As a busy working mum I understand the challenges of trying to eat well when there is not a lot of time to spend preparing food, although preparing food, especially when I can prepare meals in advance is very satisfying and frees up time later. I aim to never waste food and will often adapt or invent recipes to use up leftovers; it is amazing what delights can be assembled even when the fridge looks bare! Dips can easily be made with avocados and tomatoes that are going a bit soft and you can add the last of a bag of spinach or herbs. Spanish omelettes are a great way to use up roast or boiled potatoes, spinach, peppers and even cooked vegetables. If you have food ready you are less likely to reach for the biscuit tin! Government guidelines have made sure the message about at least ‘five a day’ fruit and vegetables is widely known. However, new evidence is now suggesting nearer to ‘8 a day’ is an even better number to aim for. Try to ensure these are varied on a daily basis and incorporate as many different colours and types as you can. It is important to have a balance between fruit and vegetables; aim for at least half of your intake to be vegetables.
One area we need to improve on as a population is our fibre intake; the recommendation is 30g per day for an adult (less for children) and we know the average consumption is just 17-20g per day. Eating a diet containing plenty of fibre can help to lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer; it will prevent constipation and can help with lowering cholesterol. You need to eat a mix of the two types of fibre; soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fibre is found in fruit, vegetables, nuts and oats (these also contain betaglucans which helps lower blood cholesterol and regulate blood sugar) and is fermented in the gut which encourages healthy gut microflora (bacteria).
Insoluble fibre is found in cereal grains such as wheat, rye and oats, this bulks up your faeces and speeds up the time it takes to pass through your digestive system. Increasing fibre in your diet needs to be done gradually and accompanied by plenty of fluid or you will actually become constipated and may suffer from increased wind and bloating.
You can increase your fibre intake by choosing a higher fibre breakfast cereal such as porridge, wholewheat biscuits, muesli (try to avoid ones with added sugar); using wholemeal and granary breads; adding pulses such as chickpeas and lentils to your meals and eating a range of fruit and vegetables; particularly hard fibrous ones such as peas, broccoli, carrots, parsnips and potatoes with their skins on. Nuts and seeds and fruit also contribute to fibre.
Omega-3 is very important for maintaining good health and in general we are not eating enough in the UK. There are three types; ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid. ALA cannot be made in the body so must be obtained from diet; it is found mainly in vegetable oils such as rapeseed and linseed (flaxseed), seeds, nuts (walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts) and green leafy vegetables.
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) can be made from ALA in our bodies but the process is very slow and only small amounts are produced so it is best to also obtain these from diet. Fish, especially oily fish, are good sources of EPA and DHA. Oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, tuna (not tinned) is the best source, with smaller amounts in white fish.
Fish in itself is an excellent source of lean protein and minerals such as iodine and selenium and vitamins A and D. Diets rich in omega-3 have been shown to benefit heart health, lowering heart disease risk and may help prevent and treat depression and improve memory function. The recommendation is 3 portions of fish a week for an adult, one of which should be oily fish. If you do not eat fish then nuts and seeds (especially walnuts and pumpkin) and rapeseed and linseed oils, tofu and green leafy vegetables all contain some omega 3. There are also foods such as eggs and some yoghurts, bread and milk that arefortified with omega 3.