Eating a varied, balanced diet is one of the best ways to contribute to good health. A healthy diet can help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure as well as prevent weight gain, Type 2 diabetes and Cancer. There is also evidence that it may reduce risk of dementia.
Fruit and Vegetables
Fruit and vegetables are good sources of vitamins and fibre and it is recommended that everyone should eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. A portion could be an apple, pear or banana, or three heaped tablespoons of vegetables. Fresh, frozen, dried, tinned or juiced varieties all count towards your daily intake.
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 contain more fibre than the white varieties, which helps with digestion. One portion could be two tablespoons of cooked rice, three tablespoons of cooked pasta, noodles or cereal or an egg-sized potato.
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. 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. 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. Aim for less than 5g of saturared fat per 100g.
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. It is recommended that adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day. 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.