Eat your way to a healthier life

With winter approaching, we should ensure that our natural instinct towards comfort food is as healthy and nutritious as possible

healthy town

Increasing intake of fruit and vegetables during winter months is a great way to boost your immune system


Along with our British neighbours, Ireland is currently on course to become one of the fattest nations in Europe. This shocking statistic reveals that our diet and lifestyle leaves a lot to be desired and unless we change our habits fast, we could be facing into some serious health problems in the future. 

Recent findings from Healthy Ireland surveys (2015 and 2016) show that as a nation we are eating too much processed food and unhealthy snacks rather than cooking from scratch and having healthy snack options such as fruit and nuts.

And on top of the obesity problem, dietary factors have been thought to account for about 30 per cent of cancers in Western countries, making diet second only to tobacco as a preventable cause of cancer.

“Fruit and vegetables contain a wide variety of different nutrients with properties that could make it more difficult for cancer to develop

According to www.safefood.eu many studies strongly suggest that eating fruit and vegetables is linked with reduced risk of mouth, upper throat, larynx and lung cancers. 

“Fruit and vegetables contain a wide variety of different nutrients with properties that could make it more difficult for cancer to develop, they are an excellent source of natural fibre and there is strong evidence that eating foods high in fibre reduces the risk of colon cancer,” says Dr Marian O’Reilly, chief specialist of nutrition at Safefood Ireland. 

She says fresh fruit and vegetables are central to a healthy diet and it is vital that we consume more in order to reduce risk of illness. 

“Reduced fruit and vegetable consumption has been widely linked to poor health and increased risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs),” she says. “In 2010, an estimated 6.7 million deaths worldwide were attributed to inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption.

“So increasing fruit and vegetable consumption to reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases is one of the 12 diet related targets (of the World Health Organisation).” 

According to the Healthy Ireland survey from the HSE just 27 per cent of the Irish population eat five portions of fruit and vegetables daily while three in five eat snacks every day with 42 per cent eating six or more portions every day. 

14 per cent consume sugar sweetened drinks daily, rising to 22 per cent in those aged 15 to 24. However, most people in Ireland (84 per cent) believe they are in very good health even though 28 per cent indicate that they have a long-standing illness or health condition.

A spokeswoman for the HSE says eating healthily is vital and we all must take some simple steps to change the way we feed ourselves and our families.

“A regular healthy, balanced and nutritious diet will help both your physical and your mental health, and will also have a positive impact on how you feel,” she says. “Our ‘Healthy Food for Life’ guidelines provide practical support for individuals and families to make healthier food choices and to help improve their health and wellbeing. Some easy tips include trying to eat more vegetables, salad and fruit - up to seven servings a day and limiting the intake of high fat, sugar and salty food as well as sugary drinks. 

“The HSE Active Living programme advises people about exercise and diet and shows how small changes can make a big difference. “

Dr Cliodhna Foley Nolan is the director of human health and nutrition at Safefood Ireland. She says as the winter months are setting in, we should ensure that our natural instinct towards comfort food is as healthy and nutritious as possible. 

“Comfort food is not necessarily of poor quality,” she says. “We tend to migrate to warming food in general during the winter so soups, casseroles and stir-fry options can be both nutritious and satisfying – the Safefood website has lots of family recipes and tips for healthy family mealtimes.

“Fish is a really nutritious food, being rich in protein, vitamins and minerals which are essential to maintain good health. There are three types of fish – oily, white and shellfish and two portions are recommended each week.

“Be sure to include one portion of oily fish which is rich in vitamins A, D and E as well as omega 3 fatty acids which are essential for healthy brain, eye and nerve development in children and babies. They are also beneficial to your heart health and emerging evidence suggests that eating fish can reduce the chance of developing cancer and arthritis.”

Throughout the Pfizer Healthy Towns Campaign the locals of Tullamore will have been encouraged to take a look at what they are eating and ensure their diet is varied and healthy.

But Sarah Noone, Dietitian at Irish Heart Foundation says because an increasing number of Irish children are classed as obese, parents need to ensure that more effort goes into making mealtimes a positive, healthy family experience.

“Good nutrition isn’t just about putting good food on the table; it’s also a complex and emotional topic,” she says. “So it’s important to keep mealtimes as relaxed as possible and always eat at the table away from TV and screens (that goes for parents too).

“Praise your kid when they eat healthy foods. If you start getting stressed, take a break from the table. Even a five-second breather will help you to keep a calm and matter-of-fact tone. Once you start showing your frustrations, you’re providing them with attention and even this negative attention will make it more likely that they’ll repeat the behaviour.

“A good idea is to list all the foods your child will eat, which is usually more than you think, and develop a menu plan around these. This will make life a lot easier – for everyone.”