Before we get into diet, did you know that 92% of us are deficient in at least one vitamin. The foods we eat no longer contain nutrient levels optimal for health. The soils in which our fruits and vegetables grow are depleted of nutrients (pesticides actually make plants lazy, further lowering their nutrient content). The animals we eat are kept cooped up in small areas and fed unnatural foods and chemicals. In these conditions, we all need supplementation to live healthily. Numerous research has shown over and over again that spending just a few pennies daily on nutritional supplements can drastcally reduce sickness and chronic diseases along with the chances of even developing them in the first place.
Supplements are simple vital for health. While there are many nutritional supplements out there that are beneficial and have been proven to be helpful in studies, there are two supplements however that were unquestionable, beyond scientific doubt, well-accepted and well-proven to be extremely beneficial and almost necessary to live a healthy life; omega-3 fish oil and multivitamins.
Omega-3 fat deficiency is an issue which affects about 98 percent of the population, yet it is critical for supporting brain function, mood, improving your metabolism, preventing diabetes, reducing inflammation, and more.
A good Multivitamin must include vitamins A, C, D, and E, as well as all the B vitamins, vitamin K, minerals, and other key nutrients. Multivitamins are vital for improving mental and physical conditions, reducing stress, preventing deficiencies along with many more benefits
Healthy Diet and Lifestyle
A healthy diet is based around what is known as the balance of good health. This model is made up of 5 food groups: Carbohydrates, Dairy, Protein, Fats and sugars, and Fruit and Vegetables. Eating proportions of these food groups, as shown in the model below, will help with general well being, as well as preventing certain cancers, obesity, cardiovascular disease and helping control disease such as type 2 diabetes.
This food group is important and at least 1 portion should be included at every meal; Breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is recommended about 1/3 of your intake is from these foods, also known as starchy foods.
Foods in the group
- Breakfast cereals
What these foods provide
These foods are particularly important as they provide energy which is required for cells especially those in the brain, and muscles. Often these foods also contain fibre. These foods do contain sugars, and many people are put off by this. However, this sugar is in the form of large sugar molecules and actually is a good form of sugar since it takes a long time to breakdown.
In terms of breakfast cereals, the best ones to choose are non-sugary varieties such as bran flakes, corn flakes, muesli (with no added sugar), porridge.
As mentioned earlier, often these foods are high in fibre. People can also choose even higher fibre varieties such as brown/wholemeal breads, brown pasta/rice, bran style cereals. Fibre is important as it reduces absorption of sugars/fats, and also promotes gut health.
Myths about Carbohydrates/starchy foods
A common myth is about the fact carbohydrates promote weight gain. This is untrue. These foods provide energy the body can utilise, but in a less energy dense state than say a chocolate bar. The important point about weight gain, would be how the food is prepared e.g. type of spread used on bread, cooking methods such as frying. More information about these points is found later in the article.
Dairy foods should make up about 10% of the overall diet. In portion terms this is about 2-3 portions per day.
1 Portion equates to:
- 1/3 pint (approx 200ml) of milk.
- 1 standard size yoghurt (approx 125g)
- Milk on cereal
- 1 oz/25g/Matchbox size of cheese
- 1 tablespoon soft/cottage cheese
Foods in the group
Milk products such as:
What these foods provide
Dairy foods are important since these contain calcium which is essential for developing bones, but also to maintain bone strength and prevention of osteoporosis later in life.
There is a lot of choice of different milks now available, the 3 most common being Whole, Semi-skimmed or Skimmed. The general advice is to choose either the Semi-skimmed or skimmed, just purely to reduce fat intake. (Either is fine! You don't have to drink just skimmed!) However if your preference is for Whole milk, then adapting your diet for other prospectives may be best. There's no point changing to something you don't like and finding your intake decreases! Whole milk, however does contai nhigher levels of vitamin D than skimmed or semi-skimmed milk as it is soluble in fat.
Cheese is a good source of calcium, but unfortunately also has high amounts of fat and salt added. However if you eat this in moderation, try 1 portion, 3-4 times per week, then this shouldn't be a problem. High fat intake is linked to heart disease, and obesity, and high salt intake is linked to hypertension or high blood pressure - This may increase your risk of a stroke. If your a cheese lover you may find the 'half fat' or 'reduced fat' cheeses now available. These may have in some cases up to 50% reduced fat and are beneficial - they do still however have a high salt content. Otherwise, cheeses naturally low in fat include Edam and Cottage cheese.
Soft cheeses may also contain less fat than a standard hard cheese. There also reduced fat versions of these, which would be more beneficial than a standard one on a regular basis.
If you struggle to limit the amount of cheese to just a portion per sitting - e.g. a matchbox size lump of cheese, there are ways to use cheese sparingly. In cooking use a stronger cheese to bring out the flavour. in sandwiches, grating cheese may make it go further.
There are also an extensive range of yoghurts now available, from standard yoghurts, to low fat or calorie, to luxury and even 'probiotic'. The general advice would be stick to a variety you like. If on a diet, or watching calories a low calorie one would be an idea, but is not essential. Stick to what you like and prefer. Any yoghurt is good for your gut, and you don't have to eat just probiotic varieties to ensure good gut health. If you find probiotics work for you however, then keep getting these ones. Trial and error!
Fats and Sugars
This group often contains many people's favourite foods, however it is also the smallest group. You really need to be eating less than 10% of your overall diet from this group ie. 1-2 portions a day, no more. With some products it may be important to limit them to once a day or less, and with other products it may be worthwhile to consider changing the type of product to a lower calorie variety.
Portion sizes include:
- 1 tbsp olive or sunflower oil - 1 tsp butter or margarine - 1 small cake / mini roll / funsize chocolate bar - 2-3 scoops ice cream - Pastry crust eg. on a cornish pasty - 25g packet crisps or crackers
Foods in the group
This group contains a wide range of products, from the products you may expect in chocolate, cakes, biscuits to the spreads used on bread, and fats/oils used in cooking.
What these foods provide=
The only really good nutrient of this group are calories. Very few vitamins or minerals are available. However polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are often sources of omega-3 and 6 oils, beneficial for heart health. Although these foods are high in calories and lack many nutrients, if eaten in moderation they should not affect your general health.
There are many different types of spreads available to use, from butter, to margarines, to vitamin/nutrient enriched and omega 3 spreads. But which one is the best?
To work this out you need to think about the type of fat and the effect this has on cholesterol.
There are 2 main types of fats: Animal Fats and Vegetable Fats. There are also Saturated Fats and Unsaturated Fats. Generally speaking, unsaturated fats are derived from vegetable sources and saturated from animals.
Saturated Fats include products like Lard and Butter, and also visible fats on meats. This type of fat is linked to heart disease.
Unsaturated fats are usually found in margarines and certain oils (More spreadable or liquid fats). This type of fat will still have a similar calorie value as saturated fat, but doesn't have as bad an effect on health.
If that wasn't complicated enough, Unsaturated fats may be categorised further into Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated.
Polyunsaturated Fats This includes normal margarine. This helps prevent a product called LDL building up int he blood. (A molecule which is linked to cholesterol).
Monounsaturated Fats include the new olive based products such as olive oil or olive based spreads. These have the best effect on overall health. These are beneficial as they seem to reduce cholesterol levels. Also, if you use oil in cooking, the general advice is to use the lowest amount possible and ensure the oil is either Olive or Vegetable based (e.g. rapeseed oil).
Overall the advice is to try and stick to unsaturated (mono or polyunsaturated fats) if possible, and reduce fat in your cooking, or on bread/crackers to a minimum amount.
But what about other products in this group?
Pastries, processed foods e.g. Ready meals Eat in moderation, e.g. try to limit to a maximum of once per week if possible. These products are usually high in fat, and salt, and the type of fat is usually saturated fat and will have the most detrimental effect on heart health.
Crisps This is an addictive snack where you can't just eat one! These are high in both fat and salt, and even low salt versions may effect the heart beat and so is not recommended to people with heart disease. Its best not to replace standard crisps for healthier versions, but instead to try and reduce them in the overall diet. Try to limit to a treat so once or twice a week is plenty.
Biscuits and Cakes Often people's favorite foods. These are not just high in fat, but also high in sugar which is a concerned since the sugar is not naturally occurring, and less than 10% of the daily energy should come from this type of sugar. This is particularly important for diabetics. Its often best to limit chocolate covered biscuits, or instead of 2 biscuits try 1. Try eating plainer biscuits such as digestives or rich tea. Try to keep Cakes and Puddings as treat, so 1-2 times per week would suffice.
Drinks Standard versions of soft drinks can contain up to 8 teaspoons of sugar. this is just extra calories. A diet version would contain hardly any calories, and often the taste is the same. Tea and coffee according to personal taste can, throughout the day add up to unneeded calories. If possible reducing this sugar or considering a sweetener may be a better option.
Chocolate The love of most people no doubt. Each small chocolate from a box of chocolates can easily contain at least 50 calories. If having this sort of product, again in moderation, as a treat, and try to eat as few as possible in 1 sitting. The same applies for chocolate bars. 1-2 per week, rather than 1-2 per day would be the best option.
Approximately 2 portions a day or about 10% of the overall diet should be made up of protein.
- 100g raw meat
- 50g Cooked Meat
- 1 egg
- 100g Fish
- 2 tablespoons beans/lentils/pulses
Foods in the group
The foods usually make the muscle or organs of animals, or vegetarian sources such as beans/pulses/eggs.
What these foods provide=
The main nutrient of this group are proteins, which are essential building blocks for the body's organs, muscles etc. They are essentially important for growth and repair. The group also contains other minerals, most notably is Iron found in red meat, which often has a low intake in young adults.
Essential Amino Acids
To ensure your body grows and repairs properly its also important to ensure an adequate supply of essential amino acids. Since very few foods contain a full range of amino acids its important to include a variety of protein foods from a variety of products e.g. from white meat, to red meat, to white fish, oily fish, and beans/pulses.
Fruit and Vegetables
For a healthy diet it is recommended you eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. This should make up about 1/3 of the overall diet.
Foods in this group
Any fruit or vegetable.
1 portion equates to:
- 3 tablespoons fruit salad
- 1 piece of medium sized fruit such as pear, banana, apple, orange, peach, plum, nectarine.
- 2 pieces of smaller fruit e.g. apricots.
- 1 handful (10-12) grapes, sultanas, raisins, cherries, strawberries, blueberries etc.
- 1/8th of a melon or pineapple.
- 1-2 pineapple slices (in a tin)
- 1 glass of fruit juice (contains no fibre so only counts as max 1 portion/day)
- 1/2 glass of smoothie
- 2 tablespoons of vegetables.
What these foods provide=
These foods provide many essential vitamins and minerals our bodies require. They are also a good source of fibre. There is no limit of how many to have, but a minimum of 5 a day is required. If you can manage more, all the better! This is one of the only groups where you can eat all you like and not feel too guilty.
Alcohol can be included as part of a healthy diet. Providing drinking sessions are kept within the recommended limits of 21 units for men, and 14 for women per week.
1 unit equates to:
- A small (125ml) glass wine
- Half pint of lager/beer
- 1 small 25ml measure of spirits
Alcohol contains empty calories, however a moderate amount may be beneficial to health.
So what's the secret or principle behind controlling weight?
Simply its all about energy balance. Your body takes energy in in the form of food and drink, and energy is lost by the body through increased activity and excretion.
To Maintain your weight you need to find the ideal energy to take in your diet, which relates to the activity level your doing, ensuring your weight remains around the same levels.
To Reduce Weight you simply need to either eat less, or increase activity through more exercise, or both. Weight loss is a lifestyle change, for life, not just a fad diet.
To Gain weight you need to increase your calorie intake. Increase the size and amount of meals. Eat healthily! Eating fatty, sugary and processed foods is not the way to gain weight healthily. Increase the amount of 'good fat' with fatty acids, eat more protein and eat more whole foods with less processed calories.