By Lucy Child, Registered Dietician and Human Being
Eating Matters has a large amount of good quality information on its website, including nutrition information. This page simply adds a bit more to the information already given with a bias towards trying to answer some of the underlying fears.
Crown copyright: Department of Health in association with the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government and the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland
This picture is known as the Eatwell Plate and some of you may know it already. The Plate displays the proportion of foods from different food groups that goes to make up a healthy diet, taken over a day or few days (not every meal).
Clicking here gives the link to the NHS Livewell page where it comes from. You can find lots of information about healthy eating there but do remember that their information is aimed at the average adult UK population, not people who are healing from eating disorders. I’ve given a brief summary about the Eatwell plate below but with a bias towards answering the questions I am usually asked in connection with eating disorders.
1. Fruit and Vegetables (Green Section). 5 portions a day is indeed a good amount to aim for. This will give you more vitamin C than you’ll need, plenty of potassium, lots of folate and some energy. More is not necessarily better if this is all you are eating, as fruit and vegetables do contain difficult to digest polysaccharides that are fermented in the gut, causing gas, cramps and looseness. Look at the Livewell pages for more information on what constitutes a portion of fruit or vegetables
2. High carbohydrate foods (Yellow section). These are foods that we have evolved to digest and rely on. Starchy foods give us slow release energy that sustains and keeps us going. Starchy foods produce glucose when they are digested and absorbed. Glucose is used as fuel throughout the body and is the preferred fuel for the brain. Not enough glucose reaching the brain makes us feel very hungry. If you want to stay in control of your hunger, may I recommend a regular supply of slow release, starchy carbohydrate to keep those hunger pangs under control? Starchy carbohydrate foods also give us fibre, calcium, iron and B vitamins (thiamin and niacin).
3. Milk and dairy foods (Blue section). These include milk and milk produce such as cheese and yogurt. The milk can be any animal milk – cows, goats or sheep’s are the most commonly used. We all know these foods give us calcium and protein but they are also a good source of vitamin B2 (riboflavin). Lots of people seem to be afraid of milk, thinking it is “fattening” but I think this comes from its nourishing image as a food for babies and young animals. Some people like to use a milk substitute such as soya milk, oat milk, rice milk or nut milk. These are not a nutritional substitute for the animal milks e.g. Soya does have a good protein content but it’s natural calcium content has to be fortified to bring it up to the level found in cow’s milk.
4. Meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and beans (Pink section). These are the high quality protein foods. If you are frightened of eating meat, do try to have some fish and eggs.
a. The World Health Organisation recommends that we have fish twice a week, of which one should be oily fish. This is for the omega 3 fatty acids which have a role in many areas of the body, including cancer protection and prevention of heart disease. Oily fish includes sardines, pilchards, mackerel, salmon and trout which can be fresh, frozen or tinned. Fresh tuna is also useful but there is not much omega 3 left in tinned tuna.
b. Some people with eating disorders find themselves becoming vegetarian. This is fine as long as enough vegetable protein is eaten. Beans, nuts and seeds are not to everyone’s taste so processed vegetable proteins such as QuornTM and soya products such as tofu and TVP are often used in vegetarian convenience foods. Vegetarians with eating disorders are often afraid of the fat content in nuts and seeds. It may help to realise that nuts and seeds are a really good source of protein, also of calcium, iron and other trace elements such as selenium. The fat in nuts and seeds is very low in saturates and often quite high in mono-unsaturated fatty acids which is associated with a low risk of cardiovascular disease. There is omega 3 potential in nuts such as almonds and walnuts.
c. Becoming vegan, which means eating nothing of animal origin at all, is a very difficult diet to do and one must be careful to obtain vitamin B12, usually from a fortified food or yeast extract in order to avoid becoming seriously ill.
5. Foods high in fat and sugar (Purple section). These foods include things like butter and spreads, cooking and salad oils, cakes, sweets and chocolates, jams and sugar. They can provide energy, vitamins A and D, omega 3 fatty acids and most importantly, palatability. Life without a few of these foods is pretty dull.
a. People with eating disorders often try to stay away from these foods. Sometimes they are managed in carefully controlled amounts. Sometimes they are binged on. They are the foods that cause the most guilt and seem to provide the strongest triggers for bingeing. It seems to be the 50:50 mix of fat and sugar in cakes and confectionary that tempts humans to over indulge. However these foods are with us as treats, gifts and are encountered on high days and holidays. We even give gifts that look like food that aren’t food. How complicated it has become!
b. These foods are useful for decreasing the volume of food we need to eat. Without them we’d have to have a much bulkier diet to meet our energy needs. For very active people this can make a huge difference to the time spent eating. They’ll have their “5 a day” but chocolate and cake is a really useful addition!
Eating Matters, 34 Colegate, Norwich, Norfolk, NR3 1BG
Phone: 01603 767062, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Eating Matters is the trading name of Norfolk Eating Disorders Association, est. 1979
Charity Number 1003974