We’re bombarded with food advice – some of it sensible, much of it faddy and unhelpful. So what do the experts say about how much of the major food groups we should eat each day? The following guidelines don’t have to be followed religiously, but they are a guide for what’s considered healthy by authorities around the world…
Bread, other cereals and potatoes
These starchy carbohydrate foods should make up the biggest part of our diet. They are sources of energy and also supply important B vitamins, which are needed for the release of energy within every cell.
Carbohydrate foods should ideally be eaten at every meal, and high-fibre varieties should be chosen wherever possible (it’s not true that white bread is bad for you, it’s just that the whole grain version has more fibre and nutrients). You should eat 5-9 portions a day to fill you up, but don’t panic, the portions aren’t huge so you won’t pile on the pounds! One portion is a slice of bread, three tablespoons of breakfast cereal, a tablespoon of cooked rice or pasta or two smallish potatoes.
Myth or fact? You shouldn’t eat carbohydrates after 6pm
Myth – You’ll put on no more weight eating them in the evening. As long as you don’t eat more calories than you need you’ll stay trim no matter when you eat your carbs.
Fruits and Vegetables
“Five a day” is the minimum to aim for when it comes to fruit and vegetables. The deeper green or more richly coloured fruits and vegetables are especially good sources of antioxidants, which may help to protect against cancer and heart disease. Fruits and vegetables are also good sources of fibre, which helps keep the bowels functioning healthily.
Fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruits and vegetables (without sugar and salt) can count towards your “five a day” minimum, as can fresh fruit juice. A portion is 80g or about the amount you can hold in your hand or pour into a small glass! Make sure to have five DIFFERENT portions every day.
Meat, fish and alternatives
Foods in this group provide protein for the daily repair and renewal of tissue, and for healthy muscles, skin and nails. They also provide essential B vitamins and the mineral iron, which prevents against anaemia. As well as the traditional meat, fish and poultry, it is healthy to include vegetarian alternatives like pulses, nuts and eggs. Try to eat two to three servings per day — one serving is around 3oz/75g of lean meat or skinless poultry, 5oz/140g of fish, 2 medium eggs or 10oz/300g cooked beans or lentils. Try to have one to two oily fish portions a week to provide heart-healthy omega-3 fats.
Myth or fact? Higher protein diets help you to lose weight more easily.
Fact – High protein does indeed help to manage your weight because protein is very filling. So you can make your portion sizes slightly larger than these if you want, and cut back slightly on carbohydrates. But don’t do a drastic carbohydrate cull – this can make you feel weak and leave you short of nutrients. Carbohydrates are especially important if you’re physically active – and it’s a particularly good idea to eat a carbohydrate rich food or snack within half an hour to an hour after a bout of physical activity to refuel muscles. Cutting back on carbohydrates is not advised for pregnant women.
Milk and dairy foods
Dairy products provide protein, vitamins and minerals, and are particularly rich in calcium for strong bones. Two to three portions of dairy products a day is ideal – one serving of a dairy product is 200ml milk, one small pot of yoghurt or a matchbox size piece of cheese. Where possible, choose low fat versions, as traditional full fat dairy products are high in cholesterol-raising saturated fats.
Fatty and sugary foods
This group of foods includes margarines, butter, spreads and oils; salad dressings; cream and ice-cream; chocolates and sweets; crisps; biscuits, puddings, cakes and pastries. In a healthy diet, these foods should not feature too often, and when you do eat them they should only be in small amounts.
Some high fat foods – those rich in unsaturated fats – such as nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, avocados and olive oil are actually good for you and help lower cholesterol. Whilst you’re cutting your fat intake overall, try to make sure that you eat proportionally more of the type and less of the saturated fat-rich type such as processed meats, butter, cream etc.
To make a sweet treat healthier use low fat versions of ingredients where possible, and substitute sugar with Canderel. This way you’ll reduce calories but keep the sweetness!