DIET & NUTRITION
Optimum diet, providing all nutrients in both kind and amount, is the cornerstone of good health and the cutting edge of prevention. The foods we eat, and the nutrients they should provide, are the most important continuing environmental factors influencing our growth, development, functional abilities, and health.
Consuming a sensible, balanced diet can help us to achieve optimal health throughout life. Eating a balanced diet is vital for good health and wellbeing. Food provides our bodies with the energy, protein, essential fats, vitamins and minerals to live, grow and function properly. We need a wide variety of different foods that have not been processed, to provide the right amounts of nutrients for good health. Enjoyment of a healthy diet can also be one of the great cultural pleasures of life.
People should look to eat 5 portions or more of fruit and vegetables a day, to reduce the amount of processed food they eat, to ensure they drink at least 2 litres of water a day, to have a balance between the amount of carbs, fats and protein they consume, to eat oily fish weekly, to reduce the amount of table salt they have (below 6g) and to reduce the amount of sugar in their diet.
How to achieve a healthy balanced diet?
To achieve a healthy, balanced diet, it is important to eat at least three meals a day and not to skip breakfast.
Each meal should be composed of a variety of foods from each food group and portion sizes should be moderated to control calorie intake.
Components of a healthy balanced diet
This includes cheese, milk and yogurt. Dairy foods are usually high in saturated fat so to reduce fat and calories it is best to choose low fat or fat free varieties.
Dairy is essential in the diet to provide calcium for strong bones as well as protein and vitamin D.
For those who do not consume dairy products it is essential to use a replacement such as soy or nut based milks or supplement calcium in the diet.
Dietary Guideline: Three cups of reduced fat dairy per day.
- This is the main protein containing food group includes lean meat and poultry with visible fat and skin removed, as well as fish, beans, lentils, peas, nuts and seeds, eggs and soy proteins.
- Meat and poultry are high in iron, whilst legumes are a rich source of fiber and eggs provide a multitude of vitamins and minerals.
- Fish should be included regularly, particularly oily fish high in omega three fatty acids such as salmon and sardines.
- Cooking methods should be low fat such as grilling, poaching, dry frying or steaming to minimize extra fat added during the cooking process.
- Protein requirements can vary greatly with age, gender and activity level. To find out your personal requirement for protein, use the My Plate tool.
Dietary Guideline: 5-6 ounces per day depending on age and sex. One ounce of protein is roughly equivalent to one ounce of meat, poultry, pork or fish, ¼ cup cooked beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or ½ ounce of nuts or seeds.
- Fruit is virtually fat free, low in calories, high in fibre and very nutritious.
- Aim to include a variety of fruits to get a wide range of vitamins and minerals.
- This could also include dried fruits 100% and fruit juices, however, it is important to choose unsweetened varieties.
- Both dried fruit and juices are concentrated sources of calories, so make sure portion sizes are controlled.
Dietary Guideline: 2 cups (4 servings) per day. One serve is equivalent to ½ cup of fresh fruit, ½ cup of juice or ¼ cup dried fruit.
These generally contain the least calories and the most vitamins and minerals, hence they are an excellent option for filling up on.
Vegetables are primary sources of essential vitamins and minerals. Dark, leafy greens generally contain the most nutrition and can be eaten at every meal. Eating a variety of vegetables will help you obtain the bountiful nutrients that all vegetables provide.
Examples of dark leafy greens include:
Dietary Guideline: 2 ½ cups (5 servings) per day. One cup is equivalent to one cup of raw or cooked veggies or vegetable juice, but 2 cups of salad greens.
- This group is the major carbohydrate source in a balanced diet and includes bread, cereals, pasta and rice.
- Try to choose whole-grain varieties as these are higher in fibre and contain more B vitamins than white versions.
- Enriched cereals and breads, for example with iron, calcium or omega 3 can also be a good way to add some extra nutrition to your diet.
- Avoid sugary or toasted breakfast cereals and sweetened breads made with refined flour as these contain little fibre and are higher in calories and fat.
Dietary Guideline: 3 ounces or more per day (requirements vary greatly with physical activity levels). One ounce is roughly equivalent to one slice of bread, one cup of cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice, pasta or cereal.
6. Fats and Oils
Whilst some fat is necessary in our diets for the body to function correctly, it is important that these are the right types of fats.Saturated and trans fats should be minimized as these are unhealthy for the heart.These should be replaces with vegetable fats such as canola, olive, or sunflower oil or spreads.
All fats do contain a high amount of calories however, so it is important to keep added fats to a minimum in order to maintain a healthy body weight.
Other good sources of unsaturated fats include nuts, avocado and fish.
Intake of oil should not exceed 5-7 teaspoons per day, depending on age and sex. Aside from oils, be aware that many other foods have high oil content. For example ½ an avocado contains about 3 tsp of oil, 4 large olives contain about ½ tsp and 2 Tablespoons of peanut butter has about 4 teaspoons of oil.
Dietary guideline: Fat intake shouldn’t exceed 20-35% of daily calories and should be based on poly and mono unsaturated fatty acids. Saturated fats should not exceed more than 7% of calories and trans fats should be avoided. Cholesterol should be limited to less than 300mg/day.
- Treats and ‘sometimes’ foods
- Foods that do not fit into the above groups are generally considered to provide no or little nutritional benefit and are therefore not required in a balanced diet.
- Foods such as candy, chocolate, cakes, chips, and other ‘junk’ foods should be avoided.
- If you do indulge in a treat, try to choose one that is less than 145 calories.
These guidelines can help you achieve a healthy, balanced diet for maximum nutritional benefit.