We have all heard the saying “You are what you eat”, but what exactly are the best foods to eat, and what should we exclude from our diet.
How do we know that the food we eat is making up a healthy balanced diet?
What is the food pyramid?
Basically the food pyramid shows us the amounts of each food group that we should consume daily and gives us guidelines to eating a healthy and balanced diet.
We need to include a variety of foods from the five food groups as described:
Fruit and vegetables – 33%
Bread, cereals and potatoes – 33%
Meat, fish, protein alternatives – 12%
Milk and dairy products – 12%
Fat and sugar – 9%
Fruit and vegetables
Almost 33% of the food that you consume should be fruit and vegetables. These contain essential vitamins and minerals and studies have shown that a high intake of fruit and vegetables can help to reduce the risk of diseases such as heart disease, strokes and certain types of cancer. Fruit and vegetables are an excellent food to use for snacking and as part of your main meal every day. It is recommended that you eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day and these may be fresh, frozen, tinned in own juices or dried fruits.
Fruit and vegetables are low in fat and also sodium. They are an excellent source of vitamins A, C, folic acid, iron, calcium and magnesium and a great source of fibre. The best way to ensure the optimum nutritional benefits is to ensure that you eat a selection of different coloured fruits.
Bread, cereals and potatoes
Bread, cereals, rice (wholegrain and wholemeal provide extra fibre) and potatoes should make up a third of your diet as they contain lots of starchy carbohydrates. This provides your body with enough energy for all daily activities. Wholemeal bread, muesli and porridge are excellent energy providers.
Fibre found in fruit, vegetables and whole grains helps to maintain a healthy digestive system. High fibre foods help you to feel fuller longer and can also help to control blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol, keep bowels regular, and may reduce the risk of developing diabetes or colorectal cancer.
This food group are also a good source of iron, calcium and B vitamins and in particular where wholegrains are eaten may help to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Meat, fish, protein alternatives
This group are made up of plant and animal sources. Meat, poultry, fish eggs, nuts, pulses and beans contain protein, vitamins and minerals. They are required for the function and structure of body cells, they also give us energy and are necessary for growth and repair.
From meat we get vitamin B12, zinc and iron
Fish oil contains omega 3 fatty acids
Eggs are full of protein, vitamins, riboflavin, folic acid and other essential nutrients
Nuts, many different varieties of nuts may contain potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, sellenium, sodium, iron, zinc and vitamins
Pulses and beans contain complex carbohydrates, fibre, folic acid, potassium, B vitamins and protein.
It is recommended that you eat 2 portions of fish a week and try to eat lean cuts of meat where possible.
Milk and dairy products
Milk and dairy products contain calcium, protein and vitamins A, B12, D and riboflavin but are high in saturated fat therefor should be ate in moderation. Calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth and children under 5’s should have whole milk dairy products but adults are advised to have reduced fat or low fat products such as semi-skimmed milk, low fat yogurts, etc.
Fat and sugar
All butters, margarine, oil, crisps, cakes and biscuits are amongst our favourites but foods in this group should be ate sparingly as they may contain high quantities of sugar, trans fatty acids and salt.
In order to keep your body healthy you should try to eat a selection of foods from each of the food groups above. Ensure that you eat the right proportion of food as suggested in each group ( remember that each persons requirements may vary depending on how active they are, and their size and shape) and it is also recommended that you keep as active as possible, exercise regularly and try to establish a good sleep pattern.