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 to control what you eat and help with weight loss.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables are a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre and are low in fat. Aim to eat at least five portions a day. One portion of fruit or vegetables can be:
- 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
- one cereal bowl of mixed salad
- 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 vegetables and salads as this will increase the energy you take in. Frozen vegetables and tinned fruit in juice (not syrup) are just as nutritious as fresh ones and can be less expensive.
Starch is a type of carbohydrate, which is a good source of energy. Foods like bread, cereal, rice, and pasta are starchy foods. Wholegrain varieties are better if you’re trying to lose weight as they make you feel fuller. Starchy foods 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.
Increasing the amount of fibre in your diet can also 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 and is 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 fish-based processed meals or fish in batter. Tinned fish like tuna, sardines and pilchards are also low in saturated fat.
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 don’t have much fat, and grill or roast rather than frying. Skinned turkey or chicken is a healthier, low fat alternative to red meat such as lamb, beef or pork.
Try cutting down on processed meats, such as sausages, burgers, pies and sausage rolls, which are high in saturated fat.
Milk and dairy
Dairy products are good sources of protein, vitamins and calcium, but 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.
Sugars are a good source of energy and occur naturally in foods including fruit and milk. But foods such as sweets, biscuits, cakes, pastries and puddings have lots of added sugars. Fizzy drinks and alcohol also often contain a lot of sugar. Cutting down on foods and drinks with added sugar is important to help with weight loss.
Fats also provide us with energy, but are a concentrated source of energy and high in calories. There are two types of fats contained in foods:
- saturated fats- such as fatty cuts of meat, sausages, pies, butter, ghee, cheese, cakes and biscuits
- unsaturated fats- such as 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 fats but particularly saturated fat.
Food labels can give you a guide to this. If you have a choice, pick foods with unsaturated fats, but remember these are still a high-energy food. 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 strokes. Try to eat no more 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.