Healthy eating. It is one of those things that everybody thinks they know about, but many have a problem describing in detail. We all know that we are supposed to eat lots of fruit and vegetables, less fat and sugar, but where does that leave us with regard to protein, carbohydrates and dairy foods?
The National Health Service does provide some useful guidance on its website, but in day-to-day terms, what can we do to eat better and become healthier?
The food we eat and the fluids we drink can be divided into several main groups. These are fruit and vegetables, carbohydrates (sometimes called ‘starches’), dairy, fat and sugar and proteins. Most people know that in a perfect world we would all eat lots and lots of fruit and vegetables and rather less fat and sugar. However, many of us are more confused when it comes to dairy, carbohydrates and protein.
Protein-rich foods are often referred to as muscle food, because protein is crucial for building muscle and for many other key bodily functions such as the immune system and the transport of nutrients around the body. Meat, fish, eggs and pulses are all well known sources of protein, and many also contain vital vitamins and minerals, but protein can be found in a wide range of foods follow here for a link. In general, healthy adults should get between a tenth and a third of their daily energy intake from protein, but requirements vary widely according to the person’s health, age and lifestyle.
Carbohydrates are a key source of energy, vitamins, minerals (including calcium, iron and B vitamins) and of dietary fibre. Carbohydrates should make up about a third of the average adult diet, and contrary to popular belief they are not automatically fattening. Most carbohydrates contain far fewer calories than fat, so one good tip is to replace dietary fat with carbohydrates, ideally carbohydrates that contain fibre, such as baked potatoes with the skins left on.
Dairy products like milk and cheese are great sources of protein, but may also contain large amounts of saturated fat, salt or sugar. You can combat this by choosing reduced fat versions of milk and cheese, and by checking product labels for added ingredients. However, bear in mind that children should not drink 1% fat milk as a long drink until they are five years old, because very low fat milk lacks the vitamin A and energy that growing infants need.
And the rest
Many people concentrate on the main food groups, but there are other elements that are key to a healthy diet. Most people consume far too much salt, fat and sugar so all of these should be reduced where possible. Excess salt increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, while sugars cause tooth decay and overweight, which is in turn linked to a wide range of diseases including cancer. Hydration is also important but often overlooked. Water makes up two thirds of the average person’s weight and it is surprisingly easy to become dehydrated, so do not just eat healthily, drink healthily too.
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