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  • Health & Medicine

Recipe for a healthy diet

by Sarah Williams | Analysis

5 February 2012

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Our competion winner

Eating more healthily and even dropping a few pounds are common resolutions, and after the over-indulgence of Christmas can initially seem very easy to stick to. But with wind, rain and even snow outside, it’s easy to understand why our minds can quickly turn to comfort food.

Nothing whets the appetite like a competition, so to encourage our staff to practice what they preach when it comes to our healthy living messages we ran a contest in the office. We challenged our staff for their best recipes to beat the winter blues, but that still get a big tick for healthiness.

The response was fantastic – possibly not quite as enthusiastic as the rush to the kitchen when someone brings in birthday cake – but nevertheless encouraging. Little did we know that there were so many budding Jamie Oliver’s in the office.

[Please feel free to share your own healthy recipes in the comments below!]

The basics

Before we reveal the competition winners, we thought we’d outline some of the basics of healthy eating, which are based on insights from scientific research.

There are many good reasons to make sure you eat a healthy balanced diet, and reducing the risk of cancer is one of them. There isn’t enough evidence around any individual food to say whether it can affect cancer risk, but we do know that getting plenty of fruit, vegetables and fibre can cut the risk. On the other hand, too much salt, red and processed meat and saturated fat can increase the risk.

So what does all that advice boil down to, when it comes to getting dinner on the table?

Our top tips for healthy eating

Healthy eating isn’t about a single ‘super food’ (there’s no such thing) – instead, it’s about cutting down on the less healthy processed and fatty foods, and instead making sure you chow down on the healthier options.

Here’s our selection of top tips for a healthy diet:

  • Picking fruits and vegetables of different colours to make up your five a day is a useful tip – the colours often come from the micronutrients these foods contain. And they can be an excellent source of fibre, particularly pulses such as lentils or baked beans.
  • Other good sources of fibre are wholegrain foods. Nowadays it’s fairly easy to find wholemeal pasta and brown rice in the supermarket. And bread comes in loads of fibre-filled varieties, from granary to versions that look like white bread to fool the kids.
  • Ready meals and processed foods are often high in salt already, so be careful about adding more. Make sure you taste food first, even if you’ve cooked it yourself. And salt can be sneaky, stock cubes are high in salt, as is soy sauce. Ideally, we should have no more than 6g of salt a day, which is a little more than a teaspoonful
  • Processed meat includes things like bacon, sausages, salami and ham. You don’t have to avoid red and processed meat completely, but if you currently eat a lot it’s a good idea to cut down by having it less often and in smaller portions. Try using white meat like fish or chicken instead or bulking up stews and casseroles with beans or extra vegetables.
  • You should also keep an eye on how many calories you’re eating. Eat more than you use up and the weight will start to creep on. Foods that are high in sugar or fat, like cakes and biscuits, also tend to be high in calories, so stick to small portions or make them an occasional treat. Remember that drinks contain calories too – especially alcohol. And fitting some activity into your day will boost the calories you’re burning.
  • One last tip. When you create a wonderful healthy recipe, try to keep it that way! Otherwise great recipes can have their health-credentials ruined in seconds by sprinkles (or let’s face it, bucket loads, whose hand doesn’t slip with the cheese?) of parmesan, halloumi, mozarella, goats cheese and so on. That’s not to say we should banish cheese from our diet altogether, but just be mindful that most cheeses are high in salt, saturated fat and calories.

Recipes for success

Hungry yet? Without further ado, here are the dishes that – excuse the pun – cut the mustard with our judges. There’s one main course and one pudding idea, both of which show that it’s possible to be both healthy and tasty.

We certainly don’t claim they’re cancer busting, but we do claim they’re scrumptious and could be a great addition to a newer, healthier diet for 2012.

Fabulous Fajitas (Feeds: 2 – 3 people | Time: 45 mins)

Easy to make and fun to eat, this is a great one to share with friends. The creator, Sophie, has also made a YouTube film including her top fajita folding tips.

As well as getting most, or even all, of the way to your five a day, this recipe boosts your fibre intake with the inclusion of beans and by choosing wholemeal wraps. Avocado is pretty high in fat, but it also has lots of vitamins and minerals. Having some occasionally, especially in an otherwise low fat recipe like this one, shouldn’t push you over the edge calorie-wise.

For the fajita mix:

  • 1tbsp Olive oil
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red chilli (adjust to taste), chopped
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 sweet potato, cut into large chunks
  • 1 courgette, cut into large chunks
  • 2 peppers (any colour), cut into large chunks
  • 4 large tomatoes (or 1 tin), cut into quarters
  • 1 small tin of butter beans, drained
  • 1 small tin of kidney beans, drained
  • 1 low salt vegetable stock cube
  • 1tbsp tomato puree
  • Boiling water, to cover
  • 1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Guacamole ingredients:

  • 1 large avocado
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt and pepper to taste

 Tomato salsa ingredients:

  • 4 fresh tomatoes cut into small cubes
  • 2 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
  • ½ red onion, finely sliced
  • Juice of one lime

 To serve:

  • 1 packet of wholemeal wraps
  • 1 bunch of fresh spinach


  1. Put the olive oil, onion, garlic and chilli in a large heavy based frying pan over a low heat.
  2. Whilst that is cooking, chop all the other vegetables into large chunks. This is important to stop them falling apart in the sauce.
  3. When the onion is translucent add the ground coriander and cumin and fry for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Then add the rest of the vegetables and the beans and stir well. Once mixed, add the stock cube and tomato puree and cover with boiling water.
  5. Bring the pan to the boil, ensuring all the vegetables are covered with liquid. Leave to simmer, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked and the sauce is thick, glossy and reduced down. In the meantime, prepare the guacamole and salsa.
  6. For the guacamole, scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl and add the other ingredients, then mash well with a fork until smooth.
  7. For the salsa, make sure everything is chopped into very small pieces, then simply place in a bowl and stir well.
  8. When the fajita mix is ready, turn off the heat and season to taste, stirring in the fresh coriander.
  9. Heat the wraps up in the microwave for 30 seconds or until warm.
  10. Assemble the fajitas with fresh spinach, guacamole and salsa, then devour!

Oaty topped plum and date pudding (Feeds: 4 – 6 people | Time: 30 – 40 mins)

This delicious alternative to a traditional fruit crumble turns a stodgy classic into a healthy treat. And it’s so good it was our overall winning dish. The oats add plenty of fibre and using dates to keep things sweet, rather than adding sugar, is a brilliant trick.

Ring the changes by using apples, blackberries and other traditional crumble fruits instead of the plums. Or try swapping the sunflower seeds for flaked almonds or other nuts.

Oaty topping:

  1. 150 g Oats
  2. 30g sunflower seeds
  3. 30 g desiccated coconut
  4. 90 mls (6tbs) sunflower oil

Fruity filling:

  • 1kg plums, stoned and halved
  • 250 g dates, chopped


  1. Heat the oven to 180 ⁰c/gas mark 4
  2. Place the plums and dates in a 1L oven proof dish.
  3. Put the oats, sunflower seeds, desiccated coconut and sunflower oil in a bowl and mix well.
  4. Sprinkle the oat mixture over the fruit.
  5. Bake for 20-30 mins, until the oats are toasted and the filling is hot and bubbling.

Time to share

Healthy, I think you’ll agree, and delicious to boot. But don’t just take our word for it – try the recipes out yourself and don’t forget to let us know what you think or suggest your own nutritious dish in the comments section.