JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Monday, May 16, 2005

Some basic rules

I made this rule sheet a couple of weeks ago, and, as I was writing it, became aware that we have been backsliding. So we've got sterner recently. But the idea of using strict rules for home eating is that then, when we're out, we don't have to fuss if we can't follow the diet. It's a way of life, so it needs to incorporate the occasional treat (thank you Isabel E for introducing us to the Artisan du Chocolat), the occasional lapse.

What the sheet below doesn't say is that processed food should be a no-no. Once you start reading the labels, you quickly realise that, however fancily they package it, processed food contains high levels of fat (mostly saturated), salt and sugar. These are all things to avoid. So you need to know how much of them you are actually eating - which means putting them in yourself. Or not.

I was given a really good piece of advice by a nurse in the cardiac department of the Ninewells Hospital in Dundee: don't think about what you're taking out of your diet, think about what you're putting in. So we started by concentrating on putting in the seven portions of fruit and veg (now I'm told it should be nine!), which naturally limits the amount of other things you can eat. And because cheese is largely off limits, I started to develop other ideas for flavourings to add when I would have added cheese. I'll post something in a day or two about the way I've tackled that problem (I think it's been our biggest problem, because we used to eat quite a lot of cheese without really noticing the totals).


* Do not think of what you are taking out of your diet, think of what you are putting in.
* Aim to eat seven portions of fruit and veg a day (this is the most important rule – if you’re only going to make one change, this should be the one).
* Eat more fish.
* Meat: twice a week max, and no more than the size of a cigarette packet at once (also cut away all visible fat). Never eat chicken skin.
* Cheese: once a week max, and no more than the size of a matchbox at once.
* Eggs: 2-3 a week (but as much egg white as you like, which means you can adapt lots of recipes which call for eggs).
* Butter, cream: never! Use olive oil instead. And fat free fromage frais.
* Pudding, if any, should almost always be fruit (fresh or cooked).
* A little black chocolate once or twice a week is fine; nuts &/or dried fruit are good to nibble on.


* Legumes: all kinds – green beans, baked beans, chickpeas, lentils etc
* Cabbage family – not just broccoli, but also Brussels sprouts, chard, rocket, cauliflower, watercress, kale, turnips, all kinds of greens
* Cereals: oats, wheatgerm, ground flaxseed, brown/wild rice, barley, wheat, buckwheat, rye, millet, bulgur wheat, spelt, couscous, etc
* Oranges, lemons, tangerines, limes, and grapefruit, unless you’re on statins, in which case never. It shouldn’t all be in the form of juice, as part of the goodness is in the fibre. The zest is good, too
* Pumpkin: also carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes and orange peppers
* Salmon, also halibut, tinned tuna, sardines, herring, trout, sea bass, oysters, clams
* Spinach: also kale, spring greens, pak choi, Romaine lettuce
* Tea: black tea is fine
* Tomatoes: also watermelon, papaya, guava
* Skinless chicken/turkey breast
* Nuts: walnuts, almonds, pistachios, sesame seeds, peanuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews. NB not roasted/salted
* Yoghurt, fat free and unsweetened
* Blueberries, red grapes, cranberries, loganberries, raspberries, strawberries, currants, blackberries, cherries
* Onions, garlic, shallots


* Be strict at home so you don’t have to fuss when you’re out.
* Don’t worry if you lapse, this is not “being on a diet”, this is a way of life. Just try not to lapse too often or for too long.
* Menna’s tip is to ask caterers for “no dairy”, and you’ll generally get plain cooked food, with no sauce, no fat, and fruit salad to follow.


* Anything by Sue Kreitzman.
* Superfoods, by Steven Pratt and Kathy Matthews. Written in American self-help style, but interesting (the basis of the good things to eat section).
* in the BBC Good Food book series, a little square book called 101 Low-fat Feasts has lots of good ideas.


janelle said...

Wow: really useful list Joanna! On my new blog I call that a bagful of ideas:). Thanks for giving such a great overview!

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

This is a great list! I think it's a good read for everyone, not only those with health concerns. Thank you for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

This is so useful, that I have put the list of good things to eat on TopVeg - I hope tbat is OK with you.
TopVeg from

Unknown said...

Test said...

Cool rules Joanna. I think they are sound, I must admit I am far from following that. But I think I can try to be close. Good rule regarding the cheese. It can add a lot of fat to the diet. I should probably bookmark this and read it once a day! Or print and put on my fridge.


Meg Wolff said...

This looks like a great plan. You must feel wonderful!

Sharon J said...

That information is useful to anybody, not just those with heart problems. Thank you for posting it :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your list. very informative.

Unknown said...

i must admit, i love quinoa, regardless of how unintuitive its pronunciation may be! since i discovered quinoa ("keen-wah") a few years ago, i eat it all the time. its a great protein source and fun to eat with all its little spirals!

Celeste Arkeat said...

This is an interesting list. It's a good guideline for healthier eating, even if people don't keep to it 100%. I noticed a lot of foods you mentioned are ones that I have been told are great for reducing cholesterol, like the berries you listed (especially blueberries and grapes). It's a good diet for people absolutely need to cut down on risk-factors for heart disease, but it's also good to follow for people like me who are just looking to maybe improve what they eat. If I may ask, where did you hear that the 7 servings rule had been upped to 9?

Joanna said...

I am sorry that I don't remember about the nine a day ... I think the key is to just eat more fruit and veg than anything else, and not worry too much about numbers, either the number of f/v p/d OR the calories etc etc.


Katya Robin said...

totally agree a good diet is about what you eat, not want you cut out.

when my kids were younger and wanted to go veggie, I explained that was fine as long as they ate baked beans lentils and butter beans with lots of veggies. Most kids/teens who go veggie eat fatty frozen processed lumps and mountains of cheap cheese.

impressive house rules !