The small health changes that make a difference
This year's Healthy Eating Week is encouraging us all to give our lifestyles a boost. Lisa Salmon finds out more.
We all know the basic 'rules' of healthy eating and living and how important it is to look after our long-term health - but making these things an ongoing part of our day-to-day lives can be another matter.
This Healthy Eating Week (June 10-14), the British Nutrition Foundation is challenging Brits to focus on five key cornerstones of a healthylifestyle with the following challenges: Have breakfast; Have 5 a day; Drink plenty; Get active, and Sleep well.
The aim? To help people of all ages learn more about healthy eating and the small daily changes they can make to improve their health and wellbeing.
"BNF Healthy Eating Week provides the perfect opportunity to take a step back from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and truly focus on health and wellbeing," says Roy Ballam, the BNF's managing director and head of education.
Ballam points out that every year in the UK, around 131 million working days are lost to sickness absence - with 200,000 alone attributed to insufficient sleep. "Promoting health is not only beneficial to employees, but to employers too. We hope Healthy Eating Week will help draw attention to some of these everyday health challenges and, in turn, help us along the path to resolving them," he adds.
Here's a closer look at the five challenges...
1. Sleep well
With emerging research linking poor sleep quality to less healthy food choices and increased risk of obesity, the 'Sleep well' challenge highlights why getting enough good quality sleep is a key element of a healthy lifestyle.
The odd bad night won't really hurt, but regular lack of sleep can make you more vulnerable to colds and infections and is also linked to serious health conditions, and may lead to depression and anxiety too.
Sleep is also important for cognitive skills such as communicating well, memory and creative thinking.
Dr Lucy Chambers, senior scientist at BNF, says: "Where a poor night's sleep can lead to both adults and young people feeling grumpy and irritable, regular lack of sleep can have a negative impact on dietary choices, including higher intakes of calories and more frequent snacking on less healthy foods. Lack of sleep, and poor quality and interrupted sleep, may be linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and hypertension."
Tips for better sleep include establishing a regular routine for going to bed and waking up; avoiding heavy meals, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol late at night; making your bedroom 'sleep-friendly' with a dark, quiet and cool environment; turning off all devices at least one hour before bedtime and keeping tech like phones and TVs out of the bedroom; being physically active during the day.
2. Have breakfast
This challenge is all about encouraging people to make healthier breakfast choices, such as: Choose wholegrain (porridge, wholegrain breakfast cereals with no added sugar and wholegrain breads) and other higher fibre (wholemeal bread) varieties of starchy foods; include at least one of your 5-a-day (chopped banana, a handful of berries, grilled tomatoes or mushrooms).
Possibly include dairy foods (e.g. milk, yogurt) or calcium-fortified non-dairy alternatives (soya or almond drinks); choose lower fat and no-added-sugar options; include a source of protein (eggs, beans, kippers, nuts, etc); include a drink - water, unsweetened tea and coffee, and lower fat milk are good choices. Smoothies and 100% fruit juices can count towards your 5-a-day but should be limited to a combined maximum of 150ml per day.
Chambers says: "Breakfast helps to get the day off to a good start by providing the energy and nutrients the body needs for good health. This is particularly important for keeping children engaged in school throughout the morning - and probably for many adults in the office too."
3. Have 5-a-day
This challenge highlights the importance of vegetables - in particular, within a healthy, balanced diet, dispelling some of the myths around what counts as one of your 5-a-day (for example, potatoes don't count), and encouraging eating a range of colourful veg and fruit.
Chambers says: "Vegetables, alongside fruit, provide vitamins and minerals that are needed for a range of functions in the body, as well as fibre, which is important for a healthy gut and can help reduce the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer in adulthood. Different types of vegetables and fruit provide different amounts and combinations of nutrients, so it's important we eat a variety to ensure we get all the goodness we need."
4. Drink plenty
Often feel tired, foggy and prone to headaches? You might not be hydrating enough. For this challenge, people are urged to have at least six to eight unsweetened drinks every day. To make it more appealing, try experimenting with new flavours of infused water using vegetables, fruit and/or herbs. Another tip to stay hydrated is to keep a reusable bottle of water with you throughout the day.
"We all need to remember to drink plenty of fluids and it's important to encourage children to drink fluids regularly, as it's not always something they remember themselves," says Chambers.
5. Get active
As well as encouraging the nation to be more active, this challenge aims to reduce the time people spend being inactive - evidence suggests that spending too much time sitting down is bad for health. 'Move more' ideas include: Walk or cycle to/from school and work; take the stairs instead of the lift; and get up and move when watching TV.
Adults are advised to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity a week, and children and young people should be doing 60 minutes of physical activity every day, ranging from moderate to vigorous intensity.
Chambers says: "Physical activity is beneficial for people of all ages. It can help to maintain energy balance, improve heart health and strengthen muscles and bones, and may also have mental health benefits such as improving sleep, relieving stress and lifting mood."
To find out more, see nutrition.org.uk