A healthy diet1 contains a variety of foods providing essential nutrients and the energy your body needs to maintain normal functions. A balanced diet contains carbohydrates, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber and water2-4.
● Carbohydrates provide energy
● Fat also provides energy and helps us to absorb certain vitamins. Our bodies need some fat, though not too much
● Protein is essential for growth and repair of the body, as well as muscle strength
● Vitamins and minerals play a major part in the healthy functioning of our bodies
● Fiber helps with bowel health
● Water is a critical part of many processes in the body
Eating a healthy diet is important for people recovering from any illness. Not only will a healthy diet provide the nutrients to help your body recover, it may also reduce your risk of developing other diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes in the longer term5-6. Healthier eating often means making just small and gradual changes to your diet and taking note of any food that makes your symptoms worse. Principles for healthy eating:
1. Base meals on starchy foods7
Starchy foods such as wholemeal bread and pasta, wholegrain cereals, brown rice and potatoes are an important part of a healthy diet. They are a good source of energy and contain other nutrients including fiber, calcium, iron and B vitamins. Starchy foods should make up around a third of most meals and snacks, as they are the healthiest source of energy. Opt for wholegrain sources, as these provide energy for longer and contain fiber to keep the heart and bowels healthy.
2. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables
The WHO8 recommends we should all eat ‘five a day’, i.e. five portions of fruit or vegetables (around 400g in total) to lower the risk of health problems including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity. Fruit and vegetables are also a great source of vitamins and minerals, along with dietary fiber which helps keep our digestive system healthy. You can also include frozen and dried varieties but try to avoid eating tinned or processed foods as they often have added ingredients such as sugar, fat and salt9.
3. Eat sufficient protein and dairy foods2, 10
Lean meat, poultry, pulses, fish, beans, eggs and nuts provide a good source of protein for growth and repair of cells and tissues. If you avoid processed foods you’ll also avoid the added salt, sugar, fat and preservatives. Milk and dairy foods are the richest source of calcium in our diet. They include milk, yogurt, fromage frais and cheese. These foods are also a good source of protein, and other vitamins and minerals. You should try to include two to three servings a day but choose low-fat varieties (which contain just as much calcium, protein and vitamins) where possible.
4. Eat the right fats
To stay healthy we need some fat in our diet. There are two main types of fat – saturated and unsaturated. Eat less saturated fats and trans-fats.2, 4, 11 These are found in animal products such as fatty meat, dairy products such as butter, cheese, cream and full-fat milk and in processed foods such as crisps, pies, biscuits and cakes. Having too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases the chance of developing heart disease. Eat more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.2, 4, 11 These are found in olive oil, oily fish, nuts and seeds. A diet that is low in saturated fat can lower your blood cholesterol level and this in turn can reduce the risk of heart disease.
5. Reduce your sugar intake10
Sugar makes food taste good, but products that contain refined sugar are usually high in calories and low in other nutrients.1 This can contribute to weight gain and dental problems. Diets high in sugar also increase the risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. You should try to avoid food or drink with refined sugar such as sweets, cakes, biscuits and soft drinks. You can also opt for low-sugar varieties of jam, sauces and dressings.
6. Reduce your salt intake – no more than 6g per day2, 10
Consuming too much salt is linked with high blood pressure, which increases the risk of developing heart disease and having a stroke. The recommended level of salt for an adult is no more than 6g per day. Most of the salt we eat is actually ‘hidden’ in processed foods and snack foods that are pre-prepared such as crisps, cereals, bread, burgers and ready-made meals including sauces and dressings12.
7. Drink plenty of fluids11
You should try to drink about six to eight glasses (1.2 liters) of water, or other fluids, every day to stop you getting dehydrated. Feeling thirsty and light-headed, having dark-colored, strong-smelling urine, and passing urine less often than usual are some early warnings of dehydration by not drinking enough fluids13.
Avoiding alcohol or keeping it to a minimum can help you with managing fatigue. The WHO identifies alcohol consumption as a public health priority because of the impact on health14. Liver problems, high blood pressure, increased risk of various cancers and heart attack are some of the detrimental effects of regularly drinking more than the recommended levels15. Alcohol is also high in calories and can contribute to weight gain.
1. WHO. Food based dietary guidelines in the WHO European Region. 2003. Available at: http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/150083/E79832.pdf. Accessed April 2017.
2. EUFIC. Food-based dietary guidelines in Europe. European Food Information Council. 2009. Available at: http://www.eufic.org/article/en/expid/food-based-dietary-guidelines-ineurope/. Accessed April 2017.
3. BUPA. Healthy eating. 2016. Available at: http://www.bupa.co.uk/health-information/directory/h/healthy-eating. Accessed April 2017.
4. NHS. Eating a balanced diet. March 2016. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/Healthyeating.aspx. Accessed April 2017.
5. British Heart Foundation. Healthy eating. 2016. Available at: http://www.bhf.org.uk/hearthealth/preventing-heart-disease/healthy-eating. Accessed April 2017.
6. NHS. Stroke – Prevention. September 2014. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Stroke/Pages/Prevention.aspx. Accessed April 2017.
7. NHS. Starchy foods and carbohydrates. March 2015. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/starchy-foods.aspx. Accessed April 2017.
8. WHO. Promoting fruit and vegetable consumption around the world. 2014. Available at: http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/fruit/en/index.html. Accessed April 2017.
10. NHS. Eight tips for healthy eating. March 2016. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/eight-tips-healthy-eating.aspx. Accessed April 2017.
11. Mayo Clinic. Dietary fats: Know which types to choose. February 2016. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fat/art-20045550. Accessed April 2017.
12. NHS. Tips for a lower-salt diet. July 2015. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/cut-down-salt.aspx. Accessed April 2017.
13. NHS. Dehydration. April 2015. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Dehydration/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Accessed April 2017.
14. WHO. Alcohol in the European Union – consumption, harm and policy approaches. 2012. Available at: http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/160680/e96457.pdf. Accessed April 2017.
15. NHS. The risks of drinking too much. February 2016. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/alcohol/Pages/Effectsofalcohol.aspx. Accessed April 2017.