One portion of protein with each meal and snack
Balance your plate to balance your blood sugar and energy levels. Protein slows digestion and helps give you longer lasting energy. At lunch and dinner have about a quarter of your plate covered by a protein-rich food or combinations of protein-rich foods such as beans, pulses, soya products, tofu, nuts, seeds and free-range eggs. Dairy products count too but avoid the ones which are high in saturated fat like many cheeses. Some proteins such as soya, dairy and eggs are complete, while others need to be combined for maximum protein benefit. The easiest way is to put grains and pulses (eg rice and lentils) in the same meal.
One portion of essential fats a day – at least
Omega-3 and 6 fats are called essential because they are essential for life and cannot be made by the body so have to be included in our daily diet. Essential fats are needed for the nervous system, hormones, skin and brain function. It is easy to get enough omega-6 from nuts, seeds and their cold-pressed oils but only oils such as hemp and especially flax are rich in omega-3. Omega-3 fats are especially important during pregnancy. To get a healthy balance of fats, gently cook with olive or rapeseed oil, add cold hemp and flax oil to cold or cooked foods and occasionally roast or bake with coconut oil. Add variety by using oils such as walnut and sesame in dressings.
Two portions of fruit and veg with each meal
Ideally also add a portion to snacks, eg cherry tomatoes with crackers and houmous. Fruit and vegetables provide fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Include a variety of colours each day, especially dark green, orange and red to ensure a variety of nutrients. Focus more on the vegetables than the fruit to keep sugar levels down, especially if you are trying to lose weight. Remember that juice only counts as one of your 5-a-day and is high in sugar so only include one glass of juice a day and pick one which is high in antioxidants such as cherry, pomegranate or berries.
Top tips for increasing fruit and vegetable intake:
- Include vegetable juice (pre-made is fine)
- Start meals a with filling vegetable soup if you need to cut down on calories
- Stuff vegetables such as peppers and courgettes with a protein-rich filling
- Add extra veg like sundried tomatoes, roasted peppers and olives to home-made houmous
- Roast mixed vegetables and keep for a couple for days in the fridge to add to lunches
- Include frozen and even canned fruit and vegetables if it makes things quicker and easier
Three pints of water a day
Our bodies are 70% water and it is vital for good health. Water is needed for digestion, circulation and elimination amongst other things. Dehydration leads to poor concentration and memory so to keep alert all day, keep topping up your glass. Drink water between meals as water with food may reduce digestive juices and lead to bloating.
Four portions of fibre
Starchy carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, rice and even potatoes are needed in our diets for fibre, vitamins and minerals but you can have too much of a good thing. Choose carbs in their less refined form such as brown rice and pasta, wholemeal bread and potatoes with their skins. When grains are refined they can lose up to 90% of 15 different nutrients. Refined carbs are also more likely to unbalance blood sugar levels and be stored as body fat. Stick to whole-grain where possible and limit your starchy carbs to about four handfuls a day, making up about a quarter of your lunch and dinner plates and the rest with your snacks.
Eat a variety of foods five times a day
Regular small meals are easier to digest and help keep fuel and energy levels stable. Eating this way also helps you achieve and maintain your ideal weight.
Avoid starchy carbs after sixpm if you are trying to lose weight
Leaving the digestive work to be done over-night can lead to bloating, disrupted sleep and weight gain.
On the seventh day, rest
Denial doesn’t work long term. Allow yourself one day a week when you will have whatever you feel like. By following the ‘seven ways to health’ you will most likely find that as you feel the benefits, you are less likely to crave unhealthy foods. Also, although variety keeps the diet interesting and nutritious, don’t make your eating plan too complicated or you may find it too difficult to follow long-term.