Key foods we should include in our diet
With the press so full of contradictory stories about how many fruits and vegetables we should be eating, about which foods can help to prevent things like cancer and about the latest trendy superfood, it’s no wonder that our Health of the Nation survey respondents appear to be so out of tune with their diets.
So what exactly should we be eating to ensure that our bodies are getting everything they need to function at their best? Truth be told, there are too many options to list in just one blog post, so we have highlighted what we think are some of the key foods we should try to include in our diets.
Broccoli might make us think of overcooked school dinners, but it is actually something of a dietary hero. Broccoli contains a huge amount of Vitamin K, a vitamin essential to blood clotting and, research suggests, bone health. Broccoli is also full of fibre, calcium and naturally occurring folic acid, and is incredibly low in calories.
Recommended portion size: 71g
Serving suggestion: Steamed broccoli makes a great accompaniment to a whole range of other foods, from chicken to fish to steak pie. It also makes for great soup or a nutritious snack.
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Kale is the trendy superfood of the moment, and owes its popularity to the sheer amount of vitamins and minerals contained in its fat-free, low calorie fronds. Astonishingly, kale contains six times as much Vitamin K as broccoli, as well as a generous dose of iron.
Recommended portion size: 67g
Serving suggestion: Like broccoli, kale tastes great either as a side accompaniment or a snack. It can even be eaten raw, as a salad base, and tastes particularly delicious when sautéed with olive oil, garlic and chopped red chillies.
You’ll no doubt have noticed garlic tablets in the medicinal section of the supermarket. There is a reason for this – as well as tasting delicious, garlic is extremely beneficial for the heart. Research suggests that when red blood cells take on the sulphuric compounds from garlic, they produce hydrogen sulphide gas, which can help to expand our blood vessels and keep our blood pressure steady. Scientists have also discovered that garlic is responsible for anti-blood coagulation, has anti-cancer properties and can lower lipids.
Recommended portion size: While there is no official recommended portion size for garlic, one clove per person is ideal.
Serving suggestion: Garlic is a versatile vegetable that can be added to virtually anything. Try it finely chopped and raw in a salad, fried into pasta dishes or even roasted, as a side accompaniment to meat.
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There’s a lot of good stuff packed into one humble banana. They are particularly well-known for their sky high potassium content, with just one medium banana containing 400mg of potassium. This potassium is essential for good nerve and muscle function, and for maintaining a healthy balance of bodily fluids. Bananas are also full of Vitamin C, Vitamin B-6 and fibre, and are naturally free from fat and cholesterol.
Recommended portion size: 1 medium banana
Serving suggestion: Bananas are a great way to start the day – chop one up into a bowl with strawberries, blueberries and Greek yoghurt for a healthy breakfast.
Blueberries are perhaps the most famous of all superfoods. They might be small, but they pack a serious punch where health benefits are concerned, containing not just vitamins like C, K and B-6, but minerals like phosphorous and manganese. All of this good stuff works to help improve brain health, heart health and skin health.
Recommended portion size: 148g
Serving suggestion: Blueberries make a great addition to chocolate desserts, Greek yoghurt and muesli, or can be eaten as a snack.
Brown rice and pasta
While ‘no carb’ diets are a recurring theme in many people’s healthy eating plans, complex carbohydrates like brown rice and pasta are actually crucial to our diets. Natural and unrefined, they are high in fibre which can help with digestion and promote cardiovascular health. Brown rice in particular is also full of free radical-fighting manganese, immune system-friendly selenium and phytonutrients, which have anti-inflammatory properties.
Recommended portion size: 75g
Serving suggestion: Simply replace your normal white rice and pasta with brown alternatives to make pasta dishes, curries and stir fries instantly healthier.
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Of all the fish available to us, salmon is perhaps the healthiest. As well as bursting with high quality protein and various vitamins and minerals (including potassium, selenium and Vitamin B12), salmon also contains Omega-3 fatty acids. These friendly fats help contribute towards healthy brain function, a healthy heart and, most famously, healthy joints.
Recommended portion size: 85g/1 fillet
Serving suggestion: The healthiest way to serve salmon is to grill it with a little oil and a good dose of seasoning. It can then be eaten with your favourite vegetables, or in salads or pasta. Alternatively, wrap the salmon in tin foil with a coating of sweet chilli sauce before baking it in the oven, to add a kick!
We all know that nuts are full of protein, but did you know that the protein contained in walnuts is actually healthier than that found in meat? They also contain healthy, natural fats like Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as a good dose of Vitamin E to help boost your immune system.
Recommended portion size: 25g
Serving suggestion: Walnuts make a great snack because their high fibre content keeps you fuller for longer. They are also a great addition to green, leafy salads.
Greek yogurt is a protein powerhouse, containing twice as much protein as regular yoghurt. It is also a whole lot better for you than regular yoghurt, containing less sugar and more probiotics (live microorganisms). These miniscule microbes are said to improve digestive function and even your immune system.
Recommended portion size: 100g
Serving suggestion: Greek yogurt makes a great breakfast or snack when served with a generous cocktail of fruit. We like mango, blueberries, strawberries, banana and apple.
You see, there really is a reason why health professionals place so much focus on our diets, and why we found our Health of the Nation survey results so worrying. We found that, on average, people in the UK were eating just 3.4 portions of fruit and veg per day, and consequently missing out on many of the beneficial vitamins and minerals mentioned in this post. As you can see though, it’s easier than you think to eat more fruit and vegetables, as many of them make tasty snacks and require minimal preparation.