How to get started in healthy eating — part 1

Choosing the right foods for health and fitness

We talk about healthy eating all the time — but what does it really mean? Is it really about throwing out the chocolate and stocking up on celery sticks? Or is there more to it than that? Here's how to get started in healthy eating ...

Breakfast muesli with fruit and yogurt
 
Let us explain. There are different nutrients in different foods. You need a wide variety of foods so that you have a better chance of eating all the nutrients your body requires.

Ideally your meals should be based around the following five food groups: 

Healthy eating is about balanceabout getting the right range of nutrients from a number of food groups. No foods are ‘forbidden’anything you want to eat will have its part to play and a place in a healthy diet.

  • Bread, cereals and potatoes
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Milk and dairy products
  • Meat, fish and alternatives
  • Fats and sugars

Bread, cereals and potatoes

These should be the basis for every meal. This might be a baked potato, some mash, a wholemeal roll, pasta, steamed rice, couscous, polenta, bulgar wheat, pearl barley and the list goes on. Aim for wholegrain versions of cereals when you can — this means brown bread and rice and wholemeal pasta. Wholegrains have been associated with healthier hearts and contain extra fiber, which can help prevent constipation and bowel cancer.

Fruits and vegetables

A key part of your diet, they provide water, fiber and an array of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They have been shown to help prevent a number of diseases and illnesses including heart disease, stroke, cancer and high blood pressure. Include fruit and vegetables at every meal, and aim for at least five portions a day. A portion is usually around a handful — so that can be an apple, a fruit smoothie, a side salad, a can of tomatoes, some steamed broccoli …

Milk and dairy products

These are a good source of calcium as well as protein, vitamins and other minerals. If you do not eat dairy products or are a vegan, soya or similar replacements fall into this category. Eat two to three servings of low fat dairy products per day. This could be milk with your cereal, a yogurt with lunch and some low fat cream cheese in the afternoon. Calcium can also found in tofu, nuts and beans.

Meat, poultry and fish

These provide protein, B vitamins, iron and zinc. Meat alternatives also fall into this category. Beans, nuts and pulses also provide protein, but contain less iron and B vitamins, so if you do not eat meat you need to ensure you are getting these micronutrients from other sources. Protein is very satisfying, so if you eat a little at every meal you are more likely to feel full and less likely to overeat or snack later. Oily fish are an extremely good source of healthy fats — aim for two portions per week. Trim visible fat from meat to cut down on bad fats.

Fats and sugars

Fats and sugars should make up the smallest part of your meal. Fats should be good fats where possible i.e. olive oil, nut, seed or plant oil. Sugary treats are fine on occasion and indeed are part of a healthy diet, but can cause tooth decay if eaten too frequently.

Remember to eat regularly to give your body the supply of energy it needs. Don’t skip breakfast, it’s a false economy! You will only end up overeating later in the day.

Drink at least eight glasses of water a day (this can be in diluting juice, herbal teas etc.) and feel free to have one alcoholic drink a day too — this can actually be beneficial to health. Binge drinking is however, a no-no.

To help you decipher the science surrounding healthy eating, check out How to get started in healthy eating — part 2. We have put together a jargon buster — just a little extra help to nudge you along the road to healthy eating!

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