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Eat Well, Feel Well: Treat Foods In A Well-Balanced Diet

Eat Well, Feel Well: Treat Foods In A Well-Balanced Diet

Andrew Conway and Ross Byrne celebrate during Ireland's Six Nations victory over Wales at the Aviva Stadium. ©INPHO/Gary Carr

Eating well to feel well is paramount at the best of times, but even more so now as we all navigate our way through challenging and unprecedented periods. Nutrition is important not just to stay physically healthy but also for your mental health, energy and overall mood and in the seventh part of our video series from the team of IRFU Performance Nutritionists, we explore the topic of treat foods with Richard Kelly, Performance Nutritionist with the Munster Rugby Academy.

Treat Foods – Richard Kelly, Performance Nutritionist with the Munster Rugby Academy

What are treat foods?

There is no such thing as a good or a bad food. It all comes down to the context in which you eat a food. Some foods have more carbohydrates, some more fats, and some more protein, and all of these contribute to the total number of calories in a food. Foods which are rich in fat typically contain the most calories.

Treat foods are usually produced by combining carbohydrates with fats to create a delicious, super palatable, beautifully textured food. This type of food itself is not bad or good, however, it usually contains a lot of calories per 100g. As this food is quite indulgent, recommended serving sizes are often difficult to adhere to. As a result, it very easy to consume a lot of calories in a few bites.

Should you completely remove treats from your diet?

Not necessarily, but you should give them some consideration.

One of the potential pitfalls during our current Covid-19 phase is the increased opportunity to eat whilst working, studying and/or minding children at home and the increased availability of foods to hand. This can result in increased grazing throughout the day. If you are concerned about this, make a deal with yourself to only graze on the less calorie dense foods such as fresh fruits or veggies and avoid buying additional treat foods when you do the grocery shopping.

Completely removing treat foods from the diet can, for some people, lead to cravings of these foods. Delaying the craving can increase the desire for the food. In the end, the craving is often broken by a binge and an over=consumption period. In some people this leads to feelings of guilt and the cycle repeats itself. On the other hand, regularly including treat foods in an overall mixed, nutritious diet can remove any sense of craving and reduce the likelihood of over-consumption.

How can you do this?

We typically recommend around a 10% allowance of your overall diet to fit treat foods in. For example, if you typically eat four times each day (28 feeds per week), then 2.8 (call it 3 for the sake of ease) of these feeds can be treat foods. It is then up to you how you fit this into your weekly allowance.

For some, this can be spread out through the week with various family activities, such as an online family quiz night. Others may prefer to bank theirs and have them on one day/evening. The important thing is finding a strategy which works for you and your current home situation and that doesn’t put you at risk of over-consumption.

Another option would be to consume your treat foods on your higher activity days, which could include a socially distanced walk/jog/cycle or home workout. As these are the days you will use the most calories you give yourself a small bit of leeway for higher calorie foods on these days. Plus, doing some exercise can be great for boosting mental health and feeling good – imagine this feeling plus a square or two of your favourite chocolate!

The most important thing for us all at the moment is to remain healthy. If including some treats in your diet helps you to do this, then go ahead, treat yourself.

You can read the rest of our Eat Well, Feel Well series here, while for more on the IRFU’s Eat2Compete series for younger athletes, click here