It is important that we all eat a healthy diet for numerous reasons;
- To ensure we get all the essential nutrients we need to carry out normal bodily functions
- To maintain a healthy weight
- To ensure our digestive and intestinal system functions correctly
- To keep bones strong
- To help maintain muscle strength and joint mobility
- For energy
- To help prevent disease and long-term illness (heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, strokes)
- To reduce your susceptibility to short-term illness (colds and flu)
- To keep your teeth and gums healthy
What is a healthy diet?
The body needs a number of different nutrients help it function properly. As no single food contains all the nutrients needed, a mixture of foods must be eaten. All adults and children over five years of age should eat a varied, balanced diet that is low in fat, salt and added sugars. This means a diet that consists of a variety of foods, with plenty of fruit and vegetables and starchy foods (such as bread, rice, and pasta), moderate amounts of meat and reasonable amounts of milk and dairy products. A healthy diet also makes eating more enjoyable, as there is a greater variety of foods to choose from.
The eatwell plate represents the proportion of each food group that needs to be consumed on a regular basis to form a healthy diet. It shows that people do not have to give up the foods they enjoy most in order to stay healthy - they should just eat some things in smaller quantities or less frequently. The five main food groups are:
- Bread, other cereals and potatoes
- Fruit and vegetables
- Milk and dairy foods
- Meat, fish and alternatives
- Foods containing fat and foods and drinks containing sugar.
The main messages for healthy eating are:
- Enjoy your food! The key is to eat a variety of different foods
- Eat at least five portions and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables a day.
Healthy eating is not just what you eat, but how much, how often and how you prepare your food - all of which can impact on your health. By understanding what a healthy diet really means, you can make a positive impact on your long-term health.
You can still eat healthily when dining out by choosing to eat at an establishment with a Healthy Eating Award.
Diet-related diseases and conditions
Diet is believed to contribute to 1/3 of all cancers and accounts for up to 80% of large bowel and breast cancer cases. Research has found that vegetables can protect against various types of cancer. A diet rich in fruit, vegetables and grains and low in fats can help to reduce the risk of getting cancer.
Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)
CHD is one of the leading causes of death in the UK. It is caused by a narrowing of the coronary arteries that feed the heart, through the deposition of fat and cholesterol. Eating a diet rich in saturated fats, e.g. fatty cuts of meat, can make you more at risk of developing CHD.
Since 1996 the number of people diagnosed with diabetes has increased from 1.4 million to 1.8 million and looks set to rise further. Diabetes puts people at a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease and amputations.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure is where the blood is pumped around the body at too high a pressure. Excessive energy intake leads to obesity and tends to increase blood pressure. Diets low in total fat and cholesterol and rich in fibre, fruits and vegetables can lower hypertension.
Britain has the fastest growing rate of obesity in the developed world. Obesity, caused by overeating and a lack of exercise, is a major risk factor for certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, CHD and stroke
Dental decay is caused by the frequent intake of sugar-containing food and drinks, such as confectionery, fizzy drinks, cakes and biscuits.
Osteoporosis is a disease that affects the bones usually of older people. An important contributing factor is a lack of calcium in the diet. A balanced diet is needed to ensure the body has the correct amount of other vitamins and minerals to help the body absorb calcium, e.g. vitamin D.
Useful web sites
The British Nutrition Foundation promotes the nutritional well being of society through scientifically based nutritional knowledge and advice
Food Standards Agency's consumer information and advice site.
Food Vision is the re-launch of a website promoting healthy eating initiatives from the regulatory services body Local Government Regulation (LGR), the Food Standards Agency (FSA), and the Local Government Association (LGA) in partnership.
The Food Standards Agency's salt reduction campaign
Easy tips on diet and health issues, food safety, and labelling Eatwell
Contact the food and safety team.