When it comes to a healthy diet, balance is the key to getting it right. This means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, and consuming the right amount of food and drink to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Developing healthy eating habits isn’t as confusing or as restrictive as many people imagine. A healthy diet doesn't mean surviving solely on bird seed, rabbit food and carrot juice! The new approach to eating healthily means we’re positively encouraged to eat a wide range of foods, including some of our favourites. A balanced diet means eating plenty of different foods from four main groups of foods and limiting the amount we eat from a smaller fifth group. Ultimately, it’s as simple as eating more fruit, veg, starchy, fibre-rich foods and fresh products, and fewer fatty, sugary, salty and processed foods.
Here are our guidelines for building a healthy diet.
Fruit and Vegetable
Fruit and vegetables are a vital source of vitamins and minerals and should make up just over a third of the food we eat each day. Aim for 2½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit a day, for a 2,000-calorie diet. If you consume more calories, aim for more; if you eat fewer than 2,000 calories, you can eat less. Include green, orange, red, blue/purple and yellow produce. The nutrients, fiber and other compounds in these foods may help protect against certain types of cancer and other diseases. Legumes, rich in fiber, count as vegetables, though are moderately high in calories. Choose whole fruits over juice for more fiber. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are good options.
Starchy foods should make up just over one third of everything we eat. This means we should base our meals on these foods. Potatoes with the skins on are a great source of fibre and vitamins. For example, when having boiled potatoes or a jacket potato, eat the skin too.Go for high-fibre varieties where available, such as wholegrain cereals, wholemeal bread and brown rice. These foods provide carbs, fibre, B vitamins and small amounts of calcium and iron. They contain more fibre, and usually more vitamins and minerals than white varieties.
Milk and Dairy Foods
Milk and dairy foods such as cheese and yoghurt are good sources of protein and a range of vitamins and minerals.They also contain calcium and Vitamin D, these nutrients are vital for bone health which helps keep your bones healthy.
Meat, Fish, Poultry and Other Protein
These foods are all good sources of protein, which is essential for the body to grow and repair itself. They are also good sources of a range of vitamins and minerals. It is also one of the main sources of vitamin B12. Try to eat lean cuts of meat and skinless poultry whenever possible to cut down on fat. Always cook meat thoroughly.
Nuts, fatty fish, avocados and vegetable oils supply healthy unsaturated fats. Oily fish is particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Saturated fats, especially from red meat and processed meat, boost LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. To limit your intake, choose lean meats, skinless poultry and nonfat or low-fat dairy products. It’s also a good idea to replace saturated fats with “good” fats, found in nuts, fish and vegetable oils, not with refined carbohydrates such as white bread and snack foods.
Oil and Fatty Foods
Foods in this group include oils, spreading fats, cream, mayonnaise, oily salad dressings, cakes, biscuits, puddings, crisps, savoury snacks, sugar, preserves, confectionery and sugary soft drinks. These foods contain fat, sugar and salt and should only be eaten occasionally. Some fat in the diet is essential, but should be limited to small amounts. It's important to get most of our fat from unsaturated oils and spreads. Swapping to unsaturated fats can help to lower cholesterol.
Drink around 6 to 8 glasses (1.2 litres) of water, or other fluids, every day to prevent dehydration. As well as helping the body to get rid of waste products and toxins in the urine, water transports nutrients and oxygen around the body in the blood, it acts as a lubricant for our joints and eyes, it helps us swallow, it cushions and protects our nerves and it helps control our body temperature.
Research also shows that drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated can do everything from helping with weight control and beating tiredness to boosting concentration and fighting wrinkles. Water is also one of the best choices for keeping teeth healthy and free from decay.
If you drink, do so in moderation. That means no more than one drink a day for women, two a day for men. Older people should drink even less. A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of 80-proof spirits. While alcohol in moderation has heart benefits, higher intakes can lead to a wide range of health problems. Even moderate drinking impairs your ability to drive and may increase the risk of certain cancers. Some people, including pregnant women and those who have certain medical conditions, should avoid alcohol altogether.
Not all the nutrients and other substances in foods that contribute to good health have been identified, so eating a wide assortment of foods helps ensure that you get all of the disease-fighting potential that foods offer. In addition, this will limit your exposure to any pesticides or toxic substances that may be present in a particular food.