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Eat well

It can be hard to know how much of everything you should have in your diet, this guide makes it easier to see what portions of the food groups to eat.

The Eat Well Plate:

The plate is split into 5 sections.  The size of the sections is proportional to the amount of food you should eat from each group, i.e. the larger the section, the more food from that group you should eat.

The aim of using the plate model is to teach children about the role of each food group in the body, and the proportions of foods we need to eat to be healthy.

The guide tells you more about each food group.

Fruit and Vegetables

This is one of the largest sections, therefore fruit and vegetables should for a large part of the diet.  We should all eat more foods from this section.

The aim is to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day (see portion guide under fruit and vegetables section).

Fruit and vegetables provide valuable VITAMINS, minerals and fibre.

Bread, Rice, Potatoes and Pasta

This is the carbohydrate, or starchy food section.  It includes things like breakfast cereals, pasta, noodles, rice, potatoes, crackers and bread.  This section is large and therefore we should eat lots of these every day.  These foods should be the main part of most meals and snacks (i.e. 1/3 of all food eaten per day).

The foods from this group provide ENERGY as well as some vitamins, minerals and fibre (from wholemeal varieties).  These foods are not fattening or high in calories, providing you don’t add lots of fat and sugar.

Note: Fried foods, such as chips, crisps, fried rice, fried bread etc. do not belong to this food group.  These foods fall into the ‘foods and drinks high in fat and/or sugar’ group.

Milk and Dairy Foods

This is a smaller group, but the foods are still essential.  Dairy foods are foods which are made from milk, and include all cheeses, yoghurt and fromage frais.

Dairy foods are a rich source of CALCIUM which is needed for strong bones and teeth.  See calcium section for further information.

Note: Butter does not come under this section as it contains little calcium and is 80% fat.  It therefore falls into the ‘foods and drinks high in fat and/or sugar’ group.

Meat, Fish, Eggs and Beans

Again this is a smaller section, but the foods from this group are still essential.

Alternatives are foods which contain similar nutrients to meat and fish, but which are suitable for vegetarians.  Examples include, baked beans, chick peas, other beans, lentils, soya protein products and eggs.

The foods in this section provide PROTEIN and IRON.  We need protein to grow and heal ourselves if we are injured.  Iron is essential for healthy blood.  See Iron section for further information.

Foods and Drinks High in Fat and/or Sugar

This is the smallest section of the plate and therefore it is best to consume these foods in small amounts.

Foods containing fat include crisps, chips, margarine, butter, oil, cakes, pastries, chocolate, battered products and pies.

Foods containing sugar include fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes, jelly and sweet biscuits.

The effect of consuming too many of these foods include decaying teeth, becoming overweight and the risk of heart disease in later life.

Composite Foods

Much of the food we eat is as dishes or meals that are combinations of foods from several groups.  For example, casseroles, sandwiches, lasagne and pizza.  In order to make these more balanced, you may need to add extra from some food groups to fit in with the proportions shown in the picture.

Take pizza, for example:

Dough base, tomato puree, mushroom, cheese and ham.  This contains only a little from the fruit and vegetables section, so serving with a salad or vegetables would provide a more balanced meal.

Calcium:

Calcium is important in the development of bones and teeth.  Bones are a living organ, and are constantly undergoing a process of breaking down old bone and replacing with new.  However this process of renewal slows down as we age, and after we reach our peak bones mass (maximum bone strength) at 25 years old, bone is lost faster than it can be replaced.

It is very important therefore, to have adequate calcium in your diet so that the peak bone mass is achieved.  Calcium is required lifelong, however, requirements are much higher during periods of growth (i.e. childhood and adolescence).

A lack of calcium can result in stunted growth and peak bone density in adulthood.  This leads to an increased risk of osteoporosis in later life.  Osteoporosis is a condition where bones become weak, and break easily.  Bones in the spine can crush together and cause a loss of height and stooped posture.

Bone Facts:

  • Most adults have 206 bones
  • Over half the body’s bones are in the hands and feet
  • Teeth are the only visible part of the human skeleton
  • Children replace their skeleton every 2 years, adults only replace theirs every 7-10 years
  • The skeleton is needed for us to stand up, and protects all the major organs in the body

Calcium Sources:

The best sources of calcium are the Milk and Dairy foods (see The Eatwell Plate).  Calcium is also found in smaller amounts in green leafy vegetables, oranges, dried fruit, white bread and white flour products (white flour is fortified), pulses, nuts, seeds and tinned fish with small edible bones.

Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium.  Vitamin D is made in the body from sunlight, it is also added to some foods including margarine and breakfast cereals.

Iron:

Iron is important in the development of healthy blood.  Iron forms a part of the red blood cell called Haemoglobin.  A shortage of haemoglobin leads to the condition called Anaemia.  Iron is also essential for some metabolic processes in the body.

Haemoglobin carries oxygen around the body, therefore the symptoms of anaemia are fatigue, tiredness and breathlessness and inability to concentrate.

Iron deficiency anaemia can delay or impair mental and motor development, therefore Iron is very important during childhood and adolescence.

Iron Sources:

The main sources of iron in the diet are red meat, green leafy vegetables, breakfast cereals, pulses and dried fruit.

There are two slightly different sources of iron in the diet.  One comes from animal sources (haem iron). and one comes from plant sources (non-haem iron).  The animal sources of iron are absorbed better than the plant sources, and there are compounds found in food which aid or inhibit iron absorption from plant sources.

  • Vitamin C (present in fruit and vegetables) aids iron absorption from plant sources, therefore, eating fruit or vegetables, or drinking fruit juice with a meal will help iron to be absorbed.
  • Tannins (in tea and coffee) inhibits iron absorption from plant sources, therefore avoid drinking tea for 1 hour before or after eating a meal which contains iron.

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Roweena Russell, E: roweena@hiwecanhelp.com , T: 079 57 57 6305
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