Improving your diet is one of the most important steps you can take towards creating a healthy lifestyle, or managing a pre-existing health condition.
A good diet contains a healthy balance of a variety of foods, with emphasis on lots of fresh produce, high nutritional value and sufficient protein and calories to meet your needs. But healthy eating can seem confusing and challenging – fad dieting tips and trendy foods are everywhere and it can be difficult to tell what’s actually going to help.
So we’ve put together a list of the top ten healthy food groups you should aim to include in your meals, based on advice from the NHS and other reputable sources. For more information, check out the NHS Eatwell Guide, which shows the proportions of each food group you should be aiming for.
Top Foods for a Healthy Lifestyle
The NHS recommends that for an optimal diet, just over a third of your daily calories should be sourced from starchy carbohydratessuch as potatoes, bread, or rice.
- Carbs have a reputation for being fattening, but in reality, they’re a filling and nutritious choice that contain less than half the calories of an equivalent amount of fat, and are a great contribution to a healthy lifestyle.
- Wholegrains and starchy foods with their skins kept on, like potatoes, are a great source of fibre. This aids digestion, making things easier on your gut. The fibre also creates a feeling of fullness, which can help.you avoid snacking throughout the day and help with weight loss.
- To incorporate more wholegrains into your diet, substitute white rice and pasta for brown and wholegrain versions instead. Try starting the day with a filling bowl of wholegrain cereal, muesli or porridge. Add fruit and skimmed milk for a tasty start.
Plant based foods provide vital nutrients, including vitamins such as folate, vitamin C and potassium, as well as plenty of healthy dietary fibre, all of which are key to enjoying a healthy lifestyle. The World Health Organisation advocates that we need to be eating 400g – orat least five portions– of fresh fruit and vegetables daily, to lower our risks of heart disease, some forms of cancer and strokes.
The 2014 National Diet and Nutrition Survey found that on average,the UK population consume less than this ideal amount of fruit and vegetables- on average 4.1 servings daily, rather than therecommended 5 to 10.
Have you ever wondered why vegetables come in so many different shades and colours? The different compounds present in each vegetable are what makes up their bright hues, giving each vegetable different nutritional values:
- Red vegetables (capsicum, chilis, tomatoes) are a source of lycopene which protects your skin from sun damage and can be good for skin cancer prevention.
- Orange vegetables (squash, carrots, sweet potatoes) are rich in beta carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. This nutrient is essential for healthy skin, hair and eyes.
- Yellow (sweetcorn, yellow courgettes) are full of carotenoid compounds, which reduce the risk of cataracts.
- Purple (aubergine, red cabbage) contain anthocyanins – antioxidant compounds that combat the signs of ageing.
There’s no wonder-fruit to solve all health problems- instead it’s best to go for a variety of different fruit on a daily basis. This will ensure you get a wide range of nutrients, and also don’t get bored! Our tips for getting the most of your fruit intake are below.
- Fruit is full of dietary fibre, which helps gut health by aiding the movement of food through the digestive system. This prevents constipation and may reduce your lifetime risk of bowel cancer.
- Many types of fruit can count towards your five servings daily- including dried, canned or frozen fruit. Check that fruit is not preserved with additional sugar though- this can sneak in where you’re not expecting it.
- Be careful with the sugar content of fruit juices. Having too much fruit juice can be unhealthy as it’s an easy way to get a big dose of sugar without realising it. A balanced, healthy diet without too much extra sugar is important for reducing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Try to eat more whole fruit, as then you’ll get all the vitamins of fruit juice plus the benefits of fruit fibre.
4) Oily fish
Oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, anchovies and pilchards, are a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to contribute to a healthy heart. They also play a vital role in nervous system development- meaning it’s especially important for pregnant and breastfeeding women to get enough Omega-3s. Oily fish also contain vitamin D.
- You should try and get at least two 140g servings of fish into your diet each week, and ideally one of these should be oily fish. However, for optimal health it’s recommended that you eat no more than four portions of oily fish weekly, as low levels of pollutants found in these fish can build up in your body.
- You could also consider buying more sustainable fish species to do your bit for the ocean as well as creating a healthier diet.
5) Lean meat
Meat in moderation can be an important part of your diet, supplying protein and nutrients. However too much (more than 70g daily) red or processed meat can be harmful by raising your risk of bowel cancer and increasing saturated fat levels in your bloodstream.
- Meat is one of our major sources of vitamin B12- while it can be found in other foods such as eggs, it is most abundant in meat.
- Chicken and other white meat is a healthier choice than red meat. They often contain less saturated fat, but a similar amount of healthy protein.
While the link between nuts and heart health remains uncertain, some research has indicated that eating around half a handful of nuts daily may reduce the risk of an early death from cardiovascular diseases and cancer, among other conditions.
- Nuts contain healthy unsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, fibre and protein.
- They can form part of a heart healthy diet. Eating nuts may help to lower levels of LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) in your bloodstream. They contain a compound called L-arginine, which might help to improve artery health by increasing the flexibility of arterial walls. So next time you’re hungry for a snack, try a bag of crunchy and delicious almonds, cashews or walnuts.
7) Free Range Eggs
How do you like your eggs in the morning? – scrambled, boiled or poached? These protein-rich nutritional powerhouses contain a variety of healthy nutrients wrapped up in a neat package.
- Egg whites are sources of selenium, vitamin D, B6, and B12 as well as trace amounts of essential zinc, iron and copper.
- The golden yolks are packed with vitamin A, D, E and K.
- Eggs are a “complete” protein and contain all eight amino acids the body needs for normal functioning and repairing wear and tear.
- Vitamin D in particular is vital for growing strong bones, preventing osteoporosis later in life.
Egg yolks also contain cholesterol, which for a while placed them in the “unhealthy” box of dietary recommendations. It’s now thought that dietary cholesterol is not the main influence on blood cholesterol levels- what’s more important is your dietary saturated fat intake. So eggs are back in the good books!
To get the maximum health benefit from eggs, prepare them with minimal added salt and saturated fat – such as scrambling them with a splash of oil instead of butter.
8) Beans and pulses
Pulses include baked beans, lentils, chickpeas, runner beans, broad beans and peas.
- They are a key source of protein for vegetarians, and a great addition to the diet for everyone else.
- Pulses also contain iron and plenty of healthy dietary fibre, helping to maintain a healthy gut.
9) Leafy green vegetables
Kale and other leafy greens have come into vogue recently, but there’s good reason behind their popularity.
- The vivid green hues of the leaves show off their high nutritional content- including vitamin K and A.
- Leafy greens contain high levels of calcium relative to other vegetables. This essential mineral is needed to regulate muscle contractions and build bones and teeth. They also contain nitrates, which may help to reduce the risk of blood clots, improving overall heart health in particular.
10) Low-fat dairy
Dairy products are another excellent source of protein and calcium. The NHS recommends substituting healthier lower-fat options wherever possible: such as skimmed milk for full fat, and low-fat spreads instead of butter for spreading and frying. This way you get the benefits of dairy with less of the negatives from their high fat content (and high calorie levels). The perfect recipe for a healthier lifestyle!
- Cheese can be high in salt and fat, so you may want to use less of a more flavoursome variety when cooking with it.
- If you’re lactose intolerant or prefer to avoid dairy, soya-based products are good alternatives.
Securing your Future
Eating well means investing in yourself and your future. While you’re able to minimise health risks by following a healthy lifestyle and exercise regime, especially by considering your diet, it’s impossible to fully avoid risk. If you fell ill or were injured today, would you be financially prepared? ESMI medical insurance offers comprehensive supplementary packages designed to give you and your family financial peace of mind during these events.
Did you know, that currently, statutory sick pay will provide you with just £89.35 to live on each week? With ESMI sick pay insurance, you can receive up to £2000 monthly for up to six months of sick leave. We also offer a simple guaranteed-acceptance flexible life insurance scheme, covering up to £100,000 tax-free. This can be paired with our critical illness insurance, covering up to £50,000 tax free.
Our packages come with a 30-day money back guarantee, and are guaranteed-acceptance, which means that we guarantee to accept you irrespective of your preexisting medical conditions.
It’s never too late – take the next step to secure a healthy future by sorting your medical insurance with ESMI today.