Good nutrition and exercise are crucial to our general health and well being. A healthy lifestyle which incorporates a healthy diet and exercise will help you look and feel better. It will help you to control your weight and make you feel more energised and fitter. A healthy diet can help combat the stress, help prevent or reduce the symptoms of depression or a low mood and boost your immune system. A healthy diet has also been shown to help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and certain cancers.
Healthy eating should be about enjoying your food and having a better understanding of the foods you eat. The most effective way of changing your unhealthy eating habits is to make small changes gradually, by choosing a good balance of foods. Healthy eating is not about making drastic changes which you will be unable to sustain. We should not think of foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but consider healthy or unhealthy diets that can impact our health.
To eat a healthy balanced diet we need to take in a variety of foods from the five main food groups. This enables us to take in all the nutrients that are required by our bodies to run efficiently.
Fruit and vegetables: they should make up 1/3 of your total food intake. The UK government recommend that we eat our ‘5 a day’, aiming for 5 portions from this group of foods which provides us with vitamin C, folic acid, dietary fibre, some carbohydrate, potassium and antioxidants.
Breads, cereals and potatoes: starchy foods (carbohydrates) should make up about 1/3 of our intake. Starchy foods provide the main source of energy for our bodies. The wholegrain varieties have higher nutritional content; they contain insoluble fibre which helps prevent constipation while maintaining a healthy gut. Oats contain soluble fibre which can help to reduce blood cholesterol in those with high levels and reduce their risk of heart disease.
Meat, fish and alternatives: this food group provides protein, vitamins and minerals and iron. Protein is vital to our bodies to be able to make the building blocks of the body such as muscles, ligaments, organs, hormones, blood cells and enzymes. Vegetable sources of protein come from pulses, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds can also provide protein. About 1/8 of our diets should be made up of this group.
Oily fish contains omega 3 fatty acids that are important in the diet to help protect against heart disease and also important for your skin, immune system and brain development in infants and children. Try to eat oily fish 2-3 times per week such as mackerel, herring, sardines or salmon. Alternatively, you can get vegetables sources from linseed, flaxseed, walnut and rapeseed oils. If you follow a vegetarian diet try to include a good variety of beans, lentils, pulses, nuts and seeds each day to get a good balance.
Milk and dairy products or dairy-free alternatives: these foods contain protein, calcium and vitamins. These products are important for healthy bones and especially important for growing children. Ideally we should include 3 portions of dairy foods or alternatives per day.
Foods high in fat and sugar, drinks high in sugar: these foods contain calories and only small amounts of other nutrients. Examples included: fizzy or soft drinks, sports drinks, energy bars and gels, biscuits, crisps, pastries, jam, honey and convenience foods. It is important that we don’t eat too many of these foods because they can cause weight gain and also don’t provide us with many nutrients. These foods should only make up a very small portion of our diets (7%). Very active sports people may get their additional energy from sports drinks and energy bars to meet their high energy requirements.
Fats are important in our diets as they provide fat soluble vitamins, energy and essential fatty acids. Having a lot of fat in our diets will make us gain weight, and too many saturated or trans fats affect cholesterol levels. Try to keep your intake of total fat, saturated and trans fats low.