Healthy eating, Nutrition
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How much protein and do we really need to eat so much fruit and veg?

Protein

Meat, fish and eggs provide vital protein to the diet. High protein, low carbohydrate diets are in fashion currently, but the average western diet provides more protein than our bodies actually require. A portion of meat or fish should be the same size as the palm of your hand and your protein requirements can easily be met from one meal per day of meat, fish or eggs and a serving of nuts, cheese or legumes.

To eat meat or not should be a matter of taste and personal preference, however eating large quantities of processed fatty meats such as bacon, ham and sausages has been linked to colorectal cancer and premature death (Rohrmann, 2013). As with all my dietary recommendations, moderation and variety is key. Some healthy eating guidelines recommend eating red meat no more than 3 or 4 times per week, and I tend to follow that advice, whilst usually eating meat just once a day. Meat that is grass-fed also tends to contain higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids (the really good fats), so if you can afford it, then buy organic and look for grass-fed varieties.

Oily or fatty fish is a fantastic source of omega 3s, so should be eaten a couple of times per week if possible. Omega 3 fatty acids are thought to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, so may be beneficial in conditions such as eczema, asthma, arthritis, depression, ADHD and prevention of cardiovascular disease and dementia in later life. So, the message here has to be to eat fish! Oily fish, such as wild salmon, sardines and mackerel has the highest levels of omega 3 fatty acids, but other common fish like tuna, sea bass, hake, haddock and cod has some omega 3s and are high in protein (although don’t eat too often as there are issues with sustainability).

Fruit and vegetables

The only advice I can give about eating fruit and vegetables is to eat as many as possible every day! Fruit and vegetable consumption is thought to have a protective effect against heart disease and many different types of cancer, as well as boosting the immune system to fight off everyday colds and viruses. It also adds to your fibre intake, which aids the digestive system. The official UK healthy eating guidelines suggest 5 portions per day, whereas in Australia it is 7 portions.

Try to eat fruit at least twice a day and eat it at whatever time of day it suits you. Some people may find that eating easily digestible fruits such as strawberries or grapes straight after a large meal causes indigestion, but for others it may not be an issue. Just make it part of your routine – with your breakfast, as a mid-morning or afternoon snack or as dessert in the evening – and stick to it. Eat seasonal fruits for the highest levels of antioxidants and the best taste. Try to freeze summer berries when they are abundant to eat during the winter, or cheat and buy packs of pre-frozen berries! Eat a variety of fruits, as the different colours are a sign they contain different phytonutrients and they’re all good for you!

For a super healthy apple and berry crumble recipe, click here.

Stick to the same principles with vegetables too. Eat a variety of different types and colours and make them part of your everyday routine. Salads needn’t just be lettuce, tomato and cucumber – try adding raw carrot, mushrooms, peppers, green beans, sweetcorn – any veggies you like to make it more interesting. Add extra salad to a sandwich and always have at least 2 or 3 different veggies with a main meal.  A meal is not complete without a good amount of veg to balance a meal and brighten the plate, and I wish more pubs and restaurants would take this advice. Again, try to eat seasonally – the best tasting veggies are often the cheapest and most prominently displayed in the supermarket or fruit and veg shop.

Make legumes a regular part of your diet. They contain lots of vitamins, minerals, fibre and protein and count as 1 of your daily servings of veggies. Think of legumes as a fantastic nutrient boost to any meal. So, when you’re making a casserole, add cannellinni beans, chickpeas or butter beans, cook or buy curries with added lentils or chickpeas and don’t shy away from good old baked beans on toast!

References

Rohrmann S., Overvad K., Bueno-de-Mesquita H.B., Jakobsen M.U., Egeberg R., Tjonneland A., Nailler L., Boutron-Ruault M.C., Clavel-Chapelon F. & Krogh V. & (2013). Meat consumption and mortality – results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, BMC Medicine, 11 (1) 63. DOI: 10.1186/1741-7015-11-63

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