Seven tips for a healthier diet!
These practical tips can help you make healthier choices. The two keys to a healthy diet are eating the right amount of food for how active you are and eating a range of foods to make sure you’re getting a balanced diet.
A healthy balanced diet contains a variety of types of food, including lots of fruit, vegetables, lots of protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, eggs and lentils, some starchy carbohydrates and some dairy foods.
1. Base your main meals around healthy proteins
Protein is an essential nutrient which helps form the structural component of body tissues and is used within many biological processes, for example protein is used to make enzymes, antibodies to help us fight infection as well as DNA the building blocks to life. It’s also needed to make up muscle tissue which in turn helps to keep our bodies active, strong, and healthy.
Most protein is stored in the body as muscle, generally accounting for around 40-45% of our body’s total pool, so it makes sense that if you increase activity, perhaps to improve health and fitness or body composition, you also need to consider protein as an important food group in your diet.
Protein is found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy, beans and nuts, as well as in quality protein shakes and bars. A sensible approach to meeting your daily protein requirements is to include a combination of these foods within your diet every day.
2. Eat lots of fruit and veg
Most people know we should be eating more fruit and veg. But most of us still aren’t eating enough!
Try to eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and veg every day. It might be easier than you think.
You could try adding up your portions during the day.
For example, you could have:
• A glass of juice and a sliced banana with your cereal at breakfast.
• A side salad at lunch.
• A pear as an afternoon snack.
• A portion of peas or other vegetables with your evening meal.
You can choose from fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or juiced, but remember potatoes count as a starchy food, not as portions of fruit and veg.
3. Try to eat more fish
Most of us should be eating more fish – including a portion of oily fish each week. It’s an excellent source of protein and contains many vitamins and minerals.
Aim for at least two portions of fish a week, including a portion of oily fish. You can choose from fresh, frozen or canned – but remember that canned and smoked fish can be high in salt.
What are oily fish?
Some fish are called oily fish because they are rich in certain types of fats, called omega 3 fatty acids, which can help keep our hearts healthy.
How much oily fish?
Most of us should be eating more oily fish, (a portion is about 140g). And 4 are the recommended maximum number of portions for adults.
Examples of oily fish: Salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, fresh tuna, sardines, pilchards, eel.
Examples of white or non-oily fish: Cod, haddock, plaice, tinned tuna, halibut, skate, sea bass, hake.
Shark, swordfish and marlin: Don’t have more than one portion a week of these types of fish. This is because of the high levels of mercury in these fish.
4. Cut down on saturated fat and sugar
To stay healthy we need some fat in our diets. What is important is the kind of fat we are eating. There are two main types of fat:
- Saturated fat – having too much can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases the chance of developing heart disease.
- Unsaturated fat – having unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat lowers blood cholesterol.
Try to cut down on food that is high in saturated fat and have foods that are rich in unsaturated fat instead, such as vegetable oils (including sunflower, rapeseed and olive oil), oily fish, avocados, nuts and seeds.
Foods high in saturated fat
Try to eat these sorts of foods less often or in small amounts:
- Meat pies, sausages, meat with visible white fat.
- Hard cheese.
- Butter and lard.
- Cakes and biscuits.
- Cream, soured cream and crème fraîche.
- Coconut oil, coconut cream or palm oil.
For a healthy choice, use just a small amount of vegetable oil or a reduced-fat spread instead of butter, lard or ghee. And when you are having meat, try to choose lean cuts and cut off any visible fat.
How do I know if a food is high in fat?
Look at the label to see how much fat a food contains. Generally the label will say how many grams (g) of fat there are in 100g of the food.
Some foods also give a figure for saturated fat, or ‘saturates’. Use the following as a guide to what is a lot and what is a little fat per 100g of food.
This is A LOT of fat:
- 20g fat or more per 100g.
- 5g saturates or more per 100g.
This is A LITTLE fat:
- 3g fat or less per 100g.
- 1g saturates or less per 100g.
If the amount of total fat is between 3g and 20g per 100g, this is a moderate amount of total fat. Between 1g and 5g of saturates is a moderate amount of saturated fat.
Try to choose more foods that only contain a little fat (3g fat or less per 100g) and cut down on foods that contain a lot of fat (20g fat or more per 100g).
Most people in the UK are eating too much sugar. We should try to eat fewer foods containing added sugar, such as sweets, cakes and biscuits, and drinking fewer sugary soft and fizzy drinks.
Having sugary foods and drinks can too often cause tooth decay, especially if you have them between meals. Many foods that contain added sugar can also be high in calories so cutting down could help you control your weight.
How do I know if a food is high in added sugar?
Take a look at the label. The ingredients list always starts with the biggest ingredient first.
But watch out for other words used to describe added sugar, such as sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, hydrolysed starch and invert sugar, corn syrup and honey. If you see one of these near the top of the list, you know the food is likely to be high in added sugars.
Another way to get an idea of how much sugar is in a food is to have a look for the ‘Carbohydrates (of which sugars)’ figure on the label. But this figure can’t tell you how much is from added sugars, which is the type we should try to cut down on.
- 10g sugars or more per 100g is A LOT of sugar.
- 2g sugars or less per 100g is A LITTLE sugar.
If the amount of sugars is between 2g and 10g per 100g, this is a moderate amount.
Sometimes you will only see a figure for total ‘Carbohydrates’, not for ‘Carbohydrates (of which sugars)’, which means the figure also includes the carbohydrate from starchy foods.
5. Try to eat less salt – no more than 6g a day
Every day in the UK, 85% of men and 69% of women eat too much salt. Adults – and children over 11 – should have no more than 6g salt a day. Younger children should have even less.
Three-quarters (75%) of the salt we eat comes from processed food, such as some breakfast cereals, soups, sauces, bread, biscuits and ready meals. So you could easily be eating too much salt without realising it.
Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure. And people with high blood pressure are three times more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke than people with normal blood pressure.
How do I know if a food is high in salt?
Salt is often listed as sodium on food labels.
Salt = sodium x 2.5.
Use the following as a guide to what is a lot and what is a little salt (or sodium) per 100g food.
This is A LOT of salt:
- 1.25g salt or more per 100g.
- 0.5g sodium or more per 100g.
This is A LITTLE salt.
- 0.25g salt or less per 100g.
- 0.1g sodium or less per 100g.
Try to choose foods that are low in salt (0.25g salt or less per 100g).
6. Drink plenty of water
We should be drinking about 6 to 8 glasses (1.2 litres) of water, or other fluids, every day to stop us getting dehydrated.
When the weather is warm or when we get active, our bodies need more than this. But avoid drinking soft and fizzy drinks that are high in added sugar.
There is nothing wrong with the occasional drink. But drinking too much can cause problems. Alcohol is also high in calories, so cutting down could help you control your weight.
Women can drink up to 2 to 3 units of alcohol a day and men up to 3 to 4 units a day, without significant risk to their health.
A unit is half a pint of standard strength (3 to 5% ABV) beer, lager or cider, or a pub measure of spirit. A glass of wine is about 2 units and Alco pops are about 1.5 units.
For good health, it’s a good idea to spread your drinking throughout the week and avoid binge drinking. Drinking heavily over a long period of time can damage the liver.
7. Don’t skip breakfast
Breakfast can help give us the energy we need to face the day, as well as some of the vitamins and minerals we need for good health.
Some people skip breakfast because they think it will help them lose weight. But missing meals doesn’t help us lose weight and it isn’t good for us, because we can miss out on essential nutrients.
Research shows that eating breakfast can actually help people control their weight. This is probably because when we don’t have breakfast we’re more likely to get hungry before lunch and snack on foods that are high in fat and sugar!
So why not go for a bowl of wholegrain cereal with some sliced banana and a glass of fruit juice for a healthy start to the day?
Nutrition and dietary aspects are complex subjects and are very individual from person to person.
The tips detailed here are general rules, which should be adapted and specified to each individual’s particular needs and requirements.
I hope you find this information of some use and as always, please get in touch for a more thorough nutritional breakdown;