An important part of living a healthy lifestyle is to enjoy a well-balanced diet. However, with so much conflicting diet advice, we know it can be hard to choose the right one for you. Luckily, the NHS-backed Eatwell Guide gives us a clear and simple of breakdown of the food we need.
What Is the Eatwell Guide?
The Eatwell Guide is a set of official guidelines which show us the kinds of food we should be eating (and in what proportions). It divides food into 5 main groups. According to the guide, we need certain amounts of food from each group in order to maintain a healthy diet.
What Are the 5 Food Groups?
The Eatwell guide sets out the 5 main food groups that make up a healthy diet. They are:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Starchy carbohydrates
- Dairy & alternatives
- Proteins (beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat)
- Oil and spreads
Next, let's take a closer look at each of the different food groups in the Eatwell Guide.
Fruit & Vegetables
Have you been told to eat your five a day before? This advice actually comes from the Eatwell Guide! Fruit and veg are an important source of vitamins, minerals, and fibre. Therefore, the guide suggests that they should make up just over a third of the food you eat each day. This makes fruit and veg the biggest food group of the Eatwell Guide.
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.
Next, the second-biggest portion of the Eatwell Guide concerns starchy carbohydrates. These are foods like pasta, rice, bread, and potatoes. The Guide states that just over a third of our food should come from this group (sightly less than fruit and veg). Experts advise that you go for the higher-fibre, wholegrain varieties that are available, such as wholewheat pasta or brown rice. Potatoes (with skins on) are also a fantastic source of fibre.
These starchy foods are our main source of carbohydrates. Thanks to recent fad diet trends, lots of people think carbs are bad for you. In fact, they're an essential part of a healthy diet and an excellent source of energy. Alongside starch, these foods also contain fibre, calcium, iron and B vitamins. What's more, lots of these starchy foods (like rice, potatoes, and pasta) provide excellent value for money! Buy in bulk to make the biggest savings.
Dairy and Alternatives
Dairy products and their alternatives are another important part of the Eatwell Guide. They provide protein, vitamins and calcium, which helps to keep your bones strong. You need to be careful when choosing your dairy products, as the fat content can vary. A lot of the fat in milk and dairy foods is saturated. Too much of this can lead to excess weight gain and high levels of cholesterol in your blood. This increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
To make healthier choices, look at the label and check the amount of salt, sugar, and fat, including saturated fat, in the dairy products you're choosing. If you're trying to cut down on fat, try swapping to semi-skimmed or skimmed milk. Many flavoured yoghurt products also contain lots of added sugar; look for low-fat and low-sugar versions where you can.
When it comes to cheese, the NHS suggests choosing 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. These can make good alternatives to dairy products for people who can't eat dairy or choose not to. As more and more people choose to follow vegan diets, there are more and more dairy alternatives appearing on our supermarket shelves. In addition to soya milk, you can also buy oat, rice, coconut, almond, and hazelnut milks among many others. These products have the added bonus of being better for the environment too!
When we think about protein, how many of us immediately think of meat? While it's true that meat is a good source of protein, it certainly isn't the healthiest, cheapest, or most environmentally-friendly option. In fact, the Eatwell Guide suggests that we eat more beans and pulses and less meat overall. It also suggests eating 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 red and/or processed meats such as beef, bacon, sausage and ham. When it comes to buying meat, here is the NHS advice:
- Ask your butcher for a lean cut.
- Check 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.
Not Just Meat
For those who follow a vegetarian/vegan diet, or for meat-eaters who are looking to cut down, here are some of the best plant-based sources of protein:
- Baked beans
- Garden peas
- Kidney beans
- Black eyed peas
- Broad beans
- Runner beans
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 should choose unsaturated oils and spreads in small quantities. The best options are vegetable, rapeseed, olive and sunflower oils. All types of fats are high in energy and we should therefore use them sparingly in order to avoid excess weight gain.
However, 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 by itself. The fat helps your body to absorb vitamins A, D and E.
Here in the UK, most of us eat too many saturated fats. The NHS recommends 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.
On the other hand, swapping saturated fats for unsaturated fats can help to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. 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. While these drinks can give you one of your 5 a day, they are also high in sugar.
- 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.
- Check the label on packaged and processed foods - choose those lower in fat, salt and sugar.
- On average, women should have around 2,000 calories a day.
- On average, men should have around 2,500 calories a day.
Looking After Health and Wellbeing
Following the Eatwell Guide is a great way to look after your health. But what about your safety and independence?
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