What is healthy eating?

Information on diet and health can be confusing and contradictory


What does “healthy eating” really mean? There is a mountain of information available on diet and health, but it can be confusing and contradictory. What you eat can either protect you or increase your chances of conditions such as heart disease and stroke.

The following tips explain the basics of what healthy eating is all about.

1. Variety is the spice of life

The key to healthy eating is to eat a wide variety of foods. Using the food pyramid as a guide will help ensure you get all the goodness you need from your food. Foods that contain the same types of nutrients are grouped together on each food pyramid shelf. Choose most foods from the bottom two shelves, smaller amounts from the next two shelves and very small amounts from the next shelf.

Foods on the top shelf are high in fat, sugar and salt, are not essential for health and should not be eaten daily.

2. Portion size matters

With more than 60 per cent of the adult population either overweight or obese, it is not just the quality and variety of food that is important; how much we eat matters too. Are you picking away at food while watching the TV or in the car? If so, you may not realise how much you’re eating. Often these foods are high in fat, sugar and calories. Check the food pyramid for guidelines on the recommended serving sizes for each food group.

3. Check your cooking

How food is prepared and cooked has a significant effect on its nutritional value. For example, to maximise the goodness in vegetables, cover them in the minimal amount of water, add a lid and cook until just tender. This will help to minimise the loss of any vitamins.

Better still, try steaming them. For tasty, heart-healthy recipes try the Irish Heart Foundation’s I Love Good Food cookbook, available from www.irishheart.ie

4. Look at labels

Food labels can be confusing. Retailers and manufacturers now provide “at a glance” nutrition information on the front of packs but this information is not consistently presented. The Irish Heart Foundation has produced a handy pocket-sized food shopping card to help you check how much fat, sugar and salt is in your food and to help you compare the nutritional content of different products. Order your free food shopping card from www.irishheart.ie

5. Don’t forget drinks

Adults need about 8 – 10 cups of fluid every day but you need more if you are active. one cup is about 200mls. Water is the best drink, followed by low fat milk and pure fruit juice. Alcohol is high in calories and one standard drink (a half pint of beer, a small glass of wine or a pub measure of spirits) contains 100 – 150 calories. A man who drinks up to 17 drinks per week can gain about 1.5 stone in a year.

Healthy eating for Cchildren: Golden fules As parents, we do our best to provide healthy options, but it’s not always easy to put a fresh, balanced meal on the table when a toddler is crying at your feet or your teenager is being, well, a teenager. While fussy eating usually appears in the pre-school years, some children will continue to have food fads well beyond these years.

The good news is that small changes to your everyday lives can be hugely beneficial to your children’s health, and to your own. Time, encouragement and patience will produce improvements.

• Keep mealtimes relaxed. Try to eat together as a family and avoid preparing different meals for different family members. Young people who eat with their families consume fewer sugary drinks, more fruit and vegetables, and less fat both at home and away from home.

• Don’t panic, as even limited diets for a few weeks can deliver all the nutrients your child needs. A varied diet can be achieved over the course of a day or even a week. List all the foods your child will eat, which is usually more than you think, and develop menu plans around these.

• Another area that can affect eating habits is the child’s senses. Some children will look for very strong-tasting, spicy food while other children will like very bland foods.

• A food’s texture is also another factor – one child may enjoy crunchy, chewy food while another may prefer smoother food. It may help to adjust what you offer your child based on these preferences.

• Turn off the TV. Don’t underestimate the power of TV in promoting sugary, high-fat and high salt foods.

Janis Morrissey is a dietitian with the Irish Heart Foundation Check out the Irish Heart Foundation’s ‘Fats of Life’ campaign about fat and cholesterol and order your FREE ‘Fats of Life’ magazine at www.irishheart.ie/fatsoflife