A healthy diet provides the body with all the nutrients it needs to be able to grow and repair itself, as well as to protect against the development of serious diseases such as heart disease, bowel disorders, cancers and obesity.
It is recommended that we should eat plenty of fruit, vegetables (at least five portions a day, not including potatoes), plenty of high fiber cereals, pasta, rice and potatoes; moderate amounts of meat, fish, poultry and dairy products; and only small amounts of food containing fat or sugar. By choosing a good balance of food from these five main food groups every day, you can ensure that you are supplying your body, and everyone else in the family, with all the essential nutrients they need for optimum health.
A low-fat diet
Choose lower fat alternatives wherever possible, but don’t cut out fats altogether. Fat is a valuable source of energy and our bodies need small amounts for general health and well being. It also helps to make foods more palatable.
There are two main types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. The unsaturated group contains polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. In any food there is always a combination of saturated and both types of unsaturated fats, but the ratios vary greatly from one food to another. Saturated fats should be avoided because they are thought to increase the level of cholesterol in the blood, which can increase the risk of developing heart disease. They are mostly found in animal products such as meat, butter and lard, but they also exist in coconut and palm oils and in some margarines and oils labeled as ‘hydrogenated vegetable oil’.
Small quantities of polyunsaturated fats are essential for good health and are thought to reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood. They are derived from plants (omega 6), especially sunflowers, or oily fish (omega 3) and are usually liquid at room temperature.
Monounsaturated oils are also thought to reduce blood cholesterol. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is not only good for you, but with the great range available today, a chance to explore different textures and tastes from around the world level. They are found in foods such as olive and rapeseed oil, some nuts, oily fish and avocados.
Aim to limit your family’s daily intake of fats to no more than 30 percent of total calories. This means that for an average daily intake of 2,000calories per day, 30 per cent of energy would come from 600 calories. Since each gram of fat provides 9 calories, a total daily intake should be no more than 66.6 grams of fat, of which the total intake of saturated fats (see below) should be no more than 10 percent of the total calories.
About one quarter of the fat we eat comes from meat and meat products, one-fifth from dairy products and margarine and the rest from cakes, biscuits, pastries and other foods. It is easy to cut down on obvious sources of far in the diet, such as butter, oils, margarine, cream, whole milk and full fat cheese, but we also need to watch out for ‘hidden’ fats. Hidden fats can be found in food such as cakes, biscuits and many nuts. Even lean, trimmed red meats may contain as much as10 per cent fat.
Cooking for vitality
- Eat as much raw food as possible. Vitamins B and C are particularly unstable and are easily destroyed by heat, so include plenty of salads in your diet. Use really fresh produce and prepare it just before eating. Keep a well-stocked fruit bowl for between-meal nibbles.
- Cook vegetables in the minimum amount of water or steam them. Reserve any cooking water, which will contain leached nutrients, to add to soups, stews and sauces.
- Trim all visible fat from meat and remove skin from poultry. If the skin is required to keep the flesh succulent, remove it after cooking.
- Choose low-fat cooking methods such as grilling, stir-frying, steaming, poaching, casseroling, baking and microwaving, wherever possible.
- Use the minimum amount of oil when cooking and choose a type that is low in saturated fats, like olive oil or sunflower oil.
- Substitute low-fat yogurt, fromage frais or half-fat creme fraiche for cream and use reduced-fat cheeses. Parmesan and other strong-tasting cheeses are useful because you only need to use a little for a lot of flavor.
- Bread has been an important part of the diet in many countries for thousands of years and continues today to contribute to a healthy, balanced diet. A good source of carbohydrate as well as being low in fat, choose whole wheat breads and bakes, such as scones and muffins, for added fiber.
Some oils, such as olive and rapeseed are thought to help lower blood cholesterol. Even if you are not a vegetarian, aim to have a vegetarian meal once or twice a week. Alternatively, use less meat in dishes and make up the quantity with pulses and vegetables.
The five main food groups are
- Fruit and vegetables,
- Rice, potatoes, bread, pasta and other cereals,
- Meat, poultry, fish and alternative proteins,
- Milk and other dairy foods,
- Foods which contain fat and foods which contain sugar