Healthy eating

12/06/2023

Easy ways to eat healthier and smarter

Over 63% of adults are overweight or living with obesity in the UK. Unhealthy food choices and insufficient exercise can ultimately lead to weight gain, obesity, and a host of associated diseases. Making healthier food choices can contribute to a healthier life. But it’s not necessarily as easy as it sounds to know what the right choices are. Navigating through the mountain of conflicting information and fad diets isn’t easy, and finding the ‘perfect’ diet can seem illusive. So we’ve done some of the hard work for you, to break through the nutrition noise and bring you our guide to eating healthier and smarter; covering meal planning, healthy alternatives to your favourites, tasty non-alcoholic drinks, and portion control.

Championing a balanced diet

More than two years after dieting, 83% gain more than they lost. Why is it so hard to keep to a diet? Healthy eating doesn’t require counting every calorie, or cutting out certain foods completely - you definitely should not be left feeling hungry or with low energy levels. Eating well is about achieving a fair balance of foods across the main food groups. The NHS Eatwell guide contains easy-to-understand breakdowns for the core food groups. What are they and how much can you eat of each one?

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Fruit and vegetables: Aiming for five-a-day is still the optimum for the important vitamins, minerals, and fibre. An easy rule of measurement when it comes to mealtimes is that half of your plate should consist of vegetables and over a third of everything you eat in a day should be fruit and vegetables.

Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates often get a bad name as the enemy. However starchy carbohydrates are a great source of energy and should make up a third of the food you eat in a day. Include foods such as potatoes, rice, and pasta as the base of meals.

Protein foods: Fish and meat are great sources of protein, but protein can also be found in alternatives such as beans, peas and lentils, these are also low in fat and a good source of fibre.

Dairy: Keep your bones strong by getting the calcium in with dairy such as milk, yoghurt, and cheese.

Unsaturated fats: These are your healthier fats and include olive oils, avocados, nuts, and seeds. These types of fats are best eaten in small amounts.

Hydration: Keeping hydrated is essential and you should be aiming for 6-8 glasses a day. Ideally as much of this as possible should be water, but milk, juice and even tea and coffee count too in small amounts. 

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Reduce caffeine: limit your caffeine intake to 1-2 cups a day to improve sleep, reduce anxiety, and increase stability of energy levels.

Meal planning guide

Some ideas you could try for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that are easy to make and packed full of nutrients. 

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Breakfast: swap out the sugary cereal for a healthier wholegrain alternative such as porridge oats. Porridge oats contain fibre that can help lower your cholesterol, keep your energy levels stable and keep you feeling full for longer.

Try this recipe to make porridge oats at home which is a cheaper alternative. Add honey and some blueberries (high in antioxidants) for a natural sweetener and healthier alternative to sugar.

Lunch: swapping out white bread for wholemeal means more fibre and less sugar. Eating more wholemeal helps to improve digestion and lowers your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Try this recipe to make a delicious avocado on toast using minimal ingredients but still packed full of flavour. Drizzle olive oil over the avocado and add chilli flakes for a bit of a kick.

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Dinner: swap out white rice for brown rice for more minerals and vitamins. Eat as many vegetables as you can. For those warmer evenings, look to adding seasonable vegetables to recipes to provide natural sweetness such as roasted red peppers rather than using shop bought sauce. Try this recipe which is a twist on a traditional salad and make a roasted vegetable and chickpea salad which is low in sugar and saturated fat. Add brown rice to this dish.

Drinks: swap fizzy drinks for flavoured water which can be made by adding fruit to your water. Try this mint and apple recipe for refreshing, tasty water.

Avoid food waste: stock up on frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables so you always have some in reserve when you need them. They still count towards your five-a-day. It is a great way to reduce waste and save money by avoiding the risk of excess fresh produce going bad.

Portion control tips 

This doesn’t mean counting every single carrot or pasta shell that makes your plate, but it does mean being mindful with your portions. Be mindful while eating to stop when you’re full, not necessarily when your plate is empty.

Portion size: Forget weighing or measuring or having to invest in any devices. Just use your hands as a benchmark for measuring food groups. BHF break this down for each food group. For example, fruit portions should be the size of the palm of your hand.

Bread: A variety of breads can contribute to a balanced meal - in moderation - such as naan bread for curries and grainy bread for soups. Making mindful choices around bread means checking the amount of carbohydrates already in your meal. For example, if your curry will be accompanied by rice, then chose to skip the naan bread.

Food labels: It’s important to check food labels for nutritional values. Take note of total amounts of sugar and salt and how many servings it will provide. Often you will find a suggested serving for 1-2 people which can be helpful as a guide.

Leftovers: If you have food leftover from meals then put them in containers and store them in the fridge or freezer to have later in the week. Do this straight away before sitting down to have your meal to avoid the temptation to dig into the leftovers later on. 

Non-alcoholic alternatives

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The number of non-drinkers in the UK is steadily on the rise, with Gen-Z - those aged 16-24 - most likely to not drink. This means that the drinks industry has reacted in accordance with demand and the range of non-alcoholic alternatives is bigger and better than ever before. Gone are the days of just one or two alternatives on the menu at a bar or on supermarket shelves. We have well and truly entered our non-alcoholic era with glorious mocktails and zero percent gins, beers, ciders, and wines available.

Opting for a non-alcoholic alternative can be just as tasty but with big health benefits:

  • Staying within the NHS recommended 14 units of alcohol per week
  • Reduced risk of putting on weight. Non-alcoholic wine can have only 9 calories compared to upwards of 120 calories for alcoholic wine.
  • Less sleep disturbance and negative affects to your mood and memory
  • Better skin and reduced risk of teeth decay and oral disease
  • Reduced risk of cancer and liver disease

The rise of the healthy eating app 

Trying to make healthy food choices when you are doing your food shop can be tricky and the endless choices on offer overwhelming. You can get food swap recommendations through the free NHS food scanner app. All you need to do is simply scan your favourite food and drinks, and the app will provide tips and healthier alternatives suggestions. You can also earn Good Choice badges when you scan healthier food and drinks. Healthier eating ideas and resources are available through the app too.

If you are looking for recipes on the go that you can have ready to access on your smartphone then the BBC Good Food app is worth downloading. Over 15,000 recipes available at your fingertips along with how-to-videos, a feature to build your own recipe collection, and you can even put questions to the experts.

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