Eating a healthy, balanced diet that has fibre, vitamins, minerals, protein, calcium and unsaturated fat in it, is an important part of maintaining good health and helping you to feel your best. This means choosing from a wide variety of foods and eating the right amount to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
A healthy diet contains:
Fruits and Vegetables (eat more of these!) – Increasing our consumption of fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and some cancers. Fruit and vegetables contain fibre (roughage), as well as vitamins and minerals which are good for your overall health. Fibre helps you feel fuller for longer and slows down the speed at which sugar is absorbed into your blood stream. However, do not overdo fruit juices or smoothies as consuming fruit in this way disrupts the fibre and makes it easier for your body to absorb the sugar.
High Fibre Foods – Fibre is important for our digestive health and regular bowel movements. As well as helping you feel fuller, it can improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels and assist in preventing diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and bowel cancer. Dietary fibre can be found in cereals, oat bran, wheat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, whole grains, fruits (such as apples, bananas, oranges, strawberries, raspberries, mango) and vegetables (particularly dark coloured vegetables such as broccoli and spinach).
Foods Low in Added Fat – You should try to eat whole, unprocessed foods that are naturally low in fat. Limit the amount of fatty meats, dairy and fried foods that you eat. If buying processed foods, you need to remember that products with reduced fat claims often have added sugar.
Foods Low in Added Sugar – Eating foods high in added sugar can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and tooth decay. While sugar is naturally found in foods like fruits and vegetables, this type has little effect on your blood sugar. The danger is from added sugars in processed foods and confectionery like chocolate, biscuits and cakes.
Foods Low in Salt – A high salt intake can lead to raised blood pressure, which can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. There are high levels of salt found in processed foods. Fruit and vegetables do not naturally contain salt. Some foods are almost always high in salt because of the way they are made, these include, anchovies, bacon, cheese, gravy granules, ham, olives, pickles, prawns, salami, salted and dry-roasted nuts, salt fish, smoked meat and fish, soy sauce, stock cubes and yeast extract. Other foods, such as bread and breakfast cereals, can also contribute a lot of salt to our diet. Whether you're eating at home, cooking or eating out, don't add salt to your food automatically but taste it first.
More Plants, Less Meat – Certain meats are high in saturated fat and can raise blood cholesterol levels. If you eat a lot of red and processed meat, it is recommended that you cut down as there is likely to be a link between red and processed meat and bowel cancer. If eating meat, try to eat lean cuts, avoid eating the skin and cook healthily by grilling rather than frying. When cooking, try to use smaller quantities of meat and mix with vegetables, pulses and starchy foods in dishes such as stews, curries and casseroles. Meats such as chicken, pork, lamb and beef are all rich in protein. A balanced diet can include protein from meat, but you can also obtain plenty of protein from non-animal sources such as beans and pulses.
Regular Meals – It is better for our metabolism if we eat at regular intervals. If possible try to eat dinner at least two and a half hours before you go to bed to aid digestion and reduce weight gain.
Plenty of Water – It is important to consume sufficient water, generally around 6-8 glasses a day. This will need to increase if you are exercising, or it is hot as you lose water through sweating. Drinking water with a meal can help you feel full and reduce calorie intake. Staying hydrated can improve memory and mood and reduce risk of headaches, constipation, bladder infections and kidney stones. Try to reduce or avoid drinks which are high in sugar and have water instead.