Whether you are trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight it’s vital to intake a balanced diet. By eating in a balanced manor you protect yourself from a number of nutritional diseases and increase your vitamin and mineral intake. In order to eat balanced try to:

Consume a Variety of Foods
As you know every different healthy food offers a different nutritional benefit. There are a number of studies still being performed to identify substances in food which contribute to good health. By eating a wide range of healthy food this will ensure you get a wide assortment of nutrients that help protect the body from certain diseases. By eating a range of different foods you can also increase fibre intake which helps absorb extra Fat and cholesterol. You can get in a range of vitamins and minerals, antioxidants all contribute to good all round health. Include a range of coloured foods from green, to orange, red, and yellow. Choose whole fruits and vegetables over juices as they include more fibre.

I always stress the importance of portion control and keeping an eye on how much you are eating. You can overeat healthy foods too, so be aware of foods like nuts, coconut, avocado, fruit, dairy, meat etc. as they can contain high levels of fat/sugar/salt even though they are healthy you have to remember you can have too much of a good thing. I recommend watching your portions of vegetables too by making sure you are eating enough of them in a day. In the past 25 years portion sizes have increased and we are eating more than ever. Statistics published in the Irish Health journal states the instances of obesity has increased in Ireland dramatically. In 1990, only one in 10 Irish men were obese that figure now stands at one in four. Obesity in women has risen from 13% to 21%, since 1990 according to the Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance (IUNA). To avoid overeating stick to recommend portions for each food group and try eating from a smaller plate. To ensure you get more vegetables at lunch and dinner time place them onto your plate before any other food.

We all know that carbohydrate containing foods are highly beneficial in the diet as they provide the body with energy. However too many high GI (glycaemic index) carbohydrates can provide the body with too much sugar and not enough fibre. Half your carbohydrates should be whole grain, whole wheat/barley, oats this will ensure more fibre in the diet. Whole grains retain the bran and germ and almost all the nutrients. When selecting carbohydrates read labels and look for 100% whole wheat or whole grain.  If it’s not obvious on the front of the packaging then check the ingredient list and whole grain should be the first ingredient listed.

Refined carbohydrates
Also known as white carbohydrates, foods from this category include white bread, pasta, and most snack foods which contain little or no fibre. These are not necessarily “bad” foods, 9 times out of ten I would recommend white rice and basmati rice over brown rice especially if the client eats a lot of fruit and vegetables. Over consumption of refined carbohydrates can be an issue when an individual encounters some possible dietary problems. Refined carbohydrates are digested quite rapidly into the bloodstream so check ingredient lists for wheat flour, white, refined or enriched flour. This goes without saying but limit the consumption of refined sugar and fizzy drinks they foods can contain empty calories and may lead to obesity if eaten for a long period of time.

Lean protein and Nuts 
I always speak of the benefits of including lean protein in the diet but why? Examples of lean protein include fish, chicken and turkey they have very little saturated fat. In the case of oily fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines) these types of proteins can reduce the risk of heart disease, inflammation and help promote circulation. Nuts, beans, lentils and eggs are also great sources of protein and contain healthy unsaturated fats in some cases.  Food like nuts can contain high level of fats and the tendency of them to promote weight gain is low due how satisfying they are in the diet.

Reduce animal fat
Red meat and processed meat contains high levels of saturated fat and can increase your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. I recommend having no more than one portion of red meat in a week and to watch the amount of processed meat you consume. No matter if you are eating packet ham, chicken, turkey they all contain high levels of salt to preserve their shelf life. In order to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet consume more nuts, fish, vegetable oil and limit lamb, steak and other red meat.

Avoid Trans fats
Trans fats come from hydrogenated vegetables oil and are used a lot of the time in many processed foods (baked goods, margarine) and fast food. So yes I am an advocator for everything in moderation however when it comes to Trans fats less is best. Not only do Trans fats raise your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol they also reduce HDL (“good”) cholesterol which can increase the chances of heart disease. Under EU legislation Trans fats must be listed on the label of a food its present in. This had led to many companies eliminating or reducing the presence of these unhealthy fats in their food product.

Watch your sodium intake
Too much sodium in the diet can dramatically increase blood pressure and cause additional adverse health effects. Individuals who are over 50, suffer with hypertension, chronic kidney disease or hypertension should limit the consumption of sodium to 1.5g for all other individuals aim for less than 2.3g daily. In a single teaspoon of table salt (combination of sodium and chloride) contains about 2,325 milligrams (2.3g) of sodium.

Get sufficient Calcium and vitamin D
We all know that Calcium is vital for the development and health of teeth and bones. Calcium is present in dairy products and leafy green veg, if you are worried about the additional calories present in dairy products opt for low fat alternatives. Without the presence of vitamin D the amount of calcium absorbed is reduced so it’s vital to get enough of this vitamin. Vitamin D is obtained from sunlight and the diet but can be difficult to get enough from both sources. So in some cases supplementation may be needed (800 – 1,000 IU a day) to ensure an individual gets the RDA.

Food over supplementation
I previously stated that supplementation can be an alternative if an individual is not getting enough of a particular vitamin or mineral however there is no substitute for a healthy balanced diet.  Food offers countless other potentially beneficial compounds other than vitamin and minerals. By eating a food your body knows how to use the nutrients more effectively in the body. However supplementation is an ideal choice for an individual who cannot get sufficient vitamins and minerals from their diet like in the case of vitamin D as previously mentioned.

Watch for empty liquid calories
Some beverages can supply 20% of the calories in an Irish diet. Individuals think as it’s a liquid that it’s not calorific, when this just isn’t the case. Some drinks such as milk and 100% fruit juice are considered healthy but can have between 60 – 250 calories depending on the size of “your” glass. These are not the beverages I would ever be concerned about unless you were drinking it by the carton, it’s the fizzy drinks, sweetened drinks and alcoholic beverages.  These drinks provide very little if any nutrients but are high in calories, fizzy drinks provide high amounts of sugar also. Limit your consumption of these calorie dense beverages and opt for drinking more water.  

Limit Alcohol
Drinking two or three glasses of alcohol in a week will have little negative effect on your body. Alcohol consumption becomes an issue when it’s over consumed as it can cause a number of adverse health problems like increase risk of certain cancers, liver disease, negatively affect mood – depression/anxiety, high blood pressure just to name a few.
To stay within the alcohol limits its recommended by department of health that Men should drink no more than 21 units of alcohol per week and no more than four units in any one day, and have at least two alcohol-free days a week.
Women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, no more than three units in any one day, and have at least two alcohol-free days a week.
Pregnant and lactating woman are recommended not to consume any alcohol during the first trimester.

Aisling BSc Nutrition

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