What foods should we really be eating?

Anita Bean
·5-min read
Photo credit: twomeows - Getty Images
Photo credit: twomeows - Getty Images

From Good Housekeeping

We are constantly bombarded with healthy eating advice. One minute some foods are good for us, the next they're not. With such changing information, it’s often difficult to know what’s true and what’s fake news.

So if you’ve been left scratching your head over the healthiness of your eating habits, then keep reading because we've got you covered.

Our Good Housekeeping nutritionist, Anita Bean, sets the record straight and answers your most pressing questions about what foods we should really be eating and how much of them.

Is five-a-day enough or should I have more?

The World Health Organisation recommends eating a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables a day to lower therisk of heart disease, certain cancers and stroke. But a growing body of research suggests that eating more may help you live longer.

"The guidelines were not based on the level that science suggested was optimal for health, but the minimum amount needed to enjoy a significant health benefit," explains James Wong, botanist and author of 10-A-Day The Easy Way.

A study by Imperial College London, involving 2m participants, concluded that people who ate more than the five-a-day recommendationcontinued to benefit from every extra portion. Those eating 10-a-day enjoyed the best state of health, with a 33% decreased risk of stroke, 28% lower risk of heart disease and 14% lower risk of cancer.

How many eggs can I have per week?

Photo credit: MirageC - Getty Images
Photo credit: MirageC - Getty Images

There is no recommended daily allowance or limit, and eggs can be enjoyed as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

"It’s a myth that eggs are bad for your heart, but it can be a source of confusion because advice has changed over the years about how many we should eat," explains Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation.

"Cholesterol in eggs is less likely to affect your blood cholesterol level than the amount of saturated fat you eat from foods like butter, fatty meat, cakes, biscuits and chocolate."

Current research shows that moderate egg consumption does not increase the risk of heart and circulatory diseases in most people. However, if you have familial hypercholesterolaemia (one in 500 in the UK are affected), the British Heart Foundation advises no more than three or four eggs a week.

How much red meat should I eat?

According to the World Cancer Research Fund, there is strong evidence that red and processed meats are causes of colorectal cancer.

The organisation recommends we limit our intake of red meat to roughly three portions per week (350-500g cooked weight), with little, if any, processed meat (ham, bacon, beef jerky, corned beef, salami, pepperoni and hot dogs).

The NHS recommends that those who consume more than 90g (cooked weight) of red and processed meat a day should reduce this to 70g, equivalent to two rashers of thick bacon or one-and-a-half sausages.

Is red wine good for my heart?

Photo credit: Ilka & Franz - Getty Images
Photo credit: Ilka & Franz - Getty Images

There is some evidence that a moderate intake of alcohol brings a small reduction in heart disease risk.

But British Heart Foundation-funded research published in 2018, which looked at the effect of alcohol consumption on heart and circulatory diseases, concluded the risks outweigh the benefits, and drinking more than the recommended limits will have a negative effect on your health.

"Red wine is sometimes seen as a healthy choice, as we associate it with the Mediterranean diet, but it isn’t an essential part and should be consumed in moderation," explains Victoria Taylor.

Red wine contains polyphenols, which may benefit our gut health, however, other foods (including grapes, blueberries and strawberries) provide polyphenols without the negative effects of alcohol.

To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, the chief medical officers’ guidelines advise drinking no more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. This is equivalent to seven glasses (175ml) of wine (11.5% strength), 14 shots of spirits (40%) or six pints of beer (4%). But Public Health England says if you are aged between 45 and 65, it’s best to have regular alcohol-free days (preferably two consecutively) to give your liver a rest and reduce health risks.

Aren't nuts fattening?

Although nuts are high in fat, it’s mainly the healthier unsaturated kind, which can help reduce cholesterol.

Data from the Nurses’ Health Study in the US showed those who ate nuts regularly were 30% less likely to have heart attacks. Another study found almonds curb hunger and prevent overeating.

Heart UK recommends eating 30g nuts a day to lower cholesterol levels. But avoid salted and honey roasted varieties, as they have extra salt and sugar.

We are told to eat more plant-based foods, but is raw better?

Photo credit: Javier Zayas Photography - Getty Images
Photo credit: Javier Zayas Photography - Getty Images

If you want to reach the ultimate goal for your gut health, you need to be eating 30 different types of plant-based foods every week. But eating raw plants isn’t necessarily better for us.

“Cooking certain plants, such as grains and pulses, makes them easier to digest and can also increase the nutrient content,” says Maeve Hanan, registered dietitian and author of Your No-Nonsense Guide To Eating Well. “For example, cooked tomatoes contain higher levels of the antioxidant lycopene compared with raw tomatoes.”

However, cooking can destroy some other nutrients, such as vitamin C, so the best strategy is to include a variety of both raw and cooked foods in your diet.

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