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Fruit and vegetables are good sources of vitamins and fibre and it is recommended that everyone should eat 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. A portion could be an apple, pear or banana, a slice of melon or pineapple or three heaped tablespoons of vegetables. Fresh, frozen, dried, tinned or juiced varieties all count towards your daily intake. Research shows that people who regularly eat plenty of fruit and vegetables are at a lower risk of developing heart disease, some cancers and having a stroke.
Starchy foods such as rice, pasta, bread and potatoes are used for energy and should make up around a third of everything you eat. Try to choose wholegrain or wholemeal varieties such as brown rice or pasta as these are healthier and contain more fibre than the white varieties, which helps with digestion. Starchy foods are also good sources of calcium, iron and vitamin B. One portion could be 2 tablespoons of cooked pasta, rice or noodles, an egg-sized potato or three tablespoons of cereal.
A portion of protein such as meat, fish, eggs or beans should be eaten with at least two of your daily meals. Protein is important for growth and repair of the body and it also contains important vitamins and minerals such as iron and vitamin B. Try to eat at least two portions of fish a week, particularly oily fish such as salmon and sardines, as these are rich in vitamin D and are thought to help to protect against heart disease. A portion of protein is 140g fish, 80g of meat or 2-3 heaped tablespoons of beans or pulses.
Dairy foods, like milk, yoghurt and cheese, are also good sources of protein and are rich in calcium, which is important for healthy bones and teeth. A serving could be a glass of milk (200ml), a pot of yoghurt or a matchbox sized piece of cheese and you should aim to eat three servings a day. It is best to choose low fat versions of these such as semi-skimmed milk and low-fat cheese.
A small amount of fat is needed within our diets but it is important to be careful of what type of fat you are eating and how much you are eating. A low-fat diet helps to reduce the chances of developing heart disease and having a stroke. It will also help you to keep to a healthy weight. There are 2 main types of fat – saturated fat and unsaturated fat.
Saturated fat is found in foods like cakes, biscuits, sausages, pies, butter, cream, cheese, pastries and chocolate. Saturated fat is known to raise the ‘bad’ type of cholesterol in the blood, which increases the risk of heart disease.
You can check the amount of saturated fat in foods by looking at their labels. In ready-made food the ‘traffic-light’ labels should say how much of the fat in the food is saturated.
Foods that contain unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat can help reduce cholesterol levels. Unsaturated fat is found in foods such as olive and sunflower oil, oily fish (sardines, mackerel, salmon, trout), avocados, nuts and seeds.
Sugar, found in foods like sweets and biscuits, is an energy source for the body. Foods with high levels of sugar should only be eaten occasionally and in small portions as they are high in calories and can cause weight gain which can lead to health problems. More than 15g of sugar per 100g means the food is high in sugar.
Eating a lot of salt can raise blood pressure which is a risk factor for a number of serious health conditions including heart disease and stroke. It is recommended that adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day. Most of the salt we eat is hidden in our food so adding salt to food often means we are eating too much of it. If you add a lot of salt to your food try cutting down gradually to allow your taste buds to adjust. Processed foods, ready meals and packet soups can be very high in salt so check the labels and try and choose the lowest salt option.
Drinking plenty of fluid is also an important part of a healthy diet. Aim to drink around 1.2 litres (just over 2 pints) of liquid a day. This does not have to be water – fruit juice, tea, coffee and squash all count towards your fluid intake.
Visit the NHS inform website
The NHS inform website provides more information on food and diet.
Vegetarian for Life produce a free Healthy Living Guide for vegetarians also a specific booklet on nutrition for older vegetarians and vegans.
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