The ins and outs of what foods can do for you.
We all know we should eat healthily and have a balance; eating more of some foods and less of others and eating certain foods more often than others. However, we don’t always know what’s in food or how it works in your body. We have created this nutrition guide to help you understand what to look for in foods and what different nutrients (building blocks of food) actually do.
Fibre is an essential part of a healthy diet, helping to promote good digestive health; yet, on average, Britons consume around 18g per day –compared with the 30g recommended by Government nutrition experts*. Most people (87% of women and 72% of men) do not eat the recommended amount of fibre each day **
Foods like whole-grain cereals, wholemeal pasta, brown rice, fruit, vegetables, beans & pulses, nuts and seeds are all great sources of fibre, which help keep the digestive system healthy.
Whole-wheat contains all of the grain (the bran, endosperm and germ); making it one of the best ways to ensure you family gets their fibre.
Not many people realise that wheat is as nutritionally rich as oats and provides even more fibre per 100g. So, whole wheat based cereals can be a good way to increase your fibre intake.
*Wheat Bran Fibre contributes to an increase in the bulk of gut waste matter as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle
**National Diet and Nutrition Survey: results from Years 1 to 4 (combined) of the rolling programme for 2008 and 2009 to 2011 and 2012 2014) PHE/FSA
Proteins are vital to life and health. They are the main building blocks of the body and a functional part of all cells. Proteins help your body to grow, repair and renew itself.
Protein is constantly being used, broken down and reformed so we need to eat a variety of protein every day, spread throughout the day.
Foods vary in the amount of protein they provide and can be split into animal and plant based sources. The main sources include meat, fish, eggs, milk and other dairy foods, pulses (beans and lentils), nuts, seeds, mycoprotein (Quorn), tofu and other soya products, wholegrains.
A lot of people tend to either skip breakfast or get a small amount of protein at this meal. Your body needs refueling after sleep and this means a healthy breakfast with a sufficient amount of protein. Typically breakfast is the meal that contains the least protein. Often people think that it’s only a cooked breakfast that provides protein but a portion of wholegrain cereal with milk can provide a healthy portion of protein at breakfast.
Carbs, or carbohydrates, are our main source of energy used to fuel cells such as the muscles and brain. There are three different types of carb: sugar, starch and fibre. Most carbohydrate foods contain a mixture of all three types in varying amounts.
Include wholegrain carbs with fruit and vegetables at each meal. For example wholegrain cereal, with fruit.
Calcium is a mineral which we need for healthy bones and teeth as well as nerve and muscle function. Children need calcium for bone growth and development. Our bones keep growing and developing until our mid-twenties and then need to be maintained especially when we start to lose bone from middle age onwards, so calcium is important for all ages.
Main food sources of calcium are dairy products (milk, yoghurt, cheese). However, other sources of calcium are fish with soft bones, fortified soya, nut or oat milk, seeds, almonds, Brazil nuts, soya beans, chick peas, dried figs, haricot beans, spinach, kale, broccoli, spring greens, watercress, bread and, of course, fortified breakfast cereals.
Most breakfast cereal is eaten with milk which is an excellent source of calcium. If you choose non-dairy milk like soya, almond or oat make sure it has added calcium.
A balanced diet needs a small amount of fat to provide essential fatty acids needed for health which cannot be made in the body and some vitamins need fat to be absorbed.
Fat contains twice as many calories weight for weight (9kcal/g) as either carbohydrate (4kcal/g) or protein (4kcal/g) so cutting down on fat is important if you are trying to lose weight.
There are three main types of fat in foods - saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. All fatty foods are made up of a mixture of these three types but are classified according to the type of fat present in the largest amount. Current government health advice is to reduce consumption of saturated fat for heart health. Foods high in saturated fat include butter, fried foods, cakes, biscuits and pastries and should only be eaten in small amounts
Choose vegetable oils such as olive, rapeseed and sunflower oils, avocados, nuts and seeds in small amounts. Eat oily fish like mackerel, salmon, pilchards, sardines, kippers, herring, and trout every week.
Vitamins and minerals are needed in small amounts to control body processes and stay healthy. A healthy, balanced diet should provide the vitamins and minerals we need. There are some times and some people who may need extra such as young children, older people and pregnant women. Breakfast cereal can help provide some of these.
Fortification is the process of adding extra nutrients, usually vitamins and minerals, like iron, to food. Fortification helps meet the nutritional needs of adults and children and can make a useful contribution to a balanced diet.
Vitamins and minerals that can be added to breakfast cereals include:
Thiamin (B1): Involved in the regulation of many body processes including releasing energy from food, normal function of the heart, normal function of the nervous system, normal psychological function
Riboflavin (B2): Involved in the regulation of many body processes including releasing energy from food, normal red blood cells, normal vision, reduction of tiredness and fatigue , normal functioning of the nervous system, normal skin
Niacin (B3): Involved in the regulation of many body processes including releasing energy from food, normal functioning of the nervous system, normal psychological functions, normal skin, reduction of tiredness and fatigue
Folic Acid: Normal blood formation, maternal tissue growth during pregnancy, normal function of the immune system, normal psychological function, reduction of tiredness and fatigue, normal protein formation
Vitamin D: Contributes to normal absorption/use of calcium and phosphorus, normal bones, normal muscle function, normal teeth, normal function of the immune system, normal growth and development of bone in children
Iron: Normal immune system, healthy blood, reduction in tiredness and fatigue
Calcium: For healthy bones and teeth, normal muscle function, normal growth and development of bone in children (see ‘The truth about calcium’ for more information)
To be and stay healthy it’s important to be and stay a healthy weight. Being aware of energy (calories) in food and portion sizes are important for weight control.
Understanding and using information on the calorie content of different food and drink can be useful if you're trying to maintain a healthy weight. Other measures, like decreasing how much fat, sugar and alcohol you eat and drink and increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables you eat, are useful ways of cutting down on energy(calories).
All drinks provide water but some may also provide energy (calories). These calories contribute to your daily calorie intake in the same way as those from the foods you eat and can add up over the day
Energy (calorie) intake also relates to portion size. It’s always worth measuring or serving out the recommended portion size to avoid eating too much.
Water makes up about two-thirds of the weight of a healthy body. 85% of the brain tissue is water – if dehydrated, both the body and the brain will be affected. Cells need water. Water is needed so that blood can carry nutrients around the body and the body can get rid of waste.
On average, food provides around 20% of our water. Some foods have higher water content, especially fruits and vegetables, which are usually more than 80% water. However, while some water can be found in food, it is essential to drink too.
As a guide it is recommended that we should drink about 1.6l of fluid each day (women) and 2l (men) – that’s about 8+ glasses on top of the water provided by food. The amount a person needs to drink to avoid getting dehydrated will vary depending on their size, the temperature and how active they are. Children need plenty of fluids too.
All drinks count including hot drinks like tea and coffee but water and milk are the healthiest options. Sugary, soft and fizzy drinks can be high in added sugars, high in calories and can contribute to dental decay. Energy drinks and caffeinated drinks are unsuitable for children.