay, so you should eat more vegetables than fruit, but ‘caution’ seems much too alarmist. Better to eat too much fruit than too many chips, burgers or pizza. You at least get a decent dose of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. The same goes for (unsalted) nuts.

    The message you should take away from the article is not that you shouldn’t eat fruit, potatoes, white bread or nuts. Rather, as misscipher says, just to keep it all in moderation. More important that all of this, I think, is that exercise is the main thing lacking for most of us. We can adjust your diet forever, but without exercise it only gets us so far.

    Maybe I’m being a bit too dismissive of the article. I agree with you that many people can easily fall into a bad diet despite good intentions, so I think these sorts of articles are good to make people sit up and realise that this actually requires a bit of knowledge and research, as well as some discipline. I just don’t think it’s very difficult research. The discipline part is trickier. Do you think this sort of article can help to inspire people out of some lazy habits?

  2. joanium says:

    Hi Beldar,

    I don’t think this is common knowledge. Certainly, I’d feel like I was doing the right think if I ate dried fruit or a muesli bar. I had no qualms eating five pieces of dried apricot but now I know that five is ‘excessive’ rather than ‘moderate’ eating.

    Every day, I walk for 40 minutes at 6 km/h (which is considered a ‘fast’ pace). I looked this up just now and walking that much burns off two oranges. I would eat two extra oranges a day a couple of times a week without thinking about increasing my exercise. Do you think if someone drank an extra glass of apple juice every day would then do 40 minutes of brisk walking? Or reduce their lunch portion by a third?

    I see people at work drinking smoothies and that worries me. I have a vegetarian sausage sandwich and a croissant for breakfast once a month and that worries me because I don’t make up for it by eating less or exercising more or limiting the salt in my dinner.

    I think the statement that goes ‘…and changed nothing else…’ is the reality of it. Eating just one extra thing a day means you need to exercise an hour. Very few people would do this.

    Discipline is difficult but lack of knowledge (and not just laziness) is a big problem here, now that I think about it.

  3. vera says:

    I eat a boiled egg every morning these days, to help keep me full until a reasonable time.

    My friend at work actually does snack on tuna and boiled eggs.

    Beans are also good – they’re high in protein and very filling!

    I tend to snack on yogurt. Yogurt usually has about 8 grams of protein per serve (I’m an obsessive label reader). When I can be bothered preparing them, I also snack on carrot and celery sticks. And corn on the cob (people at work laugh at me for that).

  4. joanium says:

    Before I read this article, I was in the supermarket buying ingredients to make fried rice. (As an aside, I now regret that my rice is white basmati, not wholemeal so all I’m doing is filling my tummy instead of getting nutrients.)

    Anyway, I was in the store, struggling to choose between spending £3 (A$6.30) on prawns for my fried rice or £4 (A$8.40) for chorizo. The chorizo would have made the rice tastier but I love the texture of prawns. In the end, I went for prawns. I felt satisfied with my choice, now that I’ve read this article about how salty and fatty chorizo is.

    Another shopping choice, though, which I’d like your opinion on. I eat muesli every day for breakfast. This week, though, I bought a big loaf of harvest grain bread (it has lots of seeds). I was trying to think of something with protein that I could use as a spread. I ended up buying a soft French cheese.

    Cheese has protein, right? But I guess it’s fatty. Is hommous better? Or peanut butter? Vera, label reader that you are, what would you choose?

  5. vera says:

    Joan, off the top of my head, soft French cheese is about 25% fat! Hommus is probably the best choice there.

    Muesli is a great breakfast food though, I think. I like to have that when I know I won’t get a morning snack because I think it fills me up for a long time (with the milk/soy you have with it, you also get a decent amount of protein).

    By the way, I LOVE brown rice. I don’t use it all the time at home (my dad still buys white rice for our normal Chinese fare), but when I’m not hungry and just want a light meal, I sometimes have soup with brown rice. I LOVE the texture of brown rice!!

  6. Beldar says:

    There’s usually a large range of muesli at the supermarket, all varying in nutritional content. Some have added salt and sugar, so be careful. Which fruits and nuts are included will also make a big difference. Sometimes, instead of muesli, I just have rolled oats with some yogurt and a banana.

    I love brown rice too, it is satisfyingly chewy! I also like boiled wheat or barley kernels for the same reason, but I hardly ever have them because they take much longer to cook.

  7. vera says:

    The one in the green box here is my favourite muesli:

    😀 I’m actually not a big fan of dried fruit in my muesli, so the fruit-free-ness is great! I don’t think you can get it in the UK though – it’s a small Australian brand.

    Yes! I love the chewiness! I also got some quinoa a while back, and sometimes use that instead of rice too. Good source of protein, but expensive, so not really viable as a proper rice substitute.

  8. joanium says:

    Alden, running a marathon sounds like torture to me. I have nothing but admiration for you and your crazy mates.

    I think a triatholon would be even worse. I’m sure I would drown. I only went into the sea properly (i.e. waded in above my hip level) for the first time last December in Melbourne. I have been one more time since then, in the calm ocean waters of Mauritius.

    I don’t mind brown rice or wholemeal bread. They taste and feel similar enough that I will now buy the brown varieties for their nutritional value without feeling like I’ve sacrificed anything. Bread is confusing, though. Is wholemeal bread with seeds and grains good or bad? I heard that they can often have a lot of calories.

    I used to eat raisin toast as a ‘healthy’ snack until I found out (again, via the media) that it is loaded with sugar.

    I bought some rice cakes for munching but I think they actually make me hungrier.

    I am now going to do the yoghurt thing. Dianne, my housemate from Cambridge, used to make a tuna, yoghurt and corn salad that was very tasty. Maybe I can keep a tub of that in the fridge and use it for a snack.

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