Fit and festive this Christmas

Multi Generation Family Enjoying Christmas Meal At Home

Finally the festive season is nearly upon us – the time to eat, drink and be merry.

Being restrained is probably the last thing on your mind and we’re certainly not going to tell you to abstain from tasty treats over the holidays!

However, if you want to enjoy Christmas but still make it just a tiny bit healthier, then here’s some simple tips to keep you on the right track.

Party time

If you’re heading to a restaurant for your xmas party take a look at the Heart of Derbyshire scheme for places that offer smaller portions and other healthier options. Find out more at

Other ways of making parties less stodgy and more social include:

  • Try to share starters or desserts with a willing friend
  • Eat regular meals and snacks before heading out. That way you won’t arrive starving and you’re less likely to overindulge.
  • Focus on socialising. Move the conversation away from the food table so you’re less likely to nibble
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with water or a low calorie soft drink – this reduces your calorie intake

Christmas day

When the big day arrives, it will be a frenzy of food, drink and nibbles. But if you’d like to make the main event a little more virtuous here’s a few ideas that don’t scrimp on taste:

  • Serve plenty of vegetables – cut potatoes and parsnips into large pieces for roasting as they’ll absorb less fat
  • Swop some of your roast potatoes for sweet potatoes – more fibre and very tasty
  • Brussel sprouts contain more vitamin C than oranges. Lightly steaming them will preserve and give a sweeter taste
  • Before you cook your turkey or goose, prick the skin to allow the fat to drain out. Removing the skin once cooked will also cut down considerably on fat
  • Make bread sauce healthier by using semi-skimmed milk and add a clove of garlic to the milk to add flavour
  • Make open-top mince pies. Using less pastry cuts down on calories and fat. Alternatively, use filo pastry, which is thinner and lower in calories than traditional pastry.
  • For some healthier snacks try our home made tortilla chips and salsa here.

Don’t forget to try and make time to get active too. A walk on Christmas day or Boxing day helps prevent the post lunch slump and will give you a much needed boost of energy.

If you’re in the mood to make some changes in the New Year then take a look at Live Life Better Derbyshire.

It’s a free service that helps with things like weight management, active lifestyles and smoking support. Find out more at

Healthy winter comfort food

Pea soup

Now the nights are drawing in and the days are getting colder, it can be really easy to forget about healthy eating and turn to stodgy comfort food.

Salads that are quick, easy and healthy in summer, no longer have the same appeal – so now’s the time to re-think the menu and find some comforting, but healthy alternatives.

If your mind has already turned to hearty winter food, then casseroles and stews can be a cost effective option.

They use cheaper cuts of meat that benefit from long, slow cooking and can be packed full of vegetables.

Onion, celery, carrots or other root vegetables in season can be combined with stock and the meat of your choice to produce a hearty, warming meal.

Chicken thighs can be a tasty, low cost ingredient, and if the skin is removed, they are low in fat.

Slow cookers are readily available for various budgets and even when cooking for up to eight hours cost about a third of the price of using a standard oven for two hours.

With a bit of planning and preparation in the morning, you can come home from work to a ready cooked, healthy meal that all the family will enjoy.

Any leftovers can be safely frozen for up to three months, so you can have a stock of meals for when time is really short.

If you still hanker after a feeling of summer, then warm salads could be the answer.

Try some grilled chicken with noodles, finely sliced carrots, mushrooms and spring onion, or if you’re after a meat free option, grilled halloumi with couscous, roasted peppers and chick peas is quick to cook and contributes to your five-a-day.

Starting the day with a good breakfast is an effective way to avoid turning to unhealthy snacks during the day.

When it’s cold, a bowl of warming porridge or a poached egg on wholemeal toast can set you up for the day, and helps avoid the mid-morning hunger pangs.

If you still need a snack, a piece of fruit or some vegetable sticks, or a small handful of nuts or seeds can see you through until lunchtime.

Measure out the nuts or seeds as although they contain ‘good’ fats, they are high in calories so if you eat too many, you will still put on weight.

Homemade soup can be quick and easy to make ready for lunch.  Add your favourite vegetables to some stock, throw in some lentils that don’t require pre-cooking and simmer until cooked through.  Blend, or mash if you prefer a chunky soup, and serve with some crusty bread.

With a bit of planning and using seasonal foods, winter meals can be healthy, comforting and won’t break the bank.

Get some more tasty recipe ideas at

Trackers and fitness apps

two smiling people with smartphones outdoors


Many of us have fitness trackers that record our daily activity or use apps to track the calories we’re eating – but can technology really help us lead a healthier lifestyle?

It’s a grey area with lots of emerging research showing that while fitness apps and trackers can provide a helpful boost for some people, others may find them demotivating and counterproductive.

People who are really interested in healthy lifestyles and want to make a definite change will find fitness trackers inspiring.

However if you’re not totally committed to making a change, you may find it disheartening and want to give up – especially if you’re nowhere near your goal.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t give trackers a go but it might be useful to initially set smaller goals that you are realistically able to achieve.

For example, if you currently don’t do much exercise, instead of aiming to hit the recommended daily 10,000 steps straight away why not try for 4,000 or 5,000 instead and gradually work your way up.

So what about apps available on smartphones?  There’s lots of apps available that offer a wide range of advice from encouraging us to record the food we eat to BMI trackers and alcohol awareness apps.

There are several Public Health England approved apps to help with healthier lifestyles.

One You has a range of apps including Easy Meals to offer simple, cost effective recipes, a drinks trackers to keep an eye on your alcohol consumption and Couch to 5k to build you up to running 5k over a nine week programme.

Change 4 Life also has barcode scanners apps to see how much sugar is in foods and an activity generator to help children achieve their recommended 60 minutes of activity each day.

Research so far shows that apps can be very useful for quick and easy ways to get information and record our food intake and physical activity output.  But whether this results in long term benefits is still unclear.

In short fitness trackers and healthy eating apps can help us to stay on track if we are motivated to start with.

They can be a good way to kick start a healthy lifestyle regime as they offer focus and new ideas.

But the key is to set small, achievable goals that you are likely to complete as this will keep you motivated.

Ultimately if you are seeking to lose weight there are no ‘quick fixes’. It’s long-term lifestyle changes that will make the difference rather than going on a fad diet or using an app.

Try eating off smaller plates and gradually increasing your step count as the weeks go by.

If you can see that there is a difference to your health and waistline you are more likely to stick with it and make permanent changes.

Get more advice and help on healthy eating and portion control at




Check out your coffee calories

Coffee 3

We’re a nation of coffee lovers and many of us can’t get through the day without a caffeine hit.

But when going out for a coffee you might be surprised to know that there’s a huge variation in size, price and calorie content.

Our trading standards team recently carried out a study on coffee lattes across Derbyshire.

They took samples from local independent cafes and national chains and found a big variation in size and calorie content.

The team found lots of variables in terms of the type of milk used – skimmed, semi skimmed and whole milk and/or cream – and the actual amount of milk added.

The calories in the drink altered dependant on the size of portion, the type and quantity of milk, the amount of added sugar and whether or not there are added sweeteners such as syrup.

Calories in drinks can soon add up and if you’re trying to watch your weight then it’s important to factor in what’s in your favourite beverage too.

The average energy content of a regular sized latte from local cafes was found to be 64 calories, but this ranged widely from 32 calories to 164 calories for similar sized drinks.

The total sugar content also varied considerably from three grams to 14 grams.

Other coffee shop favourites such as hot chocolate contain 165 calories or the equivalent of half a large sausage roll, whereas a tea with one sugar equates to a ginger biscuit – about 44 calories.

It’s not just hot drinks that can sneak calories into your diet.  You know that fizzy drinks such as cola and lemonade are high in sugar, but are other drinks any better?

Some flavoured waters or juice based drinks can have as much sugar as a can of cola, while still being advertised as ‘healthy’ and ‘made from fruit juice’ so make sure to check the label before buying.

To keep your calories in check here’s a few tips when visiting your favourite café:

  • To save calories and money opt for a smaller cup and don’t super-size!
  • The healthiest option is to have black coffee with no sugar. If it’s too bitter for you then why not add ground cinnamon to it
  • Many national chains have calorie contents on their menus, check before ordering
  • Check what milk is being used – go skinny and ask for skimmed milk
  • Avoid sugar. Try a natural sweetener instead
  • Look for coffee shops that are signed up to Heart of Derbyshire. It lists businesses that have pledged to offer healthier options. Find out more at
  • Adding syrup to a drink can add the equivalent of three teaspoons of sugar, so ask for sugar free syrups or avoid them where possible.
  • Find out the calories in some of your favourite drinks by downloading our infographic here: Calories in drinks


Salt shake up

Salt shaker on wooden table

Do you always reach for the salt at dinner time? Do you have to add it to every meal? If so then you’re probably eating too much of the white stuff.

You’re not alone – many people in the UK still eat too much salt and this can have serious effects on our health.

So why exactly is too much salt bad for us? It’s because the amount of salt you eat has a direct effect on your blood pressure.

Salt makes your body hold on to water. If you eat too much salt, the extra water stored in your body raises your blood pressure.

The higher your blood pressure, the greater the strain on your heart, arteries, kidneys and brain. This can lead to heart attacks, strokes, dementia and kidney disease.

Another danger is that high blood pressure often has no symptoms so people do not know that they have it.

So how much salt is too much? The maximum recommended level of salt for adults is 6g per day but the average person currently eats over 8g.

Be aware that some food labels have sodium listed rather than salt.  Adults should eat no more than 2.4g sodium per day and children even less.

75% of the salt we eat is already added in everyday foods such as bread, breakfast cereals and ready meals so it’s important to read labels carefully.

Salt is found in a wide range of foods, but certain culprits are nearly always high in salt. These include bacon, ham and hard cheeses.

An additional 10% of the salt we eat is added through cooking and at the table and this is where you can really make a difference.

Here are some tips to help you cut down on salt:

  • When shopping check labels and choose food that is lower in salt. High is classed as more than 1.5g salt per 100g and low is 0.3g or less per 100g
  • Remember sauces such as ketchup, mustard, soy sauce and pickles are high in salt. Opt for ones with the lowest salt content
  • If you use salt for flavour why not try alternatives such as black pepper, herbs or spices instead
  • Don’t add salt to the water you use for vegetables, pasta and rice
  • Make your own stock and gravy instead of using cubes or granules, or look out for reduced-salt products.

Remember that children need less salt than adults.  Don’t add salt to babies’ milk or food and don’t use stock cubes or gravy for babies as their kidneys can’t cope with the salt.

At first, food without salt might taste bland, but don’t give up. It’s just the same as giving up sugar in tea.

After a few weeks your taste buds will adjust and you will start to enjoy food with less salt.

Reaching for the salt pot is often just a habit and cutting it out can make a big difference to your health.

Dealing with diabetes

close up of male finger with blood and glucometer
Most people have heard about diabetes. And, with 3.5 million people diagnosed in the UK many of us will know a friend or family member living with diabetes.

Diabetes is a condition where the amount of glucose in your blood is too high because the body cannot use it properly.

It develops when glucose can’t enter the body’s cells to be used as fuel. This happens when either:

  • There is no insulin to unlock the cells (Type 1 diabetes)
  • There is not enough insulin or the insulin is there but not working properly (Type 2 diabetes).

Diabetes can cause serious long-term health problems such as cardiovascular disease, vision loss and kidney failure.

Currently, more than 60,000 people in Derbyshire have Type 2 diabetes, which is largely preventable through lifestyle changes, and 70,000 more are thought to be at high risk of developing it.

The most common symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Going to the toilet a lot, especially at night.
  • Being really thirsty.
  • Feeling more tired than usual.
  • Losing weight without trying to.
  • Genital itching or thrush.
  • Cuts and wounds take longer to heal.
  • Blurred vision.

If you have any of the above symptoms you should contact your GP.

It doesn’t necessarily mean you have diabetes, but it’s worth checking – early diagnosis and treatment are vital to reduce the chances of developing serious complications.

Patients at high risk of Type 2 diabetes in Derby and Derbyshire will soon be able to benefit from a new programme to help them avoid developing the condition.

The new scheme is one of 27 to launch across the country as part of the national Healthier You: NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme to help patients change their lifestyles.

GPs will invite people they know to be at high risk to enrol for tailored help, including education on healthy eating and lifestyle changes, and bespoke physical exercise programmes, all of which together have been proven to reduce the risk of developing the disease.

Some of the risk factors for Type 2 diabetes – such as age, ethnic background, or family history – can’t be changed, but others can.

Eating more healthily and getting more exercise are some of the main things you can do to help reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Physical activity can reduce your chance of developing Type 2 diabetes by up to 40 per cent as well as reduce the risk of other health conditions.

To get more advice and help on managing diabetes visit


Let the sunshine!

Girl on sunset

Now the dark winter days are behind us we have been finally having some warmer, sunnier days.

Sunshine not only lifts our spirits and boosts our mood but it is also good for our health.

That’s because it helps us produce Vitamin D. This is a vital vitamin that is essential for healthy bones and teeth.

It also helps you to absorb calcium.  Even if you have plenty of calcium in your diet, for example through milk and dairy products and green leafy vegetables you cannot absorb it properly if you do not have vitamin D.

It’s thought that 1 in 5 people have low levels of vitamin D and it can be difficult to diagnose a deficiency as often there are no symptoms.

A lack of vitamin D can lead to bones becoming weak and soft and in recent years there has been an increase in rickets in the UK due to vitamin D deficiencies.

Rickets can cause bone pain, poor growth and deformities of the skeleton such as bowed legs and curvature of the spine.  Children with rickets are more likely to fracture their bones.

Rickets was very common but has mostly disappeared in the western world after foods such as cereal and margarine were fortified with vitamin D.

Food contains limited vitamin D but there are some foods that are good sources. They include:

  • Oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, kippers and mackerel
  • Eggs
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Some fortified fat spreads (margarines)
  • Some milk powder

The sun’s ultra-violet rays allow vitamin D to be made in the body but it is only at the right strength between March and October in the UK

Ten to fifteen minutes exposure to the sun (before applying sunscreen) two or three times a week will make enough vitamin D for the body to use and store through the winter but be sure not to spend too much time in the sun without adequate sun protection.

Some people are advised to take a vitamin D supplement. They include:

  • Babies and young children
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers
  • People over 65 years of age
  • People with darker skin tones
  • People whose skin is covered for most of the time
  • Housebound people or people who spend little time outdoors, for example office workers and nightshift workers

Be sure to check what the right dosage should be for you. If in doubt check with a health professional.