Balance your Diet
Most people know that it is good to eat healthy foods. But it is often hard to know what makes a food healthy and which foods we should be eating. We get lots of information from our friends, family, the news and magazines - how do we know what we should be eating?
Every week a new 'super food' is talked about in the media, but do we really need them for good health? This page will explain how different foods and nutrients effect us and how we should be eating for good health.
Simply follow the information down the page or jump to different sections using the links below.
The following picture shows the human body and some common health problems. Hold your mouse over the health problem to reveal the food and lifestyle related risk factors. The picture will change to show you which part of the body is affected by the health problem.
The FOODcents food pyramid groups three categories according to the nutrients they provide and how healthy they are.
1. Eat Most
2. Eat Moderately
3. Eat Least
These groups represent categories of foods, not a ranking of how good they are. Eat Moderately food aren't necessarily less healthy than Eat Most foods, we just don't need to eat as much of them. So if a food isn't healthy enough to go in Eat Most, it goes in Eat Least.
The pyramid shows that we should eat mostly fruits, vegetables and breads and cereals. We should have smaller amounts of meat and meat alternatives everyday and we should be eating the least amount of extra foods, if at all. Remember that some cooking essentials, like margarine, oil, sugar and honey are in this category too.
Let’s look more closely at the food categories.
The Eat Most section of the pyramid includes the foods we should it eat the greatest quantities.
They should be our main source of energy, fibre, vitamins and minerals. These include fruit and vegetables, legumes (peas, beans, lentils) breads and wholegrain cereals. Wholegrain cereals refer to products such as rice, wheat and oats and only include unrefined breakfast cereals with no added sugar or salt. Wheat biscuits and flakes, bran flakes and rolled oats are the healthiest breakfast cereals and fit in Eat Most.
All plain pasta, noodles and rice which do not include flavourings or sauces are also Eat Most foods. These foods are the cheapest at around $2-$6 per kilo.
The Eat Moderately section of the pyramid includes the foods we should eat often, but in limited quantities.
These are the high protein foods such as lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, milk, cheese and yogurt. Reduced-fat dairy foods are the best choice.
These foods provide essential nutrients which we need regularly, but in smaller quantities than the Eat Most foods. These foods also contain some nutrients we should have in limited quantities, such as saturated fat.These foods usually cost around $5-12 per kilo - sometimes more for expensive cuts of meat or cheese.
The Eat Least section of the pyramid includes the ‘extra' foods which often aren't essential for good health but are available for people to buy.
These foods also contribute to the overall enjoyment of eating and in home cooking and therefore need to be considered in the overall diet.
These foods are high in salt, sugar, fat and/or kilojoules. The Eat Least foods include ‘junk' foods which might be deep fried fast food or energy dense packaged foods like potato crisps lollies and biscuits. Household cooking ingredients such as margarine, sugar and oil are essential for people to make healthy meals at home, but should be consumed in limited quantities.
The Eat Least section also includes foods which may not be unhealthy, but do not fit in Eat Most or Eat Moderately. Such foods may include tea, coffee, herbs and spices. These foods are not essential to good health, but are often required to be purchased for home cooking and to enhance the flavour of other foods. These foods are also the most expensive at $10-$40 a kilo and sometimes more.
Products high in salt, sugar and saturated fat - can have a detrimental effect on our health. Healthy foods such as fruit, vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals have a positive effect on our health.
The food we eat provides essential energy in the form of carbohydrate, protein and fat. The energy provided from these foods is measured in kilojoules (kJ). We need a balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat to thrive, but consuming too many kilojoules can result in weight gain, a risk factor for many chronic diseases.
Carbohydrate provides approximately 16kJ of energy per gram, protein provides 17kJ per gram and fat provides 37kJ per gram. Alcohol is also a source of energy, providing 29 kilojoules per gram. If mixers or fruit juice are added, the kilojoules can be much higher.
In addition to energy, foods provide nutrients which are essential for good health.
Carbohydrate - energy
Protein - energy and builds and repairs muscles
Fats - energy, helps the body absorb some vitamins, needed in the structure of cells
Vitamins - development and maintenance of body tissues and structures
Minerals - regulate body systems
Fibre - can reduce cholesterol levels, helps you feel full and reduces the risk of constipation
Antioxidants - defend cells against damage from oxidation
Phytochemicals - can protect against cancer and slow the ageing process
Breads and cereals provide lots of carbohydrates as well as fibre, B vitamins, some minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. Wholegrain breads and cereals contain the most nutritious part of the plants and provide more nutrients.
Fruit and vegetables provide carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals.The importance of the nutrients contained in fruit and vegetables explain why adults need five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit each day for good health.
Meat, fish, poultry eggs and nuts are good sources of protein, minerals like iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and niacin. These minerals and vitamins help give use energy and to feel energetic by supplying oxygen and helping to use the energy we eat.
Milk, yoghurt and cheese are high in protein for energy and muscle development. They are also high in calcium and other minerals essential for bone strength.
Fats provide energy and essential fatty acids, and carry fat-soluble vitamins and antioxidants around the body. There are different types of fats we consume, each contributing the same kilojoules, but some are more healthy than others.
Different fats interfere with blood cholesterol levels in different ways. High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) is a type of blood cholesterol which is ‘good' as it helps transport cholesterol from the blood to the liver, reducing the risk of heart disease. Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) blood cholesterol is ‘bad' as it contributes to cholesterol forming plaque on arteries, causing them to narrow.
There are four types of fat in the foods we eat:
- Monounsaturated fat
- Polyunsaturated fat
- Saturated fat
- Trans fat
Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats are fats the body needs, and can decrease LDL cholesterol.
Saturated fats are present in animal products and a few plant products such as coconut and palm oil. These fats are not required by the body and increase LDL cholesterol, potentially contributing to heart disease.
Trans fats naturally occur in small quantities in some animal products, however are mostly consumed in processed foods as they are created during the manufacturing process. Trans fats raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol, making them particularly dangerous.
Now try this drag-and-drop food pyramid game.Simply select an item by clicking on it and drag it into the category you think it fits into. Once placed, the information box will tell you more about the food and how healthy it is.