A recipe for health
Every part of our body, including our immune system, works better when supported by healthy living strategies such as exercising regularly, not smoking and eating a healthy diet.
By fuelling our body with the nutrients it needs we can have more energy, achieve a healthy weight, improve our mood and support a healthy immune system.
The World Health Organisation is encouraging people to maintain a healthy diet whilst we’re in the lockdown period, saying that what we eat and drink can affect our body’s ability to prevent, fight and recover from infections.
But what makes a diet healthy and how easy is it for us to achieve whilst we’re in lockdown?
The foundation for a balanced diet comes from eating a range of fruit and vegetables which are high in vitamins and minerals. Most of us know we should be eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day but in reality, only one in four adults consume the recommended daily amount.
The healthy plate
According to the NHS Eat Well guide, the healthy plate should be made up of:
- One third fruit and vegetables
- One third starchy carbohydrates (pasta, rice, potatoes)
- One third split between protein and dairy products, and a small amount of fats
Achieving a healthy diet while in lockdown
In an ideal situation, we’d have access to a full range of different foods so whilst we’re currently only shopping for essentials it may be more of a challenge to eat a balanced diet. Aim for this balance of thirds every day or week if it’s easier to fit into your lifestyle. There’s a number of ways that you can incorporate healthier eating:
- Plan ahead - Make a list of meals that include fewer ingredients so you have some options, particularly if you’re unable to get what you need on your weekly shop.
- Eat the rainbow in fruit and vegetables – choose a variety of different colours and kinds to get a range of nutritional benefits. They don’t always need to be fresh - tinned, dried and frozen all count towards your five a day and can also help to reduce waste.
- Include brown or wholegrain starchy carbohydrates in each meal for energy – they’re higher in fibre than white varieties, which is better for our gut health.
- Pick proteins like lean meat and white or oily fish, beans, lentils, pulses and tofu. Beans and lentils are lower in fat and higher in fibre. If you eat fish, aim to include oily fish once or twice a week.
- Dairy products like milk, cheese, yoghurt and non-dairy alternatives are important for protein, calcium and some vitamins. Lower fat and lower sugar versions are better for you.
- Use fats sparingly and choose unsaturated fats like olive oil or low-fat spread. Snacks like biscuits, cakes, chocolates and crisps aren’t needed so try to limit these to occasional treats.
- Don’t forget to drink - drink at least six to eight glasses of water a day. Milk, low-sugar drinks, tea and coffee all count towards your total.
With many of us currently at home more than usual, our inactivity levels may be higher than usual. Being restricted to one daily run, walk or cycle may still be much less than you’re used to and you may find you’re spending more time sitting at your desk or on your sofa.
With this in mind, it’s worth evaluating your energy intake in relation to your activity levels to prevent any unwanted weight gain.
Do you know how many calories you eat on an average day? Public Health England reports that a third of us in the UK are underestimating our daily calorie intake.
Data from the Office of National Statistics suggests that British men believe they are consuming 2,000 calories a day, when in fact their actual average consumption is closer to 3,000. Women are reporting their average calorie intake as 1,500, while consuming nearly 2,500.
The recommended daily calorie allowance is 2,500 for men and 2,000 for women.
Understanding portion sizes is important for ensuring our diet is balanced and healthy and in managing our weight. Here’s a quick reference guide on how much of each type of food equals one portion.
- Proteins such as lean meat, fish, eggs and beans – the size of the palm of your hand. Eat moderate amounts.
- Carbohydrates, such as pasta, rice, bread and potatoes – the size of your fist. Try to eat more at breakfast and lunchtime to provide you with the energy you need during the working day.
- Fruits such as apples, berries and citrus fruits – the size of a tennis ball
- Vegetables such as carrots, broccoli and sweetcorn – No limit, the more colourful the better
- Fats such as butters and spreads – the size of the tip of your thumb
- Milk and dairy foods - small glass of milk, small pot of yogurt, matchbox sized piece of cheese. Eat moderate amounts.
- Foods and drinks that are high in fats and/or sugar such as cakes, pastries and biscuits should be eaten in small quantities and as an occasional treat.
Don’t forget about snacks
More of us are snacking in addition to, or instead of, our three meals a day. It’s a growing phenomenon that’s changing how many of us eat and shop. Remember that whilst snacks help to maintain your energy levels, these still count towards your daily calorie intake.
A surprising 60% of UK adults eat snacks instead of full meals, with almost 30% of young women admitting to replacing meals with snacks daily.
In a report by Harris Interactive, almost a third of respondents named convenience their main reason for snacking, saying it was ‘easier’.
Another 18% reported the need to eat ‘on the go’, while another 20% cited not wanting to cook or lacking time to plan meals. The research showed that lunch was the most- skipped meal, followed by breakfast then dinner.
Tips for healthy snacking
- Have a drink of water first – thirst and hunger are similar sensations
- Don’t fall victim to a ‘Snaccident’ – it’s easy to think a snack isn't a meal and eat too much
- Choose your snacks carefully – avoid nibbles with added salt or sugar
- Fruit and vegetables should be your go-to snack
- Plan your snacks – planning and shopping for healthy snacks encourages you to stay away from unhealthy snacks
- Don’t shop when you’re hungry: you may end up with unhealthy snacks
Here’s some healthy snack ideas ranging from 50-150 calories:
- Rice cake
- Hummus with carrot sticks
- Wholemeal toast or pitta
- Small plain yoghurt with fruit
- Plain popcorn
- Small handful of unsalted nuts
Creating a healthy diet may seem overwhelming. Remember, it's all about trying to achieve a balance and that small positive changes to your lifestyle all add up to have a bigger impact on your health.
For more information on how to look after yourself when working from home, download our Working from Home guide for employees.