Starchy foods such as bread, cereals, potatoes, pasta, maize and cornbread are an important part of a healthy diet. They are a good source of energy for our body. Choose wholegrain varieties when you can: they contain more fibre, and usually more vitamins (75%) and minerals than their white counterparts. But studies show 19 out of 20 adults do not eat enough wholegrain and one in three eats none at all. Starchy foods should make up around one third of the foods you eat. Most of us should eat more starchy foods: try to include at least one starchy food with each main meal. Fibre is also found in beans, lentils and peas.
Dairy products are an important source of calcium, which are vital for healthy teeth and bones; they also provide vitamins A, D and B2. You should aim to have two to three moderate servings of dairy products every day. But some dairy products are high in saturated fat. Eating too much saturated fat can raise blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. To enjoy the health benefits of dairy without eating too much fat, use semi-skimmed milk, skimmed milk or 1% fat milks, lower-fat hard cheeses or cottage cheese, and lower-fat yoghurt. You can also keep an eye out for fermented milks and yoghurts that contain live probiotic cultures to help maintain intestinal health.
Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc and B vitamins. It is also one of the main sources of vitamin B12. Try to eat lean cuts of meat and skinless poultry whenever possible to cut down on fat. Cut back on red meat and processed meat. The WCRF reported at the end of 2007 that there is strong evidence to suggest that red and processed meat are linked to bowel cancer. The WCRF recommend limiting your intake of red meat to less than 500g cooked weight (700-750g raw weight) per week. Try to avoid processed meats such as bacon, ham, salami, corned beef and some sausages. Always cook meat thoroughly.
Water aids good digestion. Along with dietary fibre it helps soften stools, making them easier to pass. Aim to drink between 6-8 glasses of water a day to prevent dehydration. When the weather is warm or when we get active, we may need more. Try to avoid soft and fizzy drinks that are high in added sugars.
When it comes to a healthy diet, balance is the key to getting it right. This means eating a wide variety of foods in appropriate proportions.