Know your food types
Few of us have time to check the energy content of everything we eat. But knowing about the different types of foods can help you control what you eat and help you lose weight.
Fruits and vegetables are a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre. They are also low in fat. Aim to eat at least five portions a day. The following each count as one portion:
one apple or banana
a slice of melon
two small fruits such as kiwi fruit or plums
a handful of berries
twelve chunks of tinned pineapple
a glass of orange juice (only counts once a day)
one whole vegetable, such as an onion or small pepper
three heaped tablespoons of diced carrots or shredded cabbage
a bowl of mixed salad (cereal bowl sized)
seven cherry tomatoes
two broccoli florets
three heaped tablespoons of peas or lentils.
To increase your daily intake of fruit and vegetables, try the following:
Have a mixed salad as a starter or as a side dish with your main meal.
Reduce meat portions and enjoy larger servings of vegetables and salad.
If you need a snack between meals, choose fresh fruit.
Try to avoid adding butter, rich sauces or dressings to your vegetables and salads, as this will increase the energy you take in. Frozen vegetables and tinned fruit in juice (not syrup) are just as healthy as fresh ones and can be cheaper.
Top tip: Try to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
Starch is a type of carbohydrate, which is a good source of energy. Foods such as bread, cereal, rice and pasta are starchy foods. Wholegrain or wholemeal varieties are better if you’re trying to lose weight, as they make you feel fuller. Starch should make up about one third of what you eat in a day.
Potatoes are also included in this food type. Boiled or baked potatoes are healthier than deep-fried chips. If you want to eat chips, use the low-fat oven varieties.
Top tip: When eating starchy foods, choose wholegrain or wholemeal.
Increasing the amount of fibre in your diet can help you feel fuller more quickly. Try changing to wholemeal bread and high-fibre breakfast cereals. Peas, beans, lentils, grains and seeds are other good sources of fibre, as well as fruit and vegetables.
Fish is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals. It’s also low in saturated fat. Aim to have at least two portions of fish a week. Grilling, steaming, poaching and baking fish is healthier than frying it. Frozen fish can be cheaper than fresh, but avoid high-fat, processed meals with fish, or fish in batter. Tinned fish such as tuna, sardines and pilchards are also low in saturated fat.
Top tip: Try to eat at least two portions of fish a week.
Although meat is high in protein and minerals, it can also be high in fat. Try to reduce your meat portions and have more vegetables instead.
Choose cuts of meat that have less fat, such as those labelled ‘lean’ or ‘extra lean’. You can also look at the labels to see which have the least fat. Or ask a butcher or grocer if you’re not sure. Skinned turkey or chicken is a healthier, low fat alternative to red meat such as lamb, beef or pork. Grill or roast your meat rather than fry it.
Try cutting down on processed meats, such as sausages, burgers, pies and sausage rolls, which are high in saturated fat.
Top tip: Cut down on meat generally, especially red and processed meat, and choose leaner cuts.
Dairy products are good sources of protein, vitamins and calcium, but they can also be high in fat. Try semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, low-fat spreads and yoghurt. Only use cream or butter in small amounts.
Sugar is a good source of energy and occurs naturally in things such as fruit and milk. But foods such as sweets, biscuits, cakes, pastries and puddings have lots of added sugars. Fizzy drinks and alcohol often contain a lot of sugar. Cutting down on foods and drinks with added sugar is important when trying to lose weight.
Fats also give us energy, but they are a concentrated source of energy and high in calories. There are two types of fat in food:
saturated fats, found in fatty cuts of meat, sausages, pies, butter, ghee, cheese, cakes and biscuits
unsaturated fats, found in vegetable-based cooking oils and spreads, nuts, seeds and oily fish such as sardines or mackerel.
Too much fat in your diet can be unhealthy and lead to weight gain and other health problems. Try to cut down on foods that contain fat, particularly saturated fat.
If you have a choice, pick foods with unsaturated fats, but remember these are still high-energy (high-calorie) foods. Even foods labelled as ‘low fat’ can still be high in calories.
Too much salt in your diet can lead to high blood pressure, which can cause heart disease and stroke. Try to eat less than 6g of salt a day (that’s about a teaspoonful). Many processed foods and ready meals contain high levels of salt, so always check the label.
Labels on food packaging can help you choose food with healthier amounts of sugar, fat, saturated fat and salt.