KFC – can fast food be fit food?

Call it a mid life crisis, but I’ve recently started stoking up the social life with a night out every fortnight or so. With only weeks to go until my 39 turns to in to forty, and with significantly more childcare on hand (thank you parents, sister and cousins!) it would be silly not to.

Usually a conversation in the pub eventually gets to “what do you do?”, or hilariously (well, it seemed the funniest thing I’d ever heard after a few Bushmill Mojitos): “What is your role in life?”

When I tell people that I am a dietitian, a lot of people ask the ‘Which Is Better’ question e.g.  “gin with slimline or fat tonic?”, “Guinness or beer?” or “what’s the least bad thing to have from the take-away”.

So takeaways: can fast food be fit food?

Purely for research purposes, today, I attended one of the best fast food joints Bangor Ring Road has to offer: KFC@Balloo.

What was the healthiest/least ‘bad’ thing on offer?

I had been slightly terrified that I was going to have to get one of those great big buckets that used to be advertised on TV in the 80’s. How things have changed! It felt like a chorus of angels had descended when I spotted the KFC Rice Box. It looked remarkably similar to the boxes you can get in Leon – a healthy fast fast food mecca in snazzy London.



Original Recipe Rice Box: in a box, there was a large portion of rice, a crispy chicken fillet, some salad (lettuce and tomatoes), a dollop of tomato chutney on the rice, and a splash of creamy dressing on the lettuce.


KFC Rice Box Adult Recommended Intake per day
Calories 500 2000
Fat 17 70
Saturated Fat 2.3 20
Carbohydrates 64 260
Protein 28 50
Salt 2.5 6


  • Taste: It was quite tasty indeed. The chicken wasn’t at all dry, the rice was flavoursome, the lettuce was crispy and the tomatoes great too (I am clearly not a food critic with extensive foody vocabulary!)
  • Nutrition:
    • the rice provides a good source of carbs (although there was a bit too much for me so I left about half).
    • great amount of protein from the chicken
    • the chicken has been deep fried so higher in fat than a grilled fillet, unfortunately KFC doesn’t have this option. I guess that’s reasonable as the joint is has ‘fried chicken’ in it’s name.
    • the salad provides about one of your five a day of fruit/veg
    • Horribly high in salt, giving you almost half of your recommended daily salt intake. The salt is probably what makes the rice so tasty.

KFC Nutrition Guide

How to ‘health it up’:

  • add a bottle of water
  • add a side of corn on the cob to double your veg intake
  • only eat half the rice, unless you’re very hungry or have just been working out
  • remove the crispy skin from the chicken
  • DO NOT add any more salt
  • DO NOT add chips or Coke

As a post sport/exercise/workout recovery meal, this is pretty good. It provides a decent amount of carbs, protein, and veg. The salt can be a good thing if you are a heavy sweater.

So how does it compare to healthy restaurant Leon’s box? Well, Leon has lots of different versions, but typically, there isn’t a massive amount of difference when comparing calories and overall fats. The KFC one is higher in salt and carbs (probably due to the big portion of rice), but as a positive KFC is higher in protein. Leon’s usually also contain healthy fats from avocado, olive oil and seeds.

Would I get this again from KFC? Yes, sure I would. Thumbs up 🙂


8 reasons you’re exercising more and not losing weight

So you’ve started eating better, walking more, going to the gym, or you’re training for a 5km race. Brilliant! You expected the weight to drop off, so why aren’t you seeing RESULTS?

Here are 8 top reasons:

  1. You are ‘good’ all day with your eating and are distracted enough to avoid eating too much. But by the evening you are hungry and attack the bread, cheese, breakfast cereal, biscuits, ice-cream etc. This is the most common mistake I see my clients making. You need to eat more during the day to stop the evening over eating.
  2. Exercising can result in an increase in your appetite, so you eat more. If you are genuinely more hungry, ensure you are eating protein at each meal (eggs, fish, chicken, cottage cheese are great choices), lots of fruit/veg, a high protein yoghurt, milky coffee or tea, water. Consider bringing a meal forward by an hour if you are ravenous.
  3. You eat more before and/or after your session to fuel the exercise. One of the most common mistakes I see is someone having a milkshake drink after 40 minutes in the gym to aid recovery, often followed with in a few hours of a normal meal. A typical bottle of milkshake will provide 300-400kcal, essentially replacing the calories you’ve just burned off. If you are exercising to lose weight, then you need a calorie deficit ie. burning more than you eat/drink.
    Post exercise shakes have their place, but watch the extra calories!

    Post exercise shakes have their place, but watch the extra calories!

    Although extra food/drinks may be necessary for long and strenuous workouts, for shorter workouts less than an hour, the need isn’t as significant. Normal meal and snacks around exercise should be enough eg. snack of an apple or banana 1-2 hours before a workout, yoghurt after.

  4. You are trying to be too healthy – yes really! You’re think you’re doing all the right things – snacking on nuts or rice cakes with peanut butter; lots of avocado in salads; extra pumpkin seeds and flaxseed in your porridge. Thing is, even healthy fats are high in calories: a tablespoon of most nutty things  have about 120 kcal. Half an avocado has about 150 kcal. They all add up.
  5. You think you can eat what you want because you exercise – if only! A 3 mile run will burn approximately 300 kcal. Not an excuse to have 6 biscuits or a whole pizza. Rewarding yourself with high fat/calorie ‘treat’ food can cancel out the good work done. Even professional athletes who have multiple training sessions each day have to be careful with their diets.
  6. You need to change your workout – you run for 40 minutes three times a week, or sit on a exercise bike and do some crunches. Your body adapts to what you do day in day out. You need to challenge your body. If you want to change, you need to change what you are doing!
  7. You sit down for the rest of the day – You have an intensive workout for an hour, so you don’t feel so bad about taking the car for journeys that you could walk. You need to stay as active as you can, humans are born to move. If you feel too exhausted to do anything but sit down for the rest of the day, you are probably over doing the exercise.
  8. Finally, if you feel that you really are exercising more and not over eating, you should visit your GP as you may have an underlying health condition e.g. Polycyctic Ovary Syndrome or under active thyroid. Signs of PCOS include irregular periods, acne, hairiness, anxiety/depression. Under active thyroid symptoms include feeling cold, tired, dry skin, constipation and depression. If you suspect

6 tips for portion control

I have written a lot about the types of foods to include for improving health and well being, but if you are watching your weight, how much you eat can be just as important as what you eat. Even if you have eat the healthiest foods ever, over do portion sizes, and you may see this in an inability to lose weight, and even weight gain. Below is a diagram of ideal proportions, but this could be a tiny or a massive plate!

Ideal proportions, but how much is a 'portion'?

Ideal proportions, but how much is a ‘portion’?

So what does a portion actually look like?

Fish or meat: size of the palm of your hand, or about 5-6 meatballs

pasta, rice, potato: a clenched fist

bread: one slice

cheese: a small matchbox

vegetables: about a cup

nuts: a small handful, or about 8 almonds

Some foods come ready prepared in their portion size eg. 2 eggs, a banana, an apple, or 2 satsumas

6 tips for portion control:

  1. Don’t cook more than you need of carbohydrate and protein foods. Even if you have been controlled with your first portion, if there are leftovers, you will be tempted by seconds. By all means, cook extra vegetables. If you are still hungry, have more veg!


    Cook lots of veg!

  2. Use whole grain carbohydrates eg. brown rice, oats, whole meal pasta – these are higher in fibre which should help you to feel full up for longer, so you will feel more satisfied with a smaller portion. They also keep your blood sugar levels steady, so a) preventing cravings for sugary snacks later on, and b) blunting insulin release (insulin promotes fat storage).
  3. Make sure that you have a portion of protein with each meal eg. tuna, chicken, salmon, beef, eggs, lentils – protein induces a feeling of fullness, so making you less likely to feel the need to snack later on. Your body also uses up more energy processing protein foods.

    Protein with each meal

    Protein with each meal

  4. Use a smaller plate – this will make the amount of food you are having appear to be more
  5. Don’t eat straight out of a carton or packet – this makes it almost impossible to keep to one portion. Take a handful of nuts from a bag and then put the bag out of sight.
  6. Focus on what you are eating – try not to eat in front of your computer or television. This can result in you unconsciously eating more than you intend to.

For those without weight worries, or with high calorie needs, you can stick to the same principles of proportions (1/4 carbs, 1/4 protein, 1/2 veg) but in larger portions sizes…..

For high calorie needs, bigger portions.

For high calorie needs, bigger portions.

The F word

My gut reaction when my 3 year old used the F word was one of horror. I couldn’t believe my ears, but I guess this sort of thing is inevitable when they start going to nursery school.

“I was playing mummies and babies with x and y in the home corner, and x was making lunch, and we couldn’t have too much or it would make us FAT!”

My first response: my Mummy Poker Face. In my head I was tearing my hair out shouting “nooooooooo!”.  Second response: a light and breezy 1 minute chat about food making you strong.

My second reason for the horror was the thought that the teacher may assume that, as a dietitian, I was teaching my children this nonsense. Following 12 years as a dietitian, I have seen hundreds of people (children and adults) for advice on obesity. Issues around food commonly appear to come from childhood experiences, a parent’s relationship with food and how they relate this to their children. During my time as a paediatric dietitian in the NHS, one particular little girl sticks in my mind. She was about 5 years old and referred to me as she was overweight. The first thing she did when she came in to the clinic room, was to show me her Barbie. She asked if she would ever look like her. I told her nobody looks like Barbie.

Of course, every parent wants their child to eat well, have a diet of good nutritious foods, and be healthy in the long term. We come in all shapes and sizes, skinny does not necessarily mean healthy. Feeding yourself and your child wholesome food, not using food as an emotional crutch, and not feeling GUILTY about nourishing yourself are all crucial in achieving a balanced state of mind. But how do we convey this to our children, particularly our daughters? Is it appropriate to use the F word?  Here is what I have learnt from my time practising as a paediatric dietitian, and as a mum to 3 children:

  • Do not discuss your weight or ‘going on a diet’ within earshot of your children.  Do not discuss any body part that you dislike. Keep any food, body and weight insecurities to yourself.
  • Do not discuss their weight, shape or size in a negative way, even if you are trying to turn it in to a positive eg. “it’s ok if you’re chunky/have baby fat”.
  • Don’t ban any food. It’s ok to have crisps, chocolate, cake etc. as an occasional addition to a regular intake of the ‘healthier’ foods
  • Do not discuss calories, and burning off with exercise. This leads to negative associations between the two. Food should be enjoyed. And exercise should be enjoyed, not a chore or a punishment to ‘work off’ a ‘bad’ food choice.

What should you say?

  • Food provides nutrition to make our bodies strong, fit and healthy
  • Some foods have much more vitamins and minerals than others, it is important that we eat lots of these to give our bodies energy and to keep us well.
  • Bread, potatoes, rice, pasta give us lots of energy for running around, climbing, bouncing, having fun!
  • Veggies and fruit help us to stop getting sick, give us sparkly eyes, shiny hair, and help cuts and grazes to get better
  • Fat is not ‘bad’, some fat is important for our bodies to use the vitamins properly and to help our brains to work
  • Eating a mixture of food gives all the different things our body needs

Tell your children that our bodies are amazing………..talk about all the awesome things that they can do if they want to: climb a mountain, run a race, do a cartwheel, touch the sky with their feet on a swing.  Help them to love moving, because that is what we are designed for.  “We’ve got to go for a walk because we’ve eaten to much chocolate” is in no way healthy, helpful or positive.

Teach your child how to love fresh air

Teach your child to love movement and exploring new things

Teach your child how to bake a cake using butter, sugar and flour

Teach your child how to chop and cook veggies.

Tell them they are strong, tell them they look happy, tell them they are GLOWING!

Pre-season Overload Week – we’re on a high. Why?!

Mid-way through the intense Overload week of pre season rugby training, and Dec’s exhaustion levels don’t seem too extreme.

He was even able to hold a conversation last night, and levels of irritability appear low (at dinner he soldiered on admirably when there was no pesto for the pasta – he rescued it with a dollop of hot pepper sauce).

Possible reasons for being cheerful: 

  1. the old body is feeling good: during previous pre seasons he was heavier, weighing in at up to 110kg, making training a bigger effort and therefore more tiring. The attention to diet may be making a difference to fatigue levels…..a balanced intake of real nutritious foods, rather than over emphasis on high protein, low carbohydrate and supplements.
  2. pre season training is going well, with the squad bonding
  3. today was a day off training, just a pilates session and physio
  4. he’s enjoying coaching the boys at Ealing Rugby two nights a week…..a new routine is as good as a holiday!
  5. our two eldest children are in N. Ireland with their Granny and Grandpa for a week. This means a bit of peace (we do like to spend time with our children, it’s just that these two nutters are the antithesis of the ‘children should be seen and not heard’ parenting philosophy)
  6. he’s beside himself with joy at the birth of the nation’s new Prince

So last night’s dinner was rescued with some hot pepper sauce. It had me thinking, what are the food items we always have in the fridge or cupboard? The “Desert Island” products (idea poached from Radio 4 Desert Island Discs, this is my Kirsty Young moment). Obviously we do eat other things, like the staples of meat, fish, vegetables and pasta/rice etc.

Our Desert Island List:

    1. Oats – for the porridge in the morning, essential slow release carbohydrate for the training day ahead. Made with milk for calcium and protein, raisins and some sugar for faster releasing carbs and to make it taste better. Also use oats to make biscuits, flapjacks and in smoothies.image
    2. Eggs – powerhouses of nutrition. One of the best sources of protein, containing all the essential amino acids, including leucine (big selling point of many protein supplements). Don’t worry about the cholesterol as it is poorly absorbed by the body. Scrambled, boiled, omelettes, egg fried rice.
    3.  Yoghurt – I prefer to buy natural unflavoured yoghurt as it has no added sugar and usually has probiotics (good for gut health and immunity). Any brand will do, but I’m a fan of the massive tubs from Lidl (about £1.50 for 1kg). I can add berries/chopped fruit/put in smoothies etc. Dec likes the new Danone ‘Danio” higher protein yoghurts (13g protein/pot) which are sweetened with fruit and sugar.2013-04-01 15.58.55
    4. Fruit – for snacks, no explanation needed for the benefits of the vitamins, antioxidants, fibre, carbohydrate etc.
    5. Nuts – a handful of almonds as a snack, or peanut butter on toast. Healthy fats (cholesterol lowering), high protein so filling and good for muscle repair/building
    6. Coffee – for a wake up kick, afternoon kick, evening kick. Means we don’t have to physically kick each other to wake up! Contrary to imagepopular belief, it’s not dehydrating and has many health benefits. Also useful to have pre training as caffeine enhances performance (ergonomic)! At London Irish, some of the boys are in their Coffee Club, where they enjoy a swift Nespresso before hitting the training field/weights room.
    7. Hot Pepper Sauce – as previously discussed, this can rescue a meal
      Hot Pepper Sauce

      Hot Pepper Sauce

      that may be lacking in flavour. Used like tomato ketchup. Personally, I think it destroys any hope of actually tasting the food you put it on (mmmm, not saying a lot for my cooking skills, is it?!)

    8. Cherry Diet Coke – this is the Desert Island luxury item, Dec’s ‘treat’. I get a bit twitchy and Food Police when he reaches for the 3rd or 4th can of the day. There’s not much good to say about Diet Coke, it’s nutritionally sparse, and there are question marks over it’s long term health affects.

So here’s hoping the happy state remains with us until Saturday when a week off training starts, watch this space!

Pre season training – a day in the life……

7 weeks in to pre season training, and we’re starting to feel the physical strain. Pre season (June-August) is the time when fitness and strength training are pushed to the extreme in preparation for the playing season ahead. I say ‘we’re’ starting to feel the strain as having a husband in pre season training is like adding another child to the equation. His exhaustion at the end of the day renders him pretty much helpless!

This morning, Monday 22nd July, sees that start of ‘Over-load Week’, when the boys are pushed even more physically, with the reward of a week off from Sunday. As I sit here typing at 6am, Dec’s alarm is jolting him out of his comatose state. With the first training session at 7.15am, he needs to be up with enough time to fit in the first meal to allow it to digest. Here’s the schedule for today:

7.15am: 45 minutes weights (‘hypertrophy’ short, sharp and intense lifting, to increase muscle mass)

8am: breakfast

8.30am: stretching session

10am: 1 hour rugby training

11.30am: 1/2 hour conditioning (fitness/running)

12pm: lunch

2.30pm: Weights (legs)

4pm: afternoon meal

4.30pm: physio/massage

6ish +: return home

So it’s a long day of weights, rugby and fitness training. The forecast for today is 32 degrees C…………..so on top of food and snacks, fluid, fluid, fluid is as important to maintain hydration.

After the long day at the Sunbury training ground, Dec will return to (ahem) our tranquil home. Perhaps I will rephrase that. Dec will return home to the tears and tantrums lively and spirited debates between our two girls (6 and 3), and our 1 year old toddler, who is going through a clingy/moaning phase. All the poor man wants to do is just sit down and zone out (reminds me of that quote from Winnie the Pooh: “Sometimes I sits and thinks, sometimes I just sits).

With 3 kids entertain, shopping, cooking, cleaning etc. etc. an extra body sitting near comatose on the sofa can be, to be polite, frustrating. However, I have to remind myself that recovery and rest are a fundamental phase of training, as important as the physical sessions throughout the day.

The huge calorie intake needed to meet the requirements of the extra physical activity AND to promote weight gain, can be tricky to achieve. Even with a personal dietitian who also happens to be his wife at his disposal.

I always say that an athlete can meet their nutritional needs using real food, with supplements eg. protein/recovery drinks/bars, used to support the diet if necessary. Real food gives a multitude of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, fibre, fatty acids, as well as probably many other substances that science not discovered yet. A manufactured product simply cannot replace a meal for nutrition.

Dec, being Dec, has taken this on board, wanting most of his nutrition to come from food, with recovery/energy drinks used a few times during training. In theory, this is music to the ears of a dietitian. However, in practise this means 5 meals per day, which is tedious (shopping, cooking, cleaning up), not to mention expensive.

Rob, the Strength & Conditioning coach at London Irish, has the boys on strict diets to meet their various nutrition and training needs. Dec’s aim is to increase weight from 100kg to approximately 105kg, while maintaining body fat at 10%. He’s on target, having upped the weight to 102.5kg (that half kilo is VERY important!)

Meals yesterday: porridge; bagel & scrambled eggs; salt beef ciabatta; pasta with pesto, chicken, pepper & spring onion; salmon, rice, happy carrot salad; wrap with chicken & coleslaw.

happy carrots

happy carrots

Snacks/training: apples, yoghurts, almonds, recovery drinks, energy drinks.


almonds, yoghurt, apple

Happy Carrots

The name alone makes me love this. It’s also very easy to make which makes me happy.

Happy Carrots

Happy Carrots

Why it’s happy: protein from the quinoa and seeds; antioxidants from the carrots, mint and coriander; essential fatty acids from the pumpkin and sunflower seeds, and a little bit of sweetness from the sultanas.


1 tablespoon sultanas (soak in hot water for 5 mins to plump up)

3 chopped spring onions

3 grated carrots

handful coriander leaves, chopped

small handful mint leaves, chopped

handful toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds

a few tablespoons cooked quinoa/rice (optional)

dressing: 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 chopped garlic cloves (or teaspoon of the garlic in a tube). Make more dressing, if you like it more dressingy.

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Mix the dressing ingredients together and add when about to serve.