When we decide to take the dreaded step and go on a diet, one of the most disheartening things is realising just how many of our favourite foods we have to give up. And when this list gets too depressingly long and restrictive, people often lose their resolve and the number of cheat days goes up and up and next thing we know, we throw in the towel and start ordering takeaways again.
The trick with sticking to any diet is all mental. It’s our cravings or lack of discipline that trip us up, but also all the negativity surrounding going on a diet. If you shake up how you look at going on a diet, it will become a lot easier to stick to and you might even wind up enjoying it! Instead of saying to yourself – you can’t have bread, say you can have rye bread instead. You’re not denying yourself food, you’re just substituting what some foods are. Think “change” not “remove”. That way, you can approach a meal as trying something new, instead of not eating what you like.
Rice is a particularly tricky one, because you might not often think of it as an unhealthy option. After all, it’s a staple in many Asian countries and their food is generally considered very healthy. We often go to pasta as the main culprit, but actually, the nutritional difference between pasta and white rice is very small. Pasta may contain sugar, but rice is actually more carby than pasta. Of course, the body needs some carbohydrates, but these are the sorts of foods we struggle to eat in moderation. Why? Because they’re filling and easy to cook. But there are actually quite a few alternatives to rice, which are just as simple to prepare, but far healthier. It’s important to try and choose substitutes that have a similar flavour and texture to what you’re trying to cut out – which is courgette spaghetti is always a disappointment!
Quinoa has spiked in popularity in recent years and for good reason. It’s high in fibre and protein and has a low GI, so it’ll keep you fuller for longer. You often see quinoa as an addition to cold salads, but it’s actually delicious to eat warm. Cooking quinoa is virtually identical to rice and once it’s ready, you can stir in some salted butter, to give it a creamier and more flavourful taste. The next time you’re ordering a curry, order just the meat and sauce and instead of a big helping of white rice, have it with quinoa. Curry sauce is still the primary flavour and the quinoa will be the perfect healthier compliments to the main protein.
A favourite among Eastern Europeans, barley is a very filling and versatile ingredient. You can have it as a warm side dish, salad filler or even add it to soup and broth. In addition to its high fibre content, barley is full of healthy nutrients, including B vitamins and iron so whereas before you might have had a guilty portion of rice that serves little purpose, except to fill you up – now you can substitute it with something that’s not just good for the waistband, but for your whole body as well.
Venturing to the more unusual options now, you’ll often find polenta on fancy restaurant menus, but actually, polenta is a traditional Italian peasant dish. It’s not as loaded with vitamins as quinoa or barley, but polenta is still much lower in calories than rice and is also gluten free. Polenta has a much mushier texture and depending on how you cook it, you could add cream or cheese to make it more flavourful, so it could also be a good substitute for mashed potatoes.
If you still want that warm, ricey feeling, then you can simply swap out regular rice for wild rice. It’s technically a whole grain, good for the heart and contains antioxidants. If parting with rice all at once is a little tough, then you can at least mix your portion of regular white rice with brown and wild rice, to reduce the carbs and up your fibre intake. It does take much longer to cook, so you’ll need to cook the wild rice separately or adjust your other cooking times.
Unless you’re a cold turkey kind of person, the best way to sustain a diet is to gradually introduce healthy changes and swapping out bad carbs for more fibre rich, lower calorie options is a great start. Plus whenever you introduce a new ingredient into your kitchen, you experiment with different recipes and flavours – variety is the spice of life, so a healthy change can actually make the cooking and eating experience more fun!