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Irish Heart Foundation dietitian Sarah Noone and Caoimhe Clynch give their expert opinion on the new Healthy Eating Guidelines from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI).
The new guidelines combine international best practice with evidence specific to the Irish population and are designed to help protect against diet related diseases such as heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes.
Developed together with the Department of Health and the HSE, the guide includes advice on healthier choices, portion sizes, servings and cooking methods. The new publication also covers nutritional composition, food safety and food law. So, what does it say?
The guidelines recommend that the largest proportion of our diets should be made up of vegetables, salads and fruit (5-7 portions per day). An apple, banana, pear or other similar sized fruit counts as one portion as does a dessert bowl of salad or three tablespoons of vegetables. There is no specific advice on how the 5-7 a day should be split between salads, vegetables and fruit, but it’s best to have variety to ensure you get a range of vitamins and minerals. Remember half our plates should be made up of vegetables or salad.
The guide includes advice on healthier choices, portion sizes, servings and cooking methods
In relation to carbohydrates – wholemeal cereals, bread, pasta, rice and potatoes, the guidelines recommend 3-5 servings a day. However, the amount of carbohydrates we should be eating in a day depends on a number of factors e.g. age, gender and levels of activity (the more active you are the more carbs you need).
A portion of carbohydrates is two slices of wholemeal bread, one pitta pocket, one cup of flaked breakfast cereal, one cup cooked rice/pasta or two medium potatoes. The guidelines state that where possible, higher fibre/wholegrain starchy carbohydrates such as oats, wholemeal bread, whole wheat pasta and brown rice are a better option than refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and white pasta.
When it comes to dairy (milk, yogurt and cheese) the guidelines recommend three servings per day. Dairy provides protein as well as a range of important vitamins and minerals such as calcium which are important for bone health. A portion is one cup of low-fat milk, one cup of low-fat yogurt or a piece of hard cheese (width and depth of 2 thumbs). The guidelines state that low fat dairy products contain the same level of vitamins and minerals as whole fat options and the only difference is in the calorie and fat content.
When it comes to the meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts group there have been some changes. The guidelines advise lean red meat such beef, lamb, pork should be eaten no more than two to three times per week and recommend limiting processed meats such as ham, sausages, bacon, luncheon meats and salami. They also advise that poultry such as chicken and turkey be eaten approximately two to three days a week while fish is recommended on one to two days per week. Remember oily fish like salmon and mackerel are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids which is beneficial for heart health. A daily portion of meat, poultry or fish is the width and depth of an adult’s palm.
The FSAI guidelines also advise that having one to two days per week where we eat a vegetarian or plant-based diet can be good for everyone. Eggs are also mentioned, and the FSAI advise that eating up to seven egg yolks a week and any amount of egg whites will not raise cholesterol levels in healthy adults.
The new guidelines also discuss cooking methods and recommend baking, steaming, boiling or stewing food instead of frying or deep frying.
The new guidelines also discuss cooking methods and recommend baking, steaming, boiling or stewing food instead of frying or deep frying. They also advise aiming for blonde or light colours instead of brown when cooking and avoid eating burnt food. The reason for this is that high cooking temperatures that occur during frying, grilling or barbequing creates harmful compounds on the surface of food which have been linked to cancer.
With fats, spreads and oils the FSAI recommends using these in small amounts (one portion is the equivalent of one teaspoon) and choosing monounsaturated or polyunsaturated options such as olive, rapeseed and sunflower oil. The guidelines also highlight that tropical oils such as coconut oil and palm oil should be avoided as they are very high in saturated fat.
Finally, the FSAI guidelines state that food and drink high in fat, sugar and salt such as biscuits, crisps, cakes, and pastries (if you wish to include them) should not be eaten every day.
In summary, the new guidelines provide realistic recommendations but have not changed hugely. They continue to encourage variety when it comes to diets and the addition of healthier cooking methods is a welcome addition.
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