An Introduction to Nutrition
In this Article...
Part 1 of a 5 part blog series regarding nutrition.
The importance of eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is widely recognised for its ability to lower the risk of diseases like heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. Despite this, only around 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 10 teenagers achieve the recommended daily intake of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Also, studies indicate that a significant portion of our food lacks the same nutritional value as it did in the past, and our fast-paced lifestyles mean we frequently fail to obtain the necessary nutrients.
A portion is defined as 80g, and fresh, frozen, dried, and canned fruits and vegetables all count, although the fresher the better usually for vitamin and mineral content. Including a variety of different types and colours of fruits and vegetables is important for receiving a range of essential nutrients and fibre, as well as chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants and may have health benefits. Different types of fruits and vegetables contain different combinations of important nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, fibre, and potassium, to name a few.
Eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables can also help maintain a healthy weight, as they are low in calories and high in fibre. Fruit and vegetables provide a range of essential nutrients and fibre, as well as chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants that have many health benefits.
Different types and colours of fruits and vegetables contain different combinations of important nutrients like:
- Vitamin C – important for maintaining healthy body tissues and improving immune function.
- Vitamin D – supports memory function and reduces the risk of brain fog and plays a protective role in gut health – reducing inflammation and maintaining intestinal barrier function.
- Vitamin A – important for maintenance of normal vision, skin and the immune system.
- Folate – important for normal and healthy blood formation.
- Fibre – helps to maintain a healthy gut and assists weight loss.
- Potassium – helps to maintain a healthy blood pressure and is also important for the normal functioning of the nervous system.
- Magnesium – Important for sleep, anxiety, pain, headaches/migraines, blood pressure and bone health.
To achieve the most nutritional benefit from a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, it is recommended to include a wide variety of them in your diet and to try to have at least one portion with every meal and some snacks. So what counts as a portion?
A portion of fruit or vegetables is 80g. This is around:
- 1 medium sized piece of fruit such as a banana, apple, pear, or orange
- Half of a large grapefruit or avocado
- 1 dessert bowl of salad
- 3 heaped tablespoons of cooked vegetables like broccoli, peas or carrots.
- 2 or more small fruits such as plums, satsumas, kiwi fruit or apricots
- A heaped tablespoon (30g) of dried fruit include as a maximum of 1 of your 5 A DAY.
- 150 ml glass of unsweetened 100% fruit or vegetable juice or smoothie counts as a maximum of 1 of your 5 A DAY.
Here are some examples of how to include a portion into your meals and snacks:
- add fresh or dried fruit to breakfast cereal or porridge
- snack on fresh fruit or vegetable sticks
- experiment with salads – you could try using red cabbage or sliced Chinese cabbage, adding brightly coloured vegetables such as grated carrot or sliced pepper and including leftover cooked vegetables like broccoli or peas
- add plenty of vegetables to dishes like pasta sauces, stews or curries – frozen or canned vegetables can be a quick and easy way to do this
- try fruit-based puddings like fruit salad, sliced melon or canned or dried fruits with plain yoghurt
Protein is also an essential part of a healthy diet. Meat is an excellent source of protein, as well as iron, vitamin B12, and zinc. Fish and seafood are another great source of protein and provide omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart and brain health. Beans and legumes are rich in protein, as well as fibre, iron, and folate. Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yoghurt are also good sources of protein and provide calcium and vitamin D. Nuts and seeds are a healthy source of protein and provide healthy fats, fibre, and vitamins and minerals like vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc.
Carbohydrates are another essential part of a healthy diet and can be found in whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread, providing fibre, B vitamins, and iron. They are a great option for sustained energy and keeping you feeling fuller for longer. Fruits are a natural source of carbohydrates and also provide vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making them a healthier option than processed sweets. Vegetables are another natural source of carbohydrates and provide fibre, vitamins, and minerals while being low in calories, making them a great option for filling up without overeating. Dairy products like milk and yoghurt also provide carbohydrates in the form of lactose.
In conclusion, maintaining a healthy diet is important for overall health and well-being. Eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, protein, and carbohydrates can help support optimal health. To achieve the most nutritional benefit from these foods, it is recommended to include a wide variety of them in your diet, as different types and colours of fruits, vegetables, and protein sources contain different combinations of important nutrients.