An important part of living a healthy lifestyle is to stick to a well-balanced diet. There are plenty of different diet plans available, so it can be hard to choose the right one for you. However, the government-backed Eatwell Guide shows you how much of what we eat should come from each food group.
Following this guide, and living a healthy lifestyle, will help to lower the risk of several long-term conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Of course, you don’t need to stick to this every single meal, but it is helpful to your well-being if you try to eat as healthily as possible.
Let’s break down the different sections of the Eatwell Guide.
Fruit & Vegetables
Have you been told to eat your five a day before? This comes from the Eatwell Guide and the fruit and vegetables section. Fruit and veg are an important source of vitamins and minerals, with the guide suggesting that they need to make up just over a third of the food you eat each day.
Research has shown that sticking to the five a day rule can lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer. Despite some people’s concerns, reaching the five a day target isn’t that difficult. The NHS share the following examples:
Just one apple, banana, pear or similar-sized fruit is one portion (80g). A slice of pineapple or melon is one portion. Three heaped tablespoons of vegetables is another portion. Having a sliced banana with your morning cereal is a quick way to get one portion. Swap your mid-morning biscuit for a tangerine, and add a side salad to your lunch. Have a portion of vegetables with dinner, and snack on fresh fruit with natural plain yoghurt in the evening to reach your five a day.”
The following options count towards your five a day:
- Frozen fruit and veg.
- Tinned or canned fruit and veg – in natural juice or water.
- Fruit and veg cooked in soups, stews or pasta.
- 30g portion of dried fruit, such as currants, dates, sultanas and figs – only at meal times.
- Fruit and veg in ready meals, soups, puddings and pasta sauces.
The Eatwell Guide states that starchy foods should count for just over a third of the food you eat. It’s advised that you go for the higher-fibre, wholegrain varieties that are available, such as wholewheat pasta or brown rice. Potatoes eaten with their skin on is a fantastic source of fibre.
These starchy options are our main source of carbohydrates and are also a good source of energy and a range of nutrients. Alongside starch, these foods also contain fibre, calcium, iron and B vitamins. Some people think starchy foods are fattening, but gram for gram they contain fewer than half the calories of fat.
Diary and Alternatives
Diary products provide you with a source of protein, vitamins and calcium which helps to keep your bones strong. You need to be careful when choosing your dairy products as the total fat content can vary. A lot of the fat in milk and diary foods is saturated, and too much of this can lead to you becoming overweight with high levels of cholesterol in your blood. This increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
To make healthier choices, look at the nutrition information on the label to check the amount of fat, including saturated fat, salt and sugar, in the dairy products you’re choosing. If you’re trying to cut down on fat, try swapping to 1% fat or skimmed milk, as these still contain the important nutritional benefits of milk, but are lower in fat.
When it comes to cheese, the NHS suggest going to reduced-fat hard cheeses, which contain between 10g and 16g of fat per 100g. This is compared to some cheeses like Brie and Stilton, which can contain between 20g and 40g of fat per 100g.
Unsweetened calcium-fortified dairy alternatives like soya milks, soya yoghurts and soya cheeses also count as part of this food group, and can make good alternatives to dairy products.
The Eatwell Guide suggests that we eat more beans and pulses as part of out diet, as well as two portions of fish each week – one of which should be oily fish like salmon or mackerel. Other foods within the proteins category include eggs and lean cuts of meat and mince, rather than less red and processed meats such as bacon, sausage and ham. When it comes to buying meat, the NHS suggest:
- Asking your butcher for a lean cut.
- Checking the nutrition label on pre-packed meat to see how much fat it contains.
- Choose chicken and turkey without the skin as they contain less fat.
- Limit meat products in pastry, such as pies and sausage rolls as they’re often high in fat and salt.
Protein is important as it helps the body to grow and repair itself. These foods also provide a source of vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc and B vitamins. Nuts are high in fibre and are a good alternative to snacks high in saturated fat, but they do still contain high levels of fat, so eat them in moderation.
Oils and Spreads
According to the Eatwell Guide, we need to choose unsaturated oils and spreads such as vegetable, rapeseed, olive and sunflower oils, and use them in small amounts. All types of fats are high in energy and should be eaten sparingly in order to avoid weight gain.
A small amount of fat is an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet. Fat is a source of essential fatty acids, which the body can’t make itself. The fat helps your body to absorb vitamins A, D and E, but much be eaten in small amounts as any fat which isn’t used by your cells or to create energy is turned into body fat.
The government say that:
- Men shouldn’t have more than 30g of saturated fat a day.
- Women shouldn’t have more than 20g of saturated fat a day.
- Children should have less.
Unsaturated fats can help to lower the risk of heart disease and the amount of cholesterol in your body. Unsaturated fats can be either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated:
- Monounsaturated fats help protect our hearts by maintaining levels of good HDL cholesterol while reducing levels of bad LDL cholesterol. Examples include avocados, olive oil and almonds.
- Polyunsaturated fats can help lower the level of LDL cholesterol, and are split into omega-3 and omega-6. Examples of omega-3 includes mackerel, herring and salmon, whilst omega-6 examples include corn, sunflower and rapeseed.
Other Eatwell Guide Tips
- Limit fruit juice and/or smoothies to a total of 150ml a day.
- Drink between six and eight cups or glasses of fluids a day – such as water, lower-fat milks and lower-sugar or sugar-free drinks such as tea and coffee.
- Eat less often and in small amounts.
- Check the label on packaged foods – choose those lower in fat, salt and sugar.
- On average, women should have around 2,000 calories a day.
- Men should have around 2,500 calories a day.
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