In this article, you will find information for the general public who are interested in knowing about a healthy, balanced diet.
What is a healthy diet?
Good health is essential to a balanced diet, but what good diet will make us feel better? In addition to breast milk as a baby’s diet, no single meal provides all the essential nutrition that the body requires to remain alive and function properly. Therefore, we have to have a lot of foods in our diets, to help us access the broad spectrum of nutrients our bodies require. The UK’s safe food platform–the Eatwell Guide–is demonstrated.
How much food do I need to have a healthy diet?
We require the right amount of nutrition from our foods and drinks to sustain the balance of nutrition (calories or kilojoules). Energy balance is where the dietary calories are the same as the body’s calories. Such calories are required for everyday activities like walking and driving, but also for all the body functions we may not even know about. Calories are often required for processes such as breathing, blood flowing through the body and thought.
Food and beverages have the calories that we have to cope with daily life but weight gain is motivated to eat more calories than we need for a while. Since any extra calories we need, but don’t use, are just stored as fat.
More than 50% of adults in Great Britain are overweight or obese. Obesity of infants, where 1 out of 3 children aged 4-5 and 1 out of 5 children aged 10-11, is overweight or obese, is still very worried. The risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiac disease and certain adult cancers is increased by being overweight as a infant. So it is really important for wellbeing to keep a good weight.
How much energy you need from foods and drinks depends on many different things, such as how active you are. But, on average:
Eating only as many calories as you need will help to maintain a healthy weight. However, the foods and drinks you choose need to be the right ones, and in the right proportions to stay healthy. Having this balance in your diet can be achieved by following the Eatwell Guide.
What is the Eatwell Guide?
Public Health England’s Eatwell Guide is the UK’s healthy eating model. It is a simple, practical tool to help us make healthy choices and to show the proportions in which different food groups are needed to make up a healthy, balanced diet.
Who does the Eatwell Guide apply to?
The Governments’ Eatwell Guide is suitable for most people in the UK, regardless of weight, dietary preferences, ethnic origin, religious or cultural beliefs.
This does not, though, refer to infants under two years of age because their food requirements vary. In amounts seen in the Eatwell Guide, children aged two and five will slowly start consuming the same food as the rest of the family.
Anyone with medical problems or nutritional requirements may need guidance on their diet from their GP or healthcare practitioners.
How to follow the Eatwell Guide
The Eatwell Guide has taken the foods and drinks we consume, and split them into five main food groups, each in different proportions. You don’t have to eat all the groups in these proportions at every meal time, but rather over the space of a day or even a week.
Each group provides different essential nutrients, so we should be trying to choose a variety of different foods from each of the food groups to make sure our diet provides the range of essential nutrients our body needs to function properly and stay healthy.
None of these food groups need to or should be excluded. Cutting out a whole food group, for instance, avoiding starchy carbohydrates could reduce intake of key nutrients like dietary fibre and B vitamins.
The size of each group in the Eatwell Guide shows what proportion these foods should make up in our diet.
- Most of what we eat should come from ingredients shown in the two biggest food groups – starchy carbohydrates and fruit and vegetables.
- The beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins group, and the dairy and alternatives group are smaller, showing that we should eat foods from these groups in moderate amounts.
- The oils and spreads group illustrates that although some fat is essential in a healthy, balanced diet; we are generally eating too much saturated fat. Most of the fat in our diet should come from unsaturated oils and spreads, but all these foods are high in calories and so should only be eaten in small amounts.
The Eatwell Guide also displays foods high in saturated fat, salt and sugars outside of the main image, meaning they are not needed as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Eating too much of these foods may be bad for our health, so if they are consumed, it should only be done infrequently and in small amounts!
When can I use the Eatwell Guide?
The Eatwell guide can be used to help you make healthier choices on lots of occasions, including:
- When at home cooking
- When out shopping for groceries
- When deciding what to eat for a meal or snack
- When eating out in a restaurant, café or canteen
- When choosing food on the go
What about mixed dishes?
Lots of the dishes we eat contain many ingredients that are combinations of the food groups in the Eatwell Guide. These are called composite foods and include things like:
For these kinds of meals, all you need to do is identify the main ingredients and think about how these fit into the food groups. This will help you achieve a healthy, balanced diet.
Here is an example for a lasagne:
Will using the Eatwell Guide give me all the nutrients I need?
Most people should follow a safe and nutritious diet based on the Eatwell Guide to provide all the nutrients required for healthy living. However, we can require nutrients at certain points of our lives to ensure that we obtain adequate vitamin or mineral.
| Vitamin D ||Babies*||All babies under 1 year should have a daily 8.5 to 10 microgram vitamin D supplement to ensure they get enough. Children who have more than 500ml of infant formula a day do not need any additional vitamin D as formula is already fortified.|
|Young children||Children aged 1 to 4 years should have a daily 10 microgram vitamin D supplement.|
|Everyone age 5 years and over||During the autumn and winter months, we cannot make enough vitamin D from sunlight and it may be difficult to get the 10 micrograms we need from food alone, so taking a 10 microgram vitamin D supplement in these months should be considered.|
|People with very little or no sunshine exposure (e.g. those who are seldom outdoors such as frail or housebound individuals and those who are confined indoor, such as in institutions like care homes) People who habitually wear clothes that cover most of their skin while outdoors.||These groups should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms vitamin D throughout the year.|
|Folic acid|| Women who may become pregnant & pregnant women||Folic acid is important for pregnancy, as it can help to prevent birth defects known as neural tube defects, including spina bifida. 400 micrograms should be taken daily for women trying to conceive, and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (or higher amounts for women at increased risk).|
|Vitamin B12||Vegans||Vitamin B12 is typically only found naturally in foods from animal sources, although there are some fortified vegan sources like B12 fortified breakfast cereals, soya drinks and yeast extract. Sources for vegans are therefore limited and a vitamin B12 supplement may be needed.|
What about sustainability?
The world’s population is increasing, putting pressure on valuable resources, including food and water. Meanwhile, agricultural processing, along with other contemporary living things such as vehicles, contributes to greenhouse gas pollution influencing climate change. Therefore it is important to recognize the’ sustainability’ of foods that we consume, as well as whether the resulting diet is or not safe, to ensure adequate food is available to future generations.
By ‘sustainable’ we mean that the impact the production of the food has on the environment is limited.
The type of diet illustrated by the Eatwell Guide, which includes lots of plant-based foods, has been suggested to be relatively sustainable, especially if the fruits and vegetables consumed are those that are in season.