Friday, January 15, 2016

Healthy Balanced Diets

A healthy, well-balanced diet is one of the keys to a longer, healthier life. Few would disagree with that statement; however, the number of us who can honestly say we know how to balance our diet is small. By definition, a balanced diet simply means taking in the right proportions of all the nutrients your body needs to ensure that you’ve got all you need and nothing more. Below we’ve outlined the building blocks you need to follow when aiming for a balanced diet.

First, get to know your food pyramid. This is a tool you can use to determine what percentage of your daily intake certain food types should make up. The idea behind the food pyramid is to visually represent the proportions you should eat of each food group on a daily basis

The pyramid has five food groups:
1. Carbohydrates (starches): these are foods such as bread, pasta and potatoes. As a general rule, carbohydrates should make up about a third of the calories you eat each day. There are ‘good’ carbs and ‘bad’ carbs, however, and it is important to know the difference. ‘Bad’ carbs are found in refined foods, such as white bread and sugary snacks and cereals. Instead of ‘bad’ carbs, it’s recommended that you choose ‘good’ or ‘unrefined’ carbs whenever possible – these are found in brown and wholemeal bread, pasta and rice.

2. Fruit and veg: Fruits and vegetables are packed with essential vitamins and minerals to keep you looking and feeling great. You should aim to eat five 80g portions of fruit and veg each day, and try to consume a variety of different types to maximise the benefits.

3. Protein: Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues. Around one fifth of your daily calories should be protein-based – this includes meat, fish, eggs and some non-animal products like beans, soya products, seeds and nuts. Try to eat meat that is low in fat (reduce the fat by trimming your meats and skinning chicken before cooking). Also, aim to have two portions of fish every week.

4. Dairy: Cheese, milk and yoghurt are all dairy foods – though butter and cream are associated with dairy, they are classed as fats. Dairy products are rich in calcium which is essential for strong bones and teeth. You should try to get 700mg of calcium daily, which is roughly what you’d get from drinking a pint of milk or eating two small pots of yogurt. Calcium can also be found in leafy greens and soya products.

5. Fats/sugars: Fat and sugar should be the smallest components of your diet. There are two types of fat, saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats are found in cream, margarine and fried foods – these are generally deemed ‘bad’ fats as they can contribute to heart disease. Unsaturated fats are better as these can help keep your immune system healthy – these are found in vegetable oils and oily fish.

Sugars, particularly refined sugars, are bad as they erode tooth enamel and contribute to obesity by adding lots of ‘empty’ calories to your diet. Sugary foods should be avoided, and consumed only as a special treat.

Once you know the food groups and what proportions you should eat them in, there are a few simple steps you can take to enhance the benefits of eating a balanced diet. Some of these are:

1. Increase the amount of starchy foods you eat – starch provides energy and is found in foods such as bread, potatoes, rice and pasta.

2. Eat more fruit and vegetables – these contain a great deal of the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function properly. A healthy, balanced diet includes at least five servings of fruit and veg each day.

3. Reduce your salt consumption - over-consumption of salt can lead to hypertension, stroke and heart disease.

4. Reduce your fat intake – saturated fat in particular is unhealthy and can lead to heart disease.

5. Drink less alcohol – excessive drinking can increase your risk of some cancers, as well as heart and liver disease. One unit of alcohol is a 25ml measure of spirit, a small glass of wine or half a pint of lager.

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