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A Balanced Diet

Some important points about a balanced diet:


The human body is two-thirds water.  Water is an essential nutrient that is involved in every function of the body.  Water is necessary to help our blood carry nutrients and waste around the body and to help the chemical reactions that occur in our cells.  It is common to mistake thirst for hunger, staying well hydrated can help us make healthier food choices.

The Department of Health recommends that we should drink about 1.2 litres of fluid every day. This works out to be about six 200ml or eight 150ml glasses.


Carbohydrates provide the most easily absorbed form of energy.  They divide into 2 main groups :

  • starches e.g. wheat, oats and other grains, root vegetables such as potatoes and pulses like lentils
  • sugars e.g. fruits, some vegetables, honey, sugar.

Fibre is also a carbohydrate but the body uses it for other purposes than as a source of energy.  It is very important and used to be referred to as “roughage”.  A relatively small amount is digested but it delivers several important health benefits.  Fibre retains water and therefore helps prevent constipation  A high fibre diet also reduces the risk of colon cancer.  A high fibre diet helps lower blood cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of heart disease.

Choose Healthy Carbohydrates and Fibre Sources

Especially whole grains for long lasting energy.  In addition to being tasty and filling whole-grains are rich in phyto-chemicals and antioxidants which it is thought help to protect against coronary heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes.  Studies have shown people who eat more whole grains tend to have a healthier heart.

Healthy Carbohydrates

Whole-grains, beans, fruits and vegetables

They are digested slowly helping you feel full for longer and keeping blood sugar and insulin levels stable.

Unhealthy Carbohydrates

White flour, refined sugar, white rice that have been stripped of all bran, fibre and nutrients.  Unhealthy carbohydrates digest quickly and cause spikes in blood sugar levels and energy

Try: Brown rice, millet, quinoa, barley.  Experiment with different grains.

Avoid – refined foods such as breads, pastas, breakfast cereals that are not whole grain.


Protein is an essential component of bone, muscle, skin, hair and other parts of the body.  The body makes protein from amino acids found in protein-rich foods, but it can’t store amino acids, so we have to eat protein every day.

For good health eat a variety of proteins from different food groups.

Red meat, poultry, eggs, milk, fish, cheese, nuts, seeds, tofu, quinoa, pulses, beans, grains (preferably whole-grains), yoghurt (Many carbohydrate foods such as potatoes and whole-grains also contain protein).


The body needs fat for energy, to pad organs and to transport vitamins.  Too much fat can fuel obesity, high cholesterol, and heart disease.  But not all fats harm you if eaten in moderation.  Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may actually help lower cholesterol.  Saturated and trans fats may increase cholesterol and are associated with an increased risk for heart disease.  Fat gram for gram contains twice the calories of carbohydrate and protein.  It takes longer to be absorbed in to the bloodstream than carbohydrates.  Fat also provides the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K but not all fat is equal (see good fats v bad fats below).  This is an area where more research is needed.

Good fats v Bad Fats

Low fat diets have been very popular in recent years but the type of fat you eat is the thing that really matters.  Bad fats are thought to increase cholesterol and your risk of certain diseases while good fats can protect your heart and support overall health.  Good fats, such as Omega-3-fats are thought to be essential to physical and emotional health.

4 main types of fats

  • Monounsaturated fats
  • Polyunsaturated fats
  • Saturated fats
  • Trans fats

Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are known as the “good fats” because they are good for your heart, your cholesterol, and your overall health.  Saturated fats and trans fats are known as the “bad fats” because they increase your risk of disease and elevate cholesterol.

A quick way to work it out is that saturated fats and trans fats tend to be solid at room temperature (e.g. butter) while monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats tend to be liquid (e.g. olive oil).

The health benefits are more dubious though for certain types of poly-un-saturates such as corn oil and sunflower oil.  These change when exposed to high temperatures and once heated they act more like saturated fats in the body.  Essential fats are ideally consumed cold.

Saturated fat:

Found in cheese, sausages, butter, cakes, biscuits and pies

Most people in the UK eat too much saturated fat which puts us at risk of hear disease and other health problems.

Unsaturated fat

Sources include: Oily fish, nuts and seeds, avocados, olive oils and vegetable oils

Tips for choosing healthy fats

Try to eliminate trans fats from your diet

  • No amount of trans fats is healthy, they are probably the worst types of fats to consume and are best avoided.  They are linked with arterial damage and weight gain.
  • Check food labels for trans fats
  • Avoid commercially baked goods
  • Limit fast food
  • Sources of trans fats: Baked goods – cookies, crackers, cakes, muffins, pie crusts, pizza dough fried foods – doughnuts, chips, fried chicken, chicken nuggets.  Snack foods – crisps, sweets, popcorn (ready made).  Solid fats Premixed products cake mix, pancake mix, chocolate drink mixes.

Limit your intake of saturated fats

  • try replacing red meat with beans, nuts, poultry and fish whenever possible, and switching from whole milk and other full fat dairy foods to lower fat versions
  • Go for lean cuts of meat and stick to white meat with less saturated fat
  • Bake or grill instead of frying
  • Trim as much fat off meat before cooking
  • Avoid breaded meats and vegetables and deep fried foods
  • choose low fat milk and lower fat cheeses like mozzarella whenever possible
  • Use liquid vegetable oils such as olive oil instead of lard or butter.
  • Avoid cream and cheese sauces

Eat omega 3 fats every day

Good sources include fish, walnuts, ground flax seeds, flaxseed oil, olive oil and butternut squash

Most people should be eating more fish, including more oily fish.

A healthy diet should include at least two portions of fish a week, including one of oily fish.  But for certain types of fish there are recommendations about the maximum amount you should eat.

More info at www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/fish-shellfish.aspx

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