What we eat and drink has a big impact on our general health and wellbeing, our immune system and our risk of getting major diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. If we eat a wide range of foods, we can get all the energy, vitamins and minerals we need to live well and healthy lives.
The visual food guide below, shows the balance of foods to eat, foods that can be substituted for each other within food groups, and the types of food to eat for good health.
Vegetables and fruit - eat these the most
Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, Heard it all before? Perhaps, but the truth remains: you DO have to eat them if you want to stay healthy!
Did you know?
Fruit and vegetables are packed with goodness and help prevent lots of long-term health problems and cancers.
To give yourself a fighting chance against a variety of illnesses, you need to eat a minimum of 3 servings of vegetables and 2 serves of fruit every day.
Young men are the least likely to eat vegetables so need to make more effort to eat well.
Choose whole grain cereals, breads and pastas
Breads, cereals, grains, and starchy vegetables are a staple in many Kiwi diets. For good health, choose whole grain and high fibre varieties. On your plate, these foods should fill no more than one-quarter of your plate, or be a fist-sized amount.
For many young people, potato, rice, pasta and starchy foods can fill half a plate or more so this is an area to watch and work on.
- swap from white bread to wholegrain bread
- swap from white to brown rice
- swap from a low fibre breakfast cereal to whole oats
- choose baked potato or kumara instead of deep fried
- use wholemeal instead of white flour
- choose just one starchy food at a meal (i.e. potato or bread, not both)
- swap from whole fat milk to low fat or light blue milk
Eat a healthy breakfast
- Starting the day with a healthy breakfast is important for good energy and a strong immune system.
- Most cereals we buy are high in sugar and low in fibre, and natural nutrients.
- In general, people who eat breakfast eat less fat, more fibre, and have higher intakes of vitamins and minerals – in particular iron, calcium and magnesium.
- Studies have also shown a good breakfast can help memory and concentration, leading to better performance whether you are studying or working.
- Skipping breakfast will NOT help you lose weight. Most studies show it has the opposite effect as people are more likely to overeat later, or eat high energy, poor nutrient foods.
Our criteria for a great breakfast cereal is:
- one made with whole grains, AND
- more than 5g of fibre per 100g
- less than 400mg sodium and
- less than 3g of saturated fat per 100g.
- For cereals without fruit, choose one with less than 15g of sugar,
- For cereals with fruit, choose one with less than 25g sugar per 100g.
Two all time favourites and healthy options are porridge or wheat-biscuits with milk.
Other good breakfast options can be:
- egg on toast
- baked beans or spaghetti on toast
- banana on toast
- For these and other great 50 cent breakfast ideas, visit Breakfast Eaters have it better
- Smoothies and drinks Breakfast Eaters
- Which breakfast is best? - useful rating of different breakfast foods
Check you are getting enough calcium
Calcium is vital for strong bones. It is deposited in our bones until our mid-20s. The bones serve as a ‘bank’ and later in life we draw calcium out to meet our needs. But many teenage girls and young women are not eating enough calcium rich foods to 'fill the bank' and maximise their bone density while they can. This means that we can be left with brittle bones which easily break (osteoporosis) as they get older.
Teenagers need 1300mg of calcium per day up to the age of 19 years when their bones stop growing so much. This is the equivalent of four glasses of milk!
- The best sources of calcium are low fat milk and milk products (yogurt, milk etc) as the calcium in milk is easily absorbed by the body.
- A 250ml glass of milk contains about 300mg calcium; there are also higher-calcium versions available.
- In non-dairy options, soy milk is usually fortified with calcium - check the product label.
- Calcium is also found in other foods, eg, dark green leafy vegetables, almonds, sardines, salmon with bones, tofu. However, you need to eat heaps to get much calcium from these sources.
Cut back on processed foods
When you leave school, start working, studying or go flatting, it's easy to fall into the trap of eating more takeaways, sugary drinks and instant packaged foods. This is bad news for your insides! This is like putting dirty petrol or oil into your car. It causes blockages, slows down performance and costs more both in the short term and long term!
Processed foods are anything in a packet, jar, bottle or bag where food has been changed from it's original form.
Nearly all processed foods are high in one or more of sugar, salt, saturated or trans fats, high in calories and low in nutritional value.
Processed foods includes:
- Processed meats like sausage, luncheon, bacon and ham.
- Drinks - flavoured milk, fizzy drinks etc.
- Packet foods - instant noodles, soups, meals, sauce mixes, cake mixes etc.
- Most frozen foods (excluding frozen vegetables, berries, unprocessed meat, chicken or fish).
Did you know? Most New Zealanders eat about 10 times more salt (sodium) than they need.
Foods high in salt include:
- many takeaway foods,
- vegemite and marmite,
- pickled foods,
- soy sauce,
- many packet snacks such as crackers, and chippies,
- processed meats like bacon, luncheon sausage and salami.
Tips to lower salt intake
- Look for foods that contain <150mg sodium (Na) per serve. (Write this down and pop it in your wallet to retrieve when you are grocery shopping).
- Choose low sodium foods where they are offered.
- Use the taste test – add a little salt to your food and taste it before adding more.
- Find low-salt snacks you enjoy – fruit, unsalted nuts, plain, unsalted popcorn, yoghurt, biscuits and crackers low in sodium.
- Remember low fat options often have more sodium!
- Cook meals from scratch instead of eating packaged food.
- Eat more fresh and frozen foods. Sodium is frequently added to processed foods – sometimes in very large amounts.
- Use fresh herbs and spices to flavour food, eg, fresh herbs, garlic, mustard, coriander, lemon, mint, cumin etc.