How to Understand the Governments Eatwell Guidelines for Nutrition
The Eatwell Guide (below) is a pictorial representation of government healthy eating advice showing the proportions in which different types of foods are needed to have a well-balanced and healthy diet. The proportions shown are representative of your food consumption over the period of a day or even a week, and not always representative of all mealtimes
Fruit and vegetables
As seen in the Eatwell plate, over a 1/3 of the diet should come from fruit and vegetables. One way this might be enforced is by adopting the “Eat at least 5” portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day.
A portion is at least 80g or one of the following:
⁃ 1 slice of a large fruit such as a melon
⁃ 1 whole piece of fruit such as an apple or banana
⁃ Two pieces of small fruit such as satsumas
⁃ 3 tablespoons of cooked vegetables (boiled/steamed/sautéed)
⁃ 1 bowl of mixed salad
1 heaped tablespoon worth of dried fruit also counts as one portion.
Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates
Often the base to a meal is potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates; choosing wholegrain versions where possible is advisable; this includes wholewheat pasta, brown rice, or simply leaving the skins on potatoes. Wholegrain food contains more fibre than white or refined starchy food, which helps promote a healthier gut, and fibre often has more of other nutrients too.
Dairy and alternatives
Have some dairy and alternatives; choosing lower fat and lower sugar options. Look at labels and choose milks lower in fat, such as skimmed, 1% or semi-skimmed; yoghurts lower in fat (personal suggestion would be going for the greek yogurts) and sugar and cheeses lower in fat and salt. When buying dairy alternatives like soya drinks, go for unsweetened, calcium-fortified versions.
Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins
Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins, including 2 portions of fish weekly. Beans, peas and pulses are good alternatives to meat because they’re naturally very low in fat, and they’re high in fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals. Adding them to soups and stews can give your meal that extra little nutritious edge.
Aim for at least 2 portions (2 x 140g) of fish a week, including a portion of oily fish. Oily fish includes salmon, sardines, mackerel and kippers. On average eat no more than 70g red and processed meat a day. Processed meat includes sausages, cured meats and reformed meat products.
Some types of meat are high in fat, particularly saturated fat. When buying meat mainly:
⁃ Choose lean cut meats
⁃ Go for the leaner mince
⁃ Cut the fat off the meat
⁃ Have the chicken without the skins
⁃ Try grilling, steaming or baking meant and fish rather than frying.
Oil and spreads
Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and eat in small amounts. Although some fat in the diet is essential, generally we are eating too much saturated fat. Unsaturated fats are healthier fats that are usually from plant sources and in liquid form as oil. This includes vegetable oil, rapeseed oil and olive oil (most balanced cost and health wise is the olive oil); as well as spreads made from these oils. All types of fat are high in energy and should be limited in the diet.
Foods high in fat, salt and sugar
Eat this category of food less often and in small amounts. Products such as chocolate, cakes, biscuits, sugary soft drinks, butter, cream and ice-cream. These foods are not needed in the diet and so, if included, should only be consumed infrequently and in small amounts, don’t forget to enjoy the food, but stay clear of over indulgement.. We all know “that too much of anything is bad”.
Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of fluid every day
Water, lower fat milk and tea and coffee all count. 100% fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies also count towards your fluid consumption, although they are a source of free sugars and so you should limit consumption to at most a combined total of 150ml per day.
Food labels can help you to choose between foods, as part of the Nutrition guidelines in the UK, manufacturers have been constructed to colour code food items for the clear view of the consumers. Where colour coded labels are used you can tell at a glance if they are high, medium or low in fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt. For a healthier choice, try to pick products with more greens and ambers and fewer reds.
Most of us can get all the nutrients we need by consuming a healthy, balanced and varied diet. However, there are certain groups of the population and certain factors for whom certain dietary supplements are recommended:
1 – Folic Acid
Women who could become pregnant or who are planning a pregnancy should take a dietary supplement of 400 micrograms (µg) of folic acid every day from before conception until the 12th week of pregnancy, to reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) such as spina bifida.
In addition to taking folic acid supplements, all pregnant women should eat folate rich foods such as green vegetables, some fruits (oranges for example) and fortified breakfast cereals.
2 – Vitamin D
It is recommended that between the months of October and March (specifically if living in climates such as UK’s) everyone aged 5 and above including pregnant and breastfeeding women should consider taking a supplement containing 10µg of vitamin D per day – This is due to the fact that vitamin D is only found in a small number of foods and so it might be difficult to get enough from foods that naturally contain vitamin D and/or fortified foods alone. – There are separate recommendations for children from birth to 4 years of age.
Between late March/early April and the end of September, the majority of people aged 5 and above will probably obtain sufficient vitamin D from sunlight when they are outdoors so they might choose not to take a vitamin D supplement during these months. However, some groups of people will not obtain enough vitamin D from sunlight because they have very little or no sunshine exposure.
People from these groups should take a daily supplement containing 10µg vitamin D throughout the year. They are:
⁃ People who are seldom outdoors such as frail or housebound individuals and those who are confined indoors eg in institutions such as care homes
⁃ People who habitually wear clothes that cover most of their skin while outdoors
People from minority ethnic groups with dark skin such as those with African, African-Caribbean and South Asian origin might not get enough vitamin D from sunlight in summer, so they should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10µg vitamin D throughout the year as well.
3- Vitamin A and C
Infants and young children aged between 6 months and 5 years should also be given a supplement containing vitamins A and C. Babies under 6 months of age should not need supplements containing vitamin A and C as their body stores of nutrients (obtained from the mother during pregnancy) and breast milk. Children who have a good appetite and eat a wide variety of foods, including fruit and vegetables, might not need vitamin supplements.
Parents who are concerned about their child’s diet should talk to their GP or health visitor for further advice.
The Eatwell Guide and all supporting information are available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-eatwell-guide
World Health Organisation. Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. 2003. Available from: http://whqlibdoc.who.int/trs/WHO_TRS_916.pdf
Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. Vitamin D and Health. London: TSO; 2016. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sacn-vitamin-d-and-health-report
Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. Iron and Health. London: TSO; 2010. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sacn-iron-and-health-report