Your body is like an engine – it needs good fuel in order to work properly. Yet knowing what a healthy diet involves can be confusing.
The best principles of healthy eating are those of the Mediterranean diet that includes lots of vegetables and nuts, moderate amounts of meat and fish, and healthy oils like olive oil. Scientists have found that eating like this reduces your risk of conditions such as heart disease and cancer. In fact recent research has found that the Mediterranean way of eating is better at reducing the risk of heart disease and heart attack than sticking to a strict low fat diet.
What is a healthy diet?
Get your 5 a day – this will provide important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. A portion equals roughly 80g so two stalks of broccoli or three tablespoons of chopped carrots or peas, a small side salad or one medium banana. Frozen or tinned vegetables all count as does one serving of fruit juice a day. Variety is key – generally the more colours on your plate the better. Also try basing meals on beans and other pulses such as lentils or chickpeas which also count as one of your five a day.
Include starchy foods at each meal – foods like potatoes, bread, rice and pasta. They add minerals, vitamins and fibre needed for a healthy digestive system. Choose brown rice, pasta and bread instead of white as they are much better for you. They contain more fibre and vitamins, help you feel fuller for longer and release energy more steadily throughout the day.
Choose good fats – we need some fat as it provides nutrients and has other important roles. Try to cut down on unhealthy, saturated fats, like butter and lard that’s found in foods such as pastry, fried food and biscuits. Instead choose fats that are good for heart health. You’ll find these in oily fish such as salmon, fresh tuna and mackerel. Other sources of healthy fats are seeds, some nuts, and small amounts of olive oil.
Reduce red and processed meat: Too much red meat may increase your risk of cancer and heart disease. If you eat more than 90g of red or processed meat a day (about 3 thin slices of beef, pork or lamb), it is recommended that you reduce your intake to 70g per day, which is the average UK consumption.
Eat more fish: You should eat two portions of fish a week – one of which should be oily fish such as salmon, trout or mackerel, as they contain omega 3 oils which are good for the heart.
To get an idea of what a healthy diet should look like take a look at the eatwell plate which shows the different types food that your diet should consist of and the proportions you should eat them in to have a balanced diet.
What can you do?
Remember to read the food labels on food packets. These will list the calorie content, salt, sugar, total fat and saturated fat content. They’re usually colour coded – green is low, amber is medium and red is high. Ideally, choose foods with more green codes than red. The following table highlights high and low values to look out for in sugar, total fat, saturated fat and salt to help you work out which foods to choose and avoid.
|High (Avoid)||Low (choose)|
|Sugar||Over 22g per 100g||5g or less per 100g|
|Total Fat||Over 17.5g per 100g||3g or less per 100g|
|Saturated Fat||Over 5g per 100g||1.5g or less per 100g|
|Salt||Over 1.5g of salt or 0.6g sodium per 100g||0.3 of salt or 0.1g of sodium or less per 100g|
How you eat makes a difference, so chew each mouthful properly, and don’t eat while doing something else like watching TV as you’re more likely to overeat. Wait before having seconds or a pudding. It takes the brain 15-20 minutes to register fullness after you have started eating.
What to cut down on?
- Sugar: Foods high in added sugars such as biscuits, cakes, chocolates and fizzy drinks harm your teeth and your waistline. These foods tend to be high in energy (calories) so can therefore lead to weight gain. Try to keep high sugar foods as an occasional treat.
- Fat: Keep saturated fats to a minimum. Men should have no more than 30g a day and women no more than 20g. High saturated fat intake is linked to a raised risk of heart disease. So avoid deep fried foods, fatty cuts of meat, hard cheese and cream.
- Salt: Adults should have no more than 6g a day – any more can raise blood pressure. But 75% of our salt intake is already in the food we buy so check food labels.