On the surface, knowing how to eat healthily probably doesn’t seem that difficult: plenty of fruit and vegetables, choosing wholegrains instead of refined carbohydrates, opting for leaner rather than fattier cuts of meat (if you eat it), and going slow on things like fast food and sweet treats, right?
It’s true – those are good guidelines to follow. But when you consider that your body needs 6 different nutrients to be healthy, it’s not just making healthier choices that matters – it’s squeezing the right mix and variety of foods into each and every day that’s key when you’re trying to eat a nutrient-rich diet.
Here’s how to make it work.
1. Know how many serves you need from each of the 5 food groups
To meet your nutritional needs each day you should aim to eat :
- Six serves of grain or cereal foods, making sure they’re mostly wholegrain, with a serve being one slice of bread, ½ a cup of cooked rice, pasta or porridge, or 2/3 of a cup of cereal
- Two serves of fruit, with a serve being 150g, which is the equivalent of one medium apple or orange, or two small apricots
- Five serves of vegetables for women, and six for men, where a serve is 75g, which is one cup of raw salad vegetables, ½ a cup of cooked green or orange vegetables, ½ a medium potato or ½ a cup of legumes
- Two-and-a-half serves of dairy foods or dairy alternatives, increasing to four serves for women over 51 and three-and-a-half serves for men over 70. One serve is one cup of milk (including soy drinks), a 200g tub of yoghurt, or 40g of hard cheese
- Two or three serves of foods like lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, and legumes and beans. A serve is 65g of cooked lean red meat, 80g of cooked lean poultry, 100g of cooked fish, 2 large eggs, 1 cup of cooked legumes, 170g of tofu, or 30g of nuts
2. Use some hacks to hit those targets
Instead of physically counting how many serves from each food group you’re eating, the following strategies can help ensure your diet is a nutrient-dense one.
- Include vegetables in at least two meals a day, making sure that when you do, vegetables account for at least one third of your meal
- Include breads or grains in at least two meals, most days
- Eat lean meat or fish, or a meat alternative, such as tempeh in at least one meal a day
- Add fruit to at least two meals a day or use it as a snack
- Include a serve of low-fat dairy or a dairy alternative, in at least two meals or snacks, every day
- As much as possible, swap discretionary foods - things like biscuits, cakes and potato chips - for one of the foods listed in step one
3. Understand what a nutrient-rich daily menu looks like
With steps one and two under your belt, here’s an example of how those recommendations, tips and suggestions might play out on your plate over the course of a typical day.
- A serve of wholegrain cereal, porridge or muesli, served with low-fat milk or yoghurt (or a dairy alternative) and some fruit
- Two slices of wholemeal toast topped with vegetables (such as mushrooms and spinach) or eggs
- A wholegrain roll, wrap or sandwich, lightly spread with avocado and containing tinned fish or a slice of lean meat, chicken or low-fat cheese, and full of a variety of salad vegetables
- Vegetable and legume soup, paired with some wholegrain bread, toast or a roll
- A piece of fruit or a small tub of low-fat yoghurt (or a dairy alternative)
- A serve of lean meat, skinless chicken or fish, or a meat alternative
- A serve of wholegrain rice or pasta, or legumes, or a starchy vegetable
- A large serve of a variety of different coloured vegetables – either cooked or in a salad
- A piece of fruit
- A small tub of low-fat yoghurt
- A piece of wholegrain toast topped with tomato or avocado
- Protein balls