The Eat Well Plate
Fruits and Vegetables
The Eat Well Plate
Wholemeal and wholegrain breads
Millet, spelt, barley, buckwheat
Q Should I cut carbohydrates from my diet?
A Starchy foods such as bread, pasta, potatoes and rice provide valuable sources of energy, essential vitamins and minerals, and fibre, especially when you choose wholegrain versions of these foods. These foods can also be particularly settling when you’re feeling nauseous, have a sensitive stomach, or want to slow down an overactive gut – a simple bowl of steamed rice with flakes of white fish and a drizzle of olive oil can settle almost anything.
Husks of grains, such as wheat and rye
A We should be eating 18g of fibre a day, yet the average for an adult in the UK is only 12g. This is why so many people have digestive problems, or don’t feel satiated enough after their meals and so are more inclined to overeat and be overweight. Rates of bowel cancer in the UK could be largely prevented by simply eating a diet rich in fibre.
Fruits and vegetables
A Tinned, frozen, cooked and dried fruits and vegetables can be as nutritious as fresh ones. Opt for tinned fruits in natural fruit juice, not sugary syrup. Frozen fruits and vegetables are frozen soon after they are picked, which means they are just as healthy as fresh (unless you grow your own or have a local market).
A Fresh, raw fruits and vegetables usually contain more vitamins and minerals than cooked ones but they can play havoc on your digestive system. In that case, cooking them may suit you better. Try poached peaches or pears, baked apples and plums, or roasted and puréed vegetables.
A There are some studies that suggest certain organic foods may have higher vitamins and minerals but not all the research shows that. Personally, I can’t justify the environmental impact of growing an organic carrot on the other side of the world and then flying it thousands of air miles to a supermarket. Similarly, it may not be worth overstretching your food budget for more expensive organic foods. I would prioritise local, fresh food instead, and organic if it is available and affordable.
A High-protein, low-carb diets may be very fashionable at the moment but I advocate a balanced diet that doesn’t exclude or over-emphasise certain food groups, unless for medical reasons. Protein-rich foods can be very valuable when you want to improve your body’s strength, immune system and stabilise energy levels and moods. Often when you’re fighting diseases such as cancer, your body has a tendency to break down your muscles and leave you feeling weak and vulnerable, so it’s a priority to increase your intake of protein rich-foods to help counteract the effects of the disease and treatments. While the thought of tucking into large quantities of anything, let alone piles of meat, can leave you cold, easier alternatives are a simple chicken soup or a frittata to have in the fridge for when you don’t have the energy or inclination to cook from scratch.
Q Does a vegetarian or vegan diet provide sufficient protein?
A While it can be more challenging to eat enough protein when you’re either vegan or vegetarian, it’s perfectly possible. Legumes (chickpeas and beans), pulses (lentils and peas), soya products (miso, tofu), nuts and seeds are all good sources of non-meat protein.
Oily fish – salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards
Nuts and seeds – linseed, pumpkin seeds, walnuts
A Saturated fats, such as butter and animal fats, can increase our levels of LDL cholesterol, which can ultimately lead to heart disease. Instead, you can switch to vegetable-based mono- or polyunsaturated fats, such as olive, rapeseed and avocado oils.
• Use alternative seasonings, such as herbs, lemon juice and spices
• Wean yourself off the taste by gradually adding a little less salt to your food
• Taste your food as you cook and don’t automatically reach for the salt cellar
• Check the traffic light salt amounts on food labels.
Cheap meat pies and sausages
Cakes and biscuits
Sugar provides calories – 4 per gram – but they are empty calories, since sugar doesn’t contain any other nutrients. Too much sugar isn’t good for us, as it causes dental decay, may be a factor in the development of heart disease, it is linked to certain cancers and is suspected of having a bearing on low IQ. A diet high in sugar can also be a factor in promoting insulin resistance (insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels). This can mean that, over time, the effect that insulin has on the body is weakened, so that more and more insulin is needed to clear the body of unwanted sugars. Eventually this can lead to diabetes, and is one of the factors in the increasingly common adult condition called Syndrome X, a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
GI is a ranking of foods from 0 to 100 according to how quickly each food will raise blood sugar levels (factors such as fibre, fat and protein content influence how quickly they are absorbed into the body).
High GI foods:
Honey; sugar of all sorts; chocolate; sweet still and fizzy drinks, bananas, watermelons, figs, dried dates and raisins; mashed potatoes, cooked carrots, squashes, parsnips and swedes; white and wholemeal bread; rye-based crispbreads; couscous, rice cakes and wholegrain cereals (including bran flakes); popcorn.
Medium GI foods:
Grapes, oranges, fresh dates, mangoes and kiwi fruits; raw carrots, sweetcorn, peas and potatoes (apart from mashed); white and wholegrain pasta; porridge and oatmeal; wholegrain rye bread (including pumpernickel); brown and white rice.
Low GI foods:
Apples, pears, peaches, grapefruits, plums, cherries and dried apricots; avocados; green, leafy vegetables and most other vegetables (but see above); lentils and beans; soya products.
Q Should I cut out sugar from my diet?
A Of course we need some carbohydrate (and that's what sugar is) because it is an essential energy source – but refined, processed sugar just isn’t necessary in our diet. For thousands of years of human evolution we didn't have any sugar, and physiologically we haven't changed from the cavemen and women so we shouldn't need it now.
There are lots of flavourings that you can use to add sweetness to foods – coconut shavings, almond milk, dried fruits, star anise, to name a few. If you want to cut back on sugar, you should also look at the glycaemic index (GI) of the foods you eat.
A The health benefits of bottled water versus tap water may surprise you – tap water is just as hydrating and healthy as bottled. The main water suppliers are under a legal obligation to maintain a safe drinking water supply to your house. Bottled waters can have higher salt levels than many tap waters and don’t offer the same fluoride protection. But bottled waters can be more to your taste, and I love to drink sparkling water with a meal.
A Despite the headlines about the antioxidants in red wine, we now know that it’s only in a laboratory setting that they offer any real benefits, and I suspect that the other types of alcoholic antioxidants in white wine and beer won’t fare any better. Convincing studies show a link between drinking too much alcohol and development of mouth, throat, oesophagus, liver, bowel and breast cancers. Alcohol can also aggravate a fatty liver.
A There are some great alternatives to classic cow’s milk. You could try the ever-growing selection of nut milks (almond, hazelnut, cashew nut), coconut milk, hemp milk, or soya milk.
A Some people who don’t have coeliac disease still feel uncomfortable after eating gluten-containing foods. If, for example, wheat-based bread makes you feel bloated, you could try a loaf made with an alternative grain, such as spelt. There is less gluten in spelt than there is in wheat and it has a different structure, meaning it’s absorbed differently in the gut. For that reason, spelt bread suits some people better. You could also try chickpea pasta instead of your usual variety.