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The Eatwell Guide: What does it mean for diabetes?

The Eatwell Guide
The Eatwell Guide, developed by The Foods Standard Agency

We hear the message loud, clear, and often: eat well, move more, live longer. For many people, this is frequently a case of ‘easier said than done’. Most of us know that one of the age-old secrets to looking and feeling our best is a healthy diet and lifestyle, but just exactly what this means for our day-to-day lives can be less obvious. With information bombarding us from all sides, is there a simpler, less confusing set of food rules to follow?

Forget faddy diets as a means to eating better and feeling healthier – the key is to develop good eating habits in line with a healthy, balanced diet that work for you in the long-term. It’s about understanding which foods and food groups impact your health in a positive way, and how to eat the right amount of food for your energy needs. Thinking more carefully about what’s on your plate, and your choices when snacking or out and about, can help you to manage your diabetes.

What is The Eatwell Guide?

You may have heard of The Eatwell Plate, which was developed by the Foods Standard Agency to show, visually, the types and proportions of food needed for a healthy and well-balanced diet.

Put simply, The Eatwell Guide is an updated version of this. It aims to make it easier for you to identify foods you should try to eat more of, foods you should aim to eat less of, and how much of what you eat overall should come from which food group. Following the guidelines can help with effective diabetes management, encouraging you to make healthier choices for your body.

It applies to most people, but not for children under two as they have different nutritional needs. If you have diabetes, you might want to check with your registered dietitian on how to adapt The Eatwell Guide to meet your own individual needs.

A healthy diet combines all of the food groups in various proportions.

What are the food groups?

The main food groups are:

  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, other starchy carbs
  • Dairy and alternatives
  • Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins

There are also some foods and drinks that do not fall into these groups.

Foods high in fat, salt and sugar, such as cakes, chocolate, crisps and fizzy drinks, have been placed outside of the main image. Described as ‘foods to eat less often and in small amounts’, they are not considered essential to a healthy, balanced diet.

Maximise the amount of fruit and vegetables in your diet - try and cram plenty of naturally-colourful, nutritious ingredients into your meals.

What does it mean for my diet?

Hopefully, nothing too taxing – it means taking a look at what your current meals are and seeing whether they fit with the food group and food portion guidelines.

The good news is that The Eatwell Guide is relevant to most of us – whether you’re a healthy weight or overweight, follow a vegetarian diet or eat meat, and no matter your ethnic origin – it’s suitable for the whole family.

Simply being more aware of what you’re eating, and just how much, can make a real difference in tackling a less-than-healthy diet.

What should I be eating and drinking?

It’ll come as no surprise that the Guide encourages lots of eating habits that we’d expect – giving over more room on our plates to vegetables, including sensible amounts of carbohydrates and protein with our meals, reducing sugar, fat and salt in our food and drink, and drinking plenty of healthy fluids throughout the day.

Whilst lots of the advice is the same, it’s worth recapping on what we know about healthy eating…

Top tips to keep your healthy diet on track:

  • Hit target – aim for 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day
  • Choose wisely – opt for high-fibre, wholegrain varieties of starchy carbs where possible
  • Go low – try lower-fat and lower-sugar options of dairy foods. When buying dairy alternatives, go for unsweetened, calcium-fortified versions.
  • Splash out – all types of fish are good sources of protein and oily fish (such as mackerel, sardines and salmon) is particularly good and helps protect against heart disease. People with diabetes should aim for at least two portions of oily fish a week (more than the recommended amount for those without diabetes).
  • Stay hydrated – each day, try and drink 6–8 glasses of fluid such as water, lower-fat milks and unsweetened tea or coffee
  • Protein power – include some beans, pulses, eggs, meat and other non-dairy proteins in your diet, which are also packed with vitamins and minerals. Beans, peas and lentils are good alternatives to meat as they are naturally low in fat and high in protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals.
  • Set limits – foods and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar like crisps, sweets and cakes should be eaten less often and in small amounts.
  • Juiced out – limit your intake to no more than 150ml of fruit juices and smoothies a day.
  • Combat cholesterol – cut down on saturated fat to help reduce cholesterol levels. Choose unsaturated fat such as vegetable oil, rapeseed oil or olive oil instead. Remember, all types of fat are high in energy and should be limited in your diet.

  • Sensible salt – adults should not be consuming more than 6g of salt a day.
  • Sweet enough – stick to 30g of sugar a day, or less (seven sugar cubes).

Don’t panic! You shouldn’t feel that all your favourite foods, much-loved meals and days of treating yourself are over… that is not what The Eatwell Guide is asking of us. Instead, it’s suggesting that we pay closer attention to how we ‘build’ our meals and snacks throughout the day – Are there enough vegetables on your plate? Can you swap your usual white carbs to a tasty wholegrain equivalent? Have you hit that all-important 5-a-day? How many cups of tea and glasses of water have you had? Do you really need that mid-afternoon sugar fix?

So, why not give it a go? If you’re stuck for ideas, check out our recipe finder to discover healthy meals that the whole family will love.

Being a little mindful today might make a significant difference tomorrow…

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