Experts agree that a good diet should contain balanced amounts of food from five main food groups. These are:
Fruit and Vegetables
At least five portions of fruit and vegetables should be consumed every day. This isn’t as much as it sounds because this includes juices and snacks.
Starches include foods such as potatoes, rice, pasta, bread and other wholegrains.
Dairy products include milk, cheese, and yogurt (assuming you have no dairy allergy).
Protein is found in foods like meat, fish, eggs, beans, pulses and nuts (assuming you have no nut allergy).
Fat and Sugar
The current advice is that these should only be consumed in small quantities, although there is some controversy over whether a low-fat diet is really that good for you. (1)
What if I’m Vegetarian?
Vegetarians can still get fats and protein from eggs and other dairy products, beans, pulses (such as lentils), nuts and oils like olive oil so it is perfectly safe to exclude meat and fish from your diet.
Very strict vegetarians (vegans) who also exclude dairy products can maintain good health as long as they eat plenty of non-dairy protein sources (beans, pulses, nuts and oils).
As many strict vegetarians may be low in vitamin B12, found commonly in meat, they should also make sure they eat plenty of dried apricots, dates and figs as these all contain vitamin B12, as well as making sure they include broccoli and spinach in their vegetable selection and potatoes in their starch selection as these also contain vitamin B12.
The British Vegan Society recommends getting vitamin B12 from fortified breakfast cereals, milk substitute drinks, soy mince and yeast extract spreads as these are a good source of B vitamins (but only if you have no problems with yeast infections). (2)
The Low Fat Diet Controversy
A study carried out in the Cancer Research medical journal found that a low carbohydrate, high protein diet slows cancer growth in animals and that if animals were fed on a typical government recommended western diet (high carbohydrate, low fat) their cancer tumors spread more quickly.