Twenty-one ways to improve your diet

1. Variety is the key to a good diet. Every type of food contains its own unique make-up and may be high in some vitamins or minerals while devoid of others. Only by eating a wide selection of foods can you help ensure you receive all the fuel your body needs.

2. Eat slowly and chew your food. Most people eat too quickly. Experts say not chewing properly can mean that the nutrients we eat are not absorbed and used by the body.

3. Do not skip meals. If you are trying to lose weight not eating is a poor strategy because it can slow your metabolism. Ultimately, your body may become more efficient at storing fat and you may pile on the pounds when you stop dieting.

4. Adhere to the 80/20 rule. If you can manage to eat healthily 80 per cent of the time the chances are your body can cope with occasional questionable food choices. Have a day a week when you eat what you fancy (let moderation be your watchword though - do not scoff the entire box of chocs ) however ensure you pack in the nutrients the rest of the time.

5. Measure your portions with caution. A portion of meat should not be bigger than a deck of cards. Pasta or rice portions should be no more than one-third of your plate. Fruit or vegetables should account for half of the food you eat at each meal.

6. Know your fat facts. Not all fats are bad. Good fats, such as those found in oily fish, nuts, seeds and olive oil are vital for many functions in the body. Try to include these in your diet every day instead of harmful saturated and processed fats found in red meat and processed foods.

7. Be cautious about low fat foods. Some may result in you piling on the pounds because they substitute fat for sugar.

8. Experiment with herbs and spices. Many contain an abundance of beneficial nutrients and should be used daily. Garlic, for example, is a natural antibiotic and will help support your immune and cardiovascular systems.

9. Avoid tea and coffee with meals because caffeine inhibits the absorption of some nutrients. If you crave a coffee enjoy it at least an hour either side of eating.

10. Add some colour to your life. It is not only a good idea to eat a wide selection of foods but to ensure they are a variety of colours. This is especially important regarding fruit and vegetables because the substances which give them their colour also give them many of their health inducing properties. Try to include green, red, yellow, orange and purple fruits and vegetables in your diet every day.

11. Beware of fad diets. The key to prolonged weight loss is to ditch junk food and get more active. Switch your focus to improving your health and the weight may well drop off naturally.

12. Make sure you eat breakfast. This meal not only breaks your long overnight fast and aids concentration it also lays down the foundation for healthy eating for the rest of the day. Research reveals that the omission of this important first meal of the day results in poor physical and mental performance later in the day.Wholemeal or bran cereals with milk and topped with fruit give a good start to the day together with an orange or unsweetened juice and some wholemeal bread.

13. Make your own burgers. Grate vegetables over them to improve their nutritive value.

14. A scone rather than a chocolate bar is a good choice for a mid morning snack. A piece of fruit, such as a banana, mandarin or kiwi fruit is another option.

15. Spaghetti bolognaise, stews or stir fries are ideal options for dinner.

16. Children tend to follow their parents’ example so if you want them to eat well then you must watch what you eat. Making a big deal about eating healthily is usually counter productive. If you want to change their eating habits do so gradually. Start by substituting sweets/crisps/biscuits with a piece of fruit one day a week to make their school lunch healthier. Then move on to two, three, four and eventually the full school week. If you want to introduce more vegetables into their diet try and include them in the foods they like, such as pizza.

It is a good idea to get children to help prepare their school lunch. The more stirring, mixing and assembling they do the less likely that lunch will end up in the bin or being traded for a friend’s chocolate bar.

Teenagers should be encouraged to eat more fresh fruit, vegetables, pulses and wholegrains to increase fibre.

17. Try to combine foods, for example, salads/vegetables with meat/fish/cheese/eggs in order to ensure a balance of nutrients.

18. If you must have chips opt for oven ones rather than the deep-fat fried variety.

19. If taking a packed lunch to work/college/school it should ideally contain items from the four main food groups - fruit and vegetables, meat, milk and cereal/potato.

20. Drink milk or water rather than fizzy drinks.

21. Do not rush your food, take time to enjoy it. Aim to make mealtimes special by setting the table, putting on relaxing music and switching off the telephone to keep distractions to the minimum.Try to eat a variety of different foods, remember food is like fuel, it is the raw material that our bodies use to make energy and function. Aim to eat meals rich in starch and fibre and do not eat sugary or fatty foods too often, or use too much salt.

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