A healthy diet doesn’t mean surviving solely on bird seed, rabbit food and carrot juice! The new approach to eating healthily means we’re positively encouraged to eat a wide range of foods, including some of our favorites – it’s just a question of making sure we get the balance right.
As no single food provides all the calories and nutrients we need to stay healthy, it’s important to eat a variety of foods to make a balanced diet. Meanwhile, most nutrition experts also agree that mealtimes should be a pleasure rather than a penance. This means its fine to eat small amounts of our favorite foods from time to time.
A balanced diet means eating plenty of different foods from four main groups of foods and limiting the amount we eat from a smaller fifth group. Ultimately, it’s as simple as eating more fruit, vegetables, starchy, fiber-rich foods and fresh products, and fewer fatty, sugary, salty and processed foods.
As well as cutting down on the total amount of fat that we eat, it’s also important to make sure we are eating the right sorts of fats. Foods that are rich in saturate or trans fat increase the amount of cholesterol in blood, which in turn, increases our risk of heart disease.
In contrast, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats help lower blood cholesterol levels and so reduce the risk of heart disease. Foods that are rich in saturates include fatty meat and meat products, butter, lard, cream, pastry, biscuits and full-fat dairy products.
Many processed and fried foods such as pies, takeaways and cakes also contain trans fats. These fats tend to be found in products that use hydrogenated vegetable fats or oils as an ingredient. In contrast, unsaturated fats are found in foods like pure vegetable oils such as sunflower, rapeseed and olive oil, oily fish, avocados, nuts and seeds.
Many manufacturers are now using a ‘traffic light’ color coding on their food packaging to help customers identify whether a product is high in both the total amount of fat and the amount of saturates. Red indicates the product is high in fat or saturates, amber indicates the product contains moderate amounts and green means it has a low content. If this system isn’t used, the Food Standards Agency says products with 20g fat or more per 100g and 5g saturates or more per 100g contain a lot of fat or saturates. Products with 3g fat or less per 100g and 1g saturates or less per 100g contain a little fat or saturates.