The key message is to eat a variety of foods from the basic groups.
The British government's dietary guidelines, called The eatwell plate, are presented in the form of a plate showing the basic food groups and the proportional amount of space they should occupy in a healthy diet.
Balance of good health
Starchy carbohydrate foods - breads, cereals and grains, rice, pasta, and potatoes (see Wholesome Grains) - should take up one-third of your “plate”: at least five daily servings from this group are recommended. Vegetables and fruits also take up one-third of the plate. The current recommendations are that you should eat at least five servings from this group every day. Only two to three daily servings are recommended from the animal and plant protein group (see Healthy Protein Sources), which includes meat, poultry, fish, pulses, eggs, and nuts. At about the same level are dairy foods, with a recommendation of two to three daily servings. Sweet foods and fatty foods (see Foods to Eat Sparingly), which should be eaten sparingly, occupy the smallest area on the plate.
The latest findings on nutrition and health can help you refine the guidelines in The eatwell plate. For example, there is evidence that eating a lot of red meat may be harmful to your health because red meat is high in saturated fat (see Red Meat: Good or Bad?). On the other hand, since it has been shown that eating oil-rich fish (see Eat more fish and shellfish) can help reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, current recommendations suggest that the consumption of oily fish should be increased. With regard to the carbohydrate foods, it is important to remember that whole-grain products differ significantly in nutritional value from refined products. Whole grains should form the foundation of the diet, and refined grains be eaten sparingly.
The Mediterranean diet
Some dietary recommendations are based on studies of people living in Mediterranean countries who have lower cholesterol levels and rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer than people in northern Europe. The Mediterranean diet, low in saturated fats and high in monounsaturated fats (see Avoid saturated fats), includes more grains, vegetables, fruits, pulses, nuts, and olive oil, while protein is supplied by fish, poultry, cheese, eggs, and yogurt. A word of caution though: a diet that is high in fat - even if it is the healthy monounsaturated fats - will also be high in calories and can lead to weight gain if you do not take enough exercise.
The Five-a-day Campaign encourages the consumption of at least five servings of vegetables and fruits every day. It was launched in response to evidence that diets high in these foods reduce the risk of developing certain cancers.
While the programme has helped raise public awareness of the need to eat more of these valuable foods, the National Diet and Nutrition Survey found that fewer than one in five adults in the UK were eating five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. In any case, the recommendation of five-a-day is only a minimum target - more is even better.
Servings each day should be chosen from a good variety of different types and colours of vegetables and fruits, in order to maximize all of their potential health benefits.
- Take five servings: One apple, a 150ml (5floz) glass of carrot juice, a handful of strawberries, and some broccoli and beans - that is all it takes to meet the five-a-day minimum target for fruit and vegetable intake.
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