Women have different daily nutritional requirements from men and, below, our nutritionist has offered guidance and recipe ideas for women seeking a balanced diet for good health. But what exactly is meant by a ‘balanced diet’?
The Eatwell Guide defines different types of foods we should be eating and in what proportions. These include some simple rules to follow like getting a minimum of five fruit and veg a day, including whole grains and choosing more fish, poultry, beans, and pulses, less red meat, and opting for lower fat, lower sugar dairy (or dairy-free alternatives). But that’s not the whole story. How much should you be eating and is there an ideal time to eat protein, carbs, or fats? Read on for our guide to healthy eating around the clock.
Reference Intakes (RI)
Nutritional needs vary depending on sex, size, age, and activity levels so use this chart as a general guide only. The chart shows the Reference Intakes (RI) or daily amounts recommended for an average, moderately active adult to achieve a healthy, balanced diet for maintaining rather than losing or gaining weight.
The RIs for fat saturates, sugars and salt are all maximum amounts, while those for carbs and protein are figures you should aim to meet each day. There is no RI for fiber, although health experts suggest we have 30g a day.
Reference intakes (RI) for women
Energy – 2000kcal
Protein – 50g
Carbohydrates – 260g
Sugar – 90g
Fat – 70g
Saturates – 20g
Salt – 6g
Numbers and figures are all very well but how does this relate to you? Keeping the Eatwell Guide in mind, you can personalize your portion sizes with our handy guide.
Carbs like cereal/rice/pasta/potato
Portion size: Your clenched fist
Include 1 portion at each main meal and ensure it fills no more than ¼ of your plate
Protein like meat/poultry/fish/tofu/pulses
Portion size: Palm of your hand
Aim to have a portion at each meal
Portion size: 2 of your thumbs
Enjoy as a snack or part of a meal
Portion size: 1 of your cupped hands
Enjoy as a snack or part of a meal
Portion size: The tip of your thumb
Eat no more than 2 or 3 times a day
Savouries like popcorn/crisps
Portion size: 2 of your cupped hands
Enjoy as a snack/treat
Bakes like brownies/flapjacks
Portion size: 2 of your fingers
Enjoy as an occasional treat
Don’t forget, as set out in the Eatwell Guide, we should all be aiming for a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Discover what counts as one portion using our five-a-day infographic.
Kick-start your metabolism by including protein at breakfast, choose from eggs, salmon, lean ham, or dairy. We burn more calories digesting protein rather than carbs so, by making your breakfast a protein one, you’ll be revving up your metabolism and because protein keeps you fuller for longer, you’ll eat fewer calories the rest of the day.
A protein breakfast needn’t take any longer to prepare. Top your morning toast with a scrambled egg, a slice of smoked salmon, or some lean ham and when you do have a little more time, enjoy an omelet or frittata.
Whatever you do, don’t skip breakfast as this sets your blood sugar off on a roller-coaster that means you’ll end up choosing the wrong foods later in the day. Remember breakfast makes an important contribution to your daily intake and it plays a key role in maintaining a healthy weight.
Many people find eating little and often helps them manage their blood sugar levels. This doesn’t mean they eat more but instead spread their day’s intake evenly throughout the day. Make every snack count with nourishing options that supply both the ‘pick me up’ you need while topping up your five-a-day.
Swap your morning biscuits for oatcakes spread with peanut or almond nut butter and a banana, or have a tasty dip with veggie sticks.
Make lunch a mix of lean protein and starchy carbs. Carb-rich foods supply energy and without them, you’re more likely to suffer that classic mid-afternoon slump. The key is to choose carbs that produce a steady rise in blood sugar, which means passing on the sugary ‘white’ foods and going for high-fiber whole grains that help you manage those afternoon munchies.
Opt for an open rye-bread sandwich topped with salmon, chicken, or lower fat dairy as well as plenty of salad, or choose wholegrain toast topped with baked beans.
Satisfy that sweet craving and the need for energy with fruit. A handful of dried fruit combined with unsalted nuts or seeds provides protein and healthy fats to keep you satisfied till supper.
Swap your chocolate or cereal bar for a handful of dried apple rings with a few almonds or walnuts. Dried fruit is four times as sweet as its fresh equivalent, which is great if you’ve got an exercise class or a gym session planned for the afternoon. Combining dried fruit with nuts helps stabilize the release of their sugars keeping you energized for longer. Alternatively stock your fridge with plenty of low-calorie nibbles like cherry tomatoes, apples, and vegetable crudités that will prevent you from reaching for the biscuit tin when you fancy something sweet or crunchy.
Don’t curfew carbs. They’re low in fat, fiber-rich, and help you relax in the evening. Combine them with some healthy essential fats, the ones you find in oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines as well as nuts, seeds, and their oils. Your body can use these healthy fats along with protein overnight for regeneration and repair, important for maintaining healthy skin and hair.
Fill half your plate with a colorful variety of vegetables or salad, drizzle with a dressing made from cold-pressed flaxseed, olive, or rapeseed oil and add meat, fish, or beans with brown rice, quinoa, or wholemeal pasta.