Nearly half of Irish people plan to make a New Year’s resolution with health, weight loss and well-being top of their list of aspirations, according to a new Ipsos MRBI poll undertaken on behalf of Motivation Weight Management (MWM). Listening to the talk around the office this week I can see that statistic in action. The buzz words in the canteen are “paleo”, juicing, “carb free”, dairy free and gluten free.
While it is absolutely fantastic to have health at the top of your agenda, I think first and foremost you need to understand what it is to eat healthy so that you can then feel empowered to make healthier choices for yourself rather than relying on a temporary diet for guidance. Instead of reading magazines and becoming an expert on fad diets, why not have a look at what the healthy eating guidelines are and become an expert at maintaining a well balanced diet combined with an active lifestyle. Once you have done that there should be no need for you to banish food groups, take nutritional supplements or to drink a vat of lemon water every morning with a spoonful of cider vinegar to “kick start your metabolism”.
I am not condemning a gluten or dairy free diet if that is what suits you, or of course if it is medically indicated. I am rather advocating a sustainable, inclusive diet that does not risk nutrient inadequacies by excluding food groups or does not require you to spend extortionate amounts of money on gluten-free foods, organic foods or food alternatives. If you are on a weight loss diet you might be interested to know that in future blog posts I will go into the scientific evidence for the different weight loss/health diets that are popular in the media and the benefits or disadvantages of each.
Healthy eating guidelines are developed to explain how to get all of the essential nutrients such as fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals in the correct amount to maintain optimum health. In Ireland, the Food Pyramid is used to communicate the healthy eating guidelines developed for the healthy Irish population, with the most up to date version published by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) in 2012. Following the Food Pyramid as a guide will help you get the right balance of nutritious foods within an appropriate calorie range for your age, gender and physical activity level.
The Food Pyramid
How many calories do you need a day?
Your daily calorie requirement will depend on your age, body size, gender and the intensity of activity that you do each day. For example, men will generally need more calories than women, taller/bigger people will require more calories than smaller people and of course younger people will also need more calories and nutrients than older people, especially during growth spurts. Have a look at the table below to find out what calorie range you are in.
NOTE: If you are looking to lose weight, you should include at least 60-75 minutes of moderate activity every day. I will write about weight loss in the coming weeks.
Following the Food Pyramid serving recommendations will help you to eat within your calorie range as well as providing you with the correct amount of nutrients (this excludes those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or who are sick). Have a look at the table below to see how many servings/day of each food group you require:
For reduced fat spreads and oils, the recommended portion size is a single serving size that you would be given in a café. Use one packet for two slices of bread.
The FSAI recommend the use of a 200ml disposable plastic cup to guide you in the serving sizes, examples of servings below use this 200ml cup as a measure. There is no harm in having one of these in your kitchen to help you measure out your servings.
For meats, fish and poultry, it is recommended to use the palm of your hand, excluding finders and thumb, to guide you in a serving size for the day. Most of this sizing should be used as your main meal, with the remainder for your light meal.
A regular 5ml teaspoon should be used as a serving size for jams, marmalade, peanut butter or honey.
The Food Pyramid Groups
- High fat, high sugar foods: Foods in this group are your sweets, cakes and biscuits. We all know that we should limit consuming from this category as these foods are high in calories, fat, salt and sugar. Excessive consumption of these foods can contribute to cardiovascular disease, overweight and obesity along with the associated consequences.
- Reduced fat spreads and oils: Fats are necessary in the diet in small amounts. All types of fats and oils are very high in calories. While it is true that some fats and oils help to protect against heart disease, they are just as high in calories as other more harmful fats and oils. Choose reduced fat monounsaturated and polyunsaturated spreads and when cooking boil, bake, steam or grill your foods.
- Protein: Protein is needed to maintain the body and support growth. Lean red meat and poultry and oily fish are the best options. Oily fish is a rich source of vitamin D and is the only food that provides two special Omega-3 fatty acids called EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA protects against heart disease. DHA is also important during pregnancy for the baby’s brain and eye development. The best types of oily fish are salmon, mackerel, herring and trout.
- Dairy: Milk, yoghurt and cheese provide protein and calcium which is needed alongside vitamin D for good bone health. As products from this group can be quite high in saturated fat, it is better to choose low fat varieties of milk, cheeses and yoghurts, with no added sugar.
- Fruits and vegetables: these are nutritious low-fat, low-calorie foods and eating more helps to achieve the nutrient intakes within the calorie goals. This is the one group where MORE is better!
- Carbohydrates: These foods should provide the main source of calories and carbohydrates in the daily diet. It is recommended that 45 to 65% of daily calories should come from carbohydrates. Brown is best – Choose wholemeal where possible. High fibre foods help protect against bowel diseases such as colon cancer.
General tips for Eating Healthy:
- Portion sizes – watch that you are not overeating. Use the portion size reference given above for the different food groups as a guide.
- Variety makes things interesting so make sure you have lots of choice of foods from the five groups.
- Plain wholemeal breads, cereals, pasta, potatoes and rice provide the best calories for a healthy weight. Base your meals on these with plenty of fruit, vegetables and salad.
- Eat plenty of coloured fruit, salad and vegetables – Aim for at least 5 a day.
- Choose lean meat and poultry including fish (oily fish is best). Remember, peas, beans lentils are a good alternative source of protein
- Read your food labels – I will post on this next week so you can easily read food labels and understand what you are putting in your shopping basket
- Don’t be distracted while you are eating, e.g. watching TV, pay attention to when you are full. You don’t HAVE to clear the plate.
- Drink plenty of water, 8-10 200ml cups of per day (1.5-2Litres of water today) and more if you are exercising. This will keep you hydrated and ensure that your body does not think it is hungry when it is just thirsty.
- Be physically active! Find something that you love to do – walking your dog, swimming, a team sport.
- Always have breakfast – Those who eat breakfast regularly are more likely to snack less throughout the day and are more likely be a healthy weight.
- Drink alcohol in moderation! I will write a post on what ‘moderate alcohol consumption’ is very soon.
In the next few weeks I will be following up this post with advice on calorie consumption, portion control, how to read food labels, exercise recommendations, sports nutrition and I will also start a specific page on weight loss. The healthy eating guidelines and serving sizes above are suitable for everyone including those who are overweight.
Hopefully you found this introduction to healthy eating helpful! If you are interested in reading more of more posts pop your email address in the bar below to receive a notification when a new post is published on à la Maude.
Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) 2011: Scientific Recommendations for healthy Eating Guidelines in Irealand.