Is there a magic formula or "super food" when it comes to eating a nutritious diet? The answer is no, despite what countless diet books will tell you. The body likes and needs a wide variety of different foods - eaten in a balanced way over days, months and years. The amount and type of food we eat has a major influence on our health. It is easy to eat badly, with a diet that contains too much of the wrong foods, such as high-fat convenience meals, and not enough of the nutritious foods, such as fruit and vegetables.
- Healthy Eating is about learning which foods to eat to stay well. It is also about integrating a balance and variety of different foods into an enjoyable daily routine. Eating is an important part of everyone's lives. Food should be enjoyable as well as providing a good balance of nutrients as uneaten food will provide no nourishment at all. All foods provide some nutrients and contribute to the taste, smell, colour, texture and enjoyment of a meal. Making time to relax while eating and to share a meal with friends and family is an important part of enjoying meals.
- The body needs a constant supply of energy to power the continuous processes of life, such as the heartbeat, breathing and digestion. Energy is needed to grow and repair the body's tissues, and to power the muscles for movement.
This energy is provided by food and drink. The energy content is measured in calories (Kcal). In addition to energy, it is important to make sure the diet includes essential nutrients such as protein, fats, vitamins and minerals.
- The food choices we make have a long-term impact on health - eating a healthy diet can reduce the risk of illnesses such as diabetes, obesity, coronary heart disease and several cancers, especially bowel cancer.
It is essential to get your food balance right!
All foods fit into one of the groups below:
- fruit and vegetables,
- bread, other cereals and potatoes,
- meat, fish and alternatives,
- milk and dairy products,
- foods containing fat, foods containing sugar.
We need to eat more of some foods than others to have a healthy diet. It's easy to find out how to get the balance right, click here to find out more, and also to try some interesting and helpful quizes, for example,
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How much do you know about Healthy Eating?
There are three major food groups: carbohydrate, fat and protein, and they have different functions in the body.
Carbohydrate is the body's preferred source of fuel, and it should make up about 50% of daily energy intake.
There are two main types of carbohydrate:
- complex ( include starch and fibre),
- simple (include sugar).
We should get most of our carbohydrate from the complex carbohydrates. These include starchy "fillers" such as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and chapatti. Complex carbohydrate foods tend to be bulky, eating them makes a satisfying meal. They can also be rich in nutrients and fibre (which is good for the bowel), and low in calories relative to their Weight. Each gram provides around four calories. Choose whole grain varieties whenever possible as these also contain more fibre. More...
Fat is the most energy-dense nutrient, providing around nine calories of energy in each gram. In small quantities, fat is essential for good health but it should not be more than 35% of daily energy intake.
Fat also provides fatty acids which are needed for many vital functions in the body. A completely fat free diet does not support life, as certain fats are essential to health, some contain vitamins, and fats also help to make foods pleasant to eat. However, many people eat far more fat than they need, and a diet high in fat, especially saturated fat, in common with other factors including smoking and lack of exercise, can increase the risk of heart disease. More ...
Protein provides about four calories in each gram, but this energy is less readily released than from carbohydrate. Protein should represent around 15% of our daily calorie intake.
Protein is needed to build and repair our body tissues. All animal and plant foods contain some protein. Protein provided by animal foods is closest to the proteins needed by the body. However, a balanced vegetarian diet provides adequate amount of protein. Most people have a reasonable amount and don't need to alter their protein intake. However, it makes sense to ensure that the protein foods you choose are low in fat (for example, instead of high fat chicken nuggets try lean pieces of chicken or pulses such as beans or chickpeas). More ...
As well as the major food groups, we need a small amount of many vitamins and minerals. These perform various jobs in the body, helping chemical and biological reactions take place.
Vitamin or mineral deficiencies can lead to illness - scurvy in the case of vitamin C and rickets in vitamin D, although these deficiency illnesses are now rare in the UK. Vitamins and minerals are essential to support the immune system and guard against illness in the long term.
We should be able to get all the vitamins and minerals we need from a balanced diet. But in case you choose to take an additional supplement, don't be tempted to take very high doses as some vitamins and minerals are toxic in large quantities. Certain groups of people will benefit from a vitamin or mineral supplement - children from six months to five years old, women who are pregnant or might get pregnant, who should take folic acid supplements. More ...
Some practical tips for a better diet
- Eat more whole grain starchy carbohydrates, ie wholemeal bread, brown rice, whole grain cereals. It will help to alter the balance of everyday meals, for instance, more bread - less sandwich filling, more pasta - less creamy sauce.
- Eat a varied diet. Try to change your shopping list every week, it will help keep you out of unhealthy food ruts and make eating more enjoyable.
- Eat regular meals. Although it doesn't matter when you eat your food, a regular routine helps most people to control their diet and their Weight.
- Eat more fruit and vegetables, aiming for at least five portions a day. Include fruit at breakfast and salad at lunch.
Cut down on salt by eating less processed food, such as ready meals, and adding less salt to food.
- Control your portion sizes. The amount of energy you consume has to match your level of activity.
- Be physically active, aiming for 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. Activity helps to regulate your appetite, so you can eat more without gaining Weight.
- Drinking alcohol only within sensible limits: not more than 14 units per week for women (no more than three in any one day) and not more than 21 units per week for men (no more than four in any one day).
Achieving a Balanced Diet
Eating a healthy diet is important. Visit Wired for Health to find out more.
So, how can we develop a healthy relationship with food?
- Do you always wait until you are hungry to eat?
- Do you always know exactly what you want to eat?
- Do you always stop eating when you are full?
If the answers to the above questions are no, then you may have lost touch with your body's needs. It would be completely unrealistic to expect that we always eat only when we are hungry or always know what we want to eat but, if these are rare occurrences for you, perhaps it's time to improve your relationship with food. By examining our beliefs, we can start to see where there's room for improvement and then make the right changes. Many of us expect our bodies to keep functioning even though we don't fuel it correctly, or even overfuel it. The result is often excess fat, which can cause health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. The most important change we can make is to listen to our body's needs - not just our mind's desires.
Did you ever think that many of us always follow the same route when shopping and pick up the same goods. If you don't think this applies to you, just imagine what you would do if your local supermarket changed its layout: would you suddenly feel lost? Would you walk round and round until you found the brands you always buy? If your answers are "yes" it might be worth looking at your eating habits.
The problem with habits is that they are comforting, but often not helpful, especially when it comes to food. Do you automatically reach for a snack during the ads? Or pour yourself a glass of wine to help you relax after a hard day at work? These habits can wreck our intentions of good eating.
A start way to breaking unhelpful habits is to look at the reasons why we stick to our routines. Often our habits have little logic and do us no good ar all. It can be quite tempting to munch through a family-sized tub of ice cream if you're stressed about the state of your finances, or feeling low because of relationship problems. In the very short term this action may temporarily displace your concerns, but when you've finished they'll still be there, only now there will also be a sick, bloated feeling in the pit of your stomach and a tighter waist band. And you may then start to feel guilty for using food as a comfort blanket.
Making small, permanent changes to your eating habits will make a much bigger and longer lasting impact on your life than a short-term blitz. Making small changes you can build on day by day basis are much more likely to become your habits. Try to examine your current eating habits and compare them to the person you would like to become, and remain, in the future you can plan out the changes you need to make.
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A few tips to start with:
- Listen to your body - if you're hungry, eat! If you are not really hungry, what would satisfy you instead?
- When you do eat, slow down and really taste the food you're eating. If it's not hitting the spot why keep eating it?
- Do something just for you every day. Stop food being your "comfort blanket".
- Cut back on the caffeine. Drink more water.
- Start to build a picture of the person you want to be in the future.Imagine what you will do and how you will look and feel. This image should help you to make and keep the changes needed to reach your goal.
- There is no magic formula to eating well. Making small, but continuous changes to your life will have a much bigger impact on your life. Examine your eating habits and motivation. Make changes where needed. Don't forget you can and will become the person you want to be.