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What are the UK Government Guidelines on Healthy Eating?

By Mary Garrett

The United Kingdom leads the world in preventative medicine, yet obesity rates are high. Because the U.K. has a national health-care system, the burden of obesity is on the taxpayer. As of 2008, the overweight and obese population was 66 percent of men and 57 percent of women. The National Health Service is responding with a focus on nutrition education. Because of the high price of fresh foods, those with low incomes appear to eat fewer fresh fruits and vegetables than those with higher incomes.

Proportions

The British Nutrition Foundation and the National Health Service recommend that two-thirds of your daily food intake consist of starches, fruits and vegetables, the other third being dairy and protein. The tool used to illustrate healthy proportions, called the eatwell plate, depicts a dinner plate divided into sections representing the five basic food groups.

Starches

The starchy food group includes breads, grains, pasta, rice and potatoes. The British Nutrition Foundation recommends that one third of the daily caloric intake consist of starches to provide energy, fiber, folic acid, iron B vitamins and some calcium. Healthy starches include whole grains, baked potatoes and brown rice.

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Fruit and Vegetables

The foundation suggests eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, whether canned, dried frozen or fresh. A serving is about one medium orange, a tablespoon of dried fruit or a handful of grapes. These foods provide fiber, energy, vitamin C, carotene and folate. When eaten regularly, they may reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Dairy and Protein

Dairy and protein compose the final third of daily calories. Dairy and proteins such as cheese, milk, yogurt, meat, eggs, nuts and beans should be consumed in moderate amounts. The nutrients they provide include essential amino acids, calcium, vitamins A, B-2, B-12 and zinc. Lean proteins low in sodium are recommended.
In February 2011, the U.K. announced the first change in dietary recommendations since 1998. Based on a large, five-year study involving 478,040 cancer-free European men and women, the U.K. recommended limiting red and processed meats to less than 2.5 oz. daily to prevent colorectal cancer. In this study, consumption of red and processed meat was associated with a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer; conversely, eating more fish lowered the risk.

Fat and Sugar

Fats should be consumed sparingly. Avoid saturated fats, which are solid at room temperature, and opt for healthier unsaturated fats such as olive and vegetable oils. Limit foods and beverages containing sugar between meals, and dilute fruit juices with sparkling water. These foods increase the risk of obesity and diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol.

Dietary Statistics

According to the National Health Service's 2010 statistics, the purchase of fresh fruits in 2008 decreased nearly 8 percent, and the purchase of vegetables fell nearly 10 percent, as prices rose 8 percent. Lower income populations ate fewer whole grains, fruits and vegetables and more fats, sodas, processed foods, sugar and whole milk, compared with the general population. High consumption of fresh produce was limited to higher income levels. Only one in five children ate the 5-A-Day recommendation for fruits and vegetables and were limited to higher-income households. Ironically, 71 percent of those surveyed believed their diets were healthy. The daily average intake in 2008, ranged from 2,229 to 2,406 calories, depending on region.

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