Support Your Health by Learning About the Importance of Body Weight, Food Nutrition and Wellbeing
By Mark Beattie (BSc Nutritional Sciences at Manchester Metropolitan University)
Health advice – it is everywhere these days! Whether it comes from friends, family, social media, health bloggers or celebrities, we are overloaded with information on how to achieve great health. However, it can sometimes be false, confusing, and not to mention expensive! It is possible to damage your health by following the wrong advice without having the correct knowledge. This article aims to inform you of the basic things you need to know about managing your body weight, food nutrition and wellbeing so you can make the right decisions for better health.
Body weight and BMI
We all come in different shapes and sizes naturally, but there is a simple measurement you can do to help keep your weight on track. BMI (Body Mass Index) is a tool used to calculate if you are a healthy weight for your height.
Here is a link to a BMI calculator:
Compare your BMI score with the table below to see which range you are in.
| <18.5 = Underweight
| 18.5-24.9 = Healthy weight
| 25-29.9 = Overweight
| 30-39.9 = Obese
| 40+ = Severely obese
If your BMI scores below 18.5 or above 24.9, you will need to make some changes to your diet and lifestyle to reach a healthy weight.
The BMI score is just a general guide and will not be correct for muscular people, athletes, children, pregnant women, and certain ethnicities. For example, if you are an Asian person with a BMI of 27.5, you carry the same health risks linked to a white Caucasian person with a BMI of 30. So, for people of Asian ethnicity a score of 27.5 and above will place you in the ‘obese’ category.
However, the BMI score does not give us the complete picture.
We need fat in our body for important things like brain function, vitamin absorption, and hormone regulation, but having too much fat around the stomach area can increase the risk of developing chronic health issues. You can use a tape measure to record your waist size.
The risk increases if your waist measurements are:
90 cm (35.4 inches) or more
94 cm (37 inches) or more
80 cm (31.5 inches) or more
80 cm (31.5 inches) or more
Alternatively, the string test is another simple way of measuring your body fat.
- Measure a piece of string as long your height and cut it.
- Fold the piece of string in half.
- Wrap it around your middle.
If you cannot get the piece of string to meet at both ends, this suggests that you have too much fat around your middle.
Why do body weight and body fat matter?
Keeping both body weight and body fat within a healthy range reduces your risk of developing chronic diseases which can harm your health or lead to early death. If you are overweight or obese, you increase your chances of getting back pain, osteoarthritis, depression, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancers. People from minority ethnicities are more likely to suffer from some of these diseases than white people.
The most effective ways to help prevent ill health are through:
- Eating a balanced diet
- Regular physical activity
- Not smoking
- Moderating alcohol intake
- Getting 7-9 hours’ sleep every night
- Managing stress effectively
Energy and nutrients from food
The human body needs a broad range of nutrients from food to power things like energy production, organ function and growth & repair. To know which foods to include to make a healthy and balanced meal, it helps to have some basic knowledge of calories, protein, fats, carbohydrates, and vitamins & minerals.
Calories are the amount of energy contained within food. This energy is measured in units called kilocalories, displayed as ‘kcals’ on food labels.
If you take in the same number of calories that you use up, you are in an energy balance that will keep weight stable.
If you take in more calories than you use up, you are in a positive energy balance that will cause weight gain.
If you take in less calories than you use up, you are in a negative energy balance that will cause weight loss.
- Women need around 2,000 kcals per day
- Men need around 2,500 kcals per day
Despite what you may have heard, not all calories are equal. There can be what are known as ‘empty’ calories. For example, you could get the same number of calories (energy) from sweets as you could from spinach. However, sweets will only provide you with energy, whereas spinach will provide you with energy as well as many different vitamins & minerals.
Macronutrients – protein, fats & carbohydrates
PROTEIN is essential for the growth & repair of cells, muscle, and tissue, and to make various enzymes and hormones. Protein provides 4 kcal per gram. Foods high in protein can keep you feeling fuller for longer which may help you to lose weight.
Foods containing Protein include : beef, pork, goat, mutton, lamb, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy, beans, chickpeas & lentils, nuts & seeds, tofu, and soya products.
FATS are needed for growth & development, hormone regulation, insulation for the organs, and for helping the body to absorb vitamins A, D, E & K. Fats provide 9 kcal per gram. Fats can also influence the amount and types of cholesterol in the blood.
- Unsaturated fats can help to reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterols.
- Saturated fats can increase LDL (“bad”) & HDL (“good”) cholesterols.
Try to replace some foods high in saturated fats with foods high in unsaturated fats.
Foods containing Unsaturated fats include : oily fish that is high in omega-3 like sardines, mackerel & salmon, nuts like almonds & peanuts, and sunflower oil.
Foods containing Saturated fats include : fatty cuts of beef, mutton & lamb, chicken legs & thighs with the skin left on, full-fat yoghurt, ghee, and coconut oil.
CARBOHYDRATES are important for supplying the brain & muscles with sugars for energy and adding fibre to the diet for healthy digestion. Carbohydrates provide 4 kcal per gram. Wholegrains, like brown rice, are higher in fibre which helps to keep bowel movements regular and slows down the release of sugars into the blood for longer lasting energy. Eating wholegrains can also help to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Free sugars from processed foods, like cake & biscuits, fizzy drinks, and fruit juices should be kept below 30g per day for adults, below 24g per day for children aged 7-10, and below 19g per day for children aged 4-6.
Foods containing Carbohydrates include : rice, bread, oats, fruit & vegetables, potatoes, cereals, dairy, beans, chickpeas & lentils.
Micronutrients – vitamins & minerals
VITAMIN C is an essential vitamin that your body cannot make by itself. It is a powerful antioxidant that prevents damage to cells, supports a healthy immune system, and helps the body to absorb iron. Adults need at least 40mg per day.
Foods containing Vitamin C include : plantains, oranges, strawberries, sweet potato, bell peppers, chilli peppers, broccoli, and spinach.
IRON is an important mineral for making red blood cells which transport oxygen in the blood to the body’s tissues and organs. Men over 18 need 8.7mg per day. Women aged 19-50 need 14.8mg per day. Women over 50 need 8.7mg per day.
Foods containing Iron include : liver, meat, lentils & beans, dark-green leafy vegetables like kale, nuts & seeds, dried fruits like apricots, and wholegrains like brown rice.
VITAMIN D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is made in the skin when exposed to sunlight. It can also be found in smaller amounts in certain foods. Vitamin D is important for regulating calcium uptake, supporting a healthy immune system, the normal growth of bones & teeth, and may also improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. Adults need at least 10μg per day. Darker-skinned people have a higher risk of Vitamin D deficiency, so getting additional intake from a supplement is advisable, particularly during the winter months.
Foods containing Vitamin D include: liver, oily fish, eggs, mushrooms, and fortified milk, yoghurt & cereals
CALCIUM is a mineral that is important for building strong bones & teeth, normal muscle contractions, such as your heartbeat, and normal blood clotting. Calcium cannot be made by the body and must be gained from food sources. Adults aged 19-64 need 700mg per day.
Foods containing Calcium include: dairy, broccoli, cabbage, okra, soya beans, nuts, and fortified bread products.
Creating healthy, balanced meals
By reading food labels, controlling portion sizes, and using the UK Eatwell Guide, you can create delicious and healthy, balanced meals.
Traffic Light Labelling on packaged foods
Green = low in that nutrient and a healthier choice.
Amber = neither high nor low in that nutrient. Have in moderation.
Red = high in that nutrient. Have less often and in small amounts.
- Aim to eat at least 5 portions of fruit & vegetables every day.
- A portion of fruit or vegetables is 80g à e.g. half a bell pepper, 3 heaped tablespoons of peas, or 1 medium-sized banana.
- Use measuring cups to measure out appropriate portions of rice or pasta.
- Limit portion sizes of butter, cheese, and meat as they can be high in saturated fats.
- Again, keep free sugars from processed foods, fizzy drinks, and juices to a minimum à less than 30g per day, or 7 cubes of sugar, for adults.
- High salt diets have been linked to hypertension à limit your intake to less than 6g per day, or 1 teaspoon, for adults.
Below is a link to the Eatwell Guide which can be used to help you get the right amount of nutrients from each food group:
Healthy eating on a budget
Healthy food does not have to mean expensive food. Here are some tips on how to eat well on a budget:
- Plan meals ahead of time and always write out a grocery list before shopping.
- Cooking from scratch can not only be cheaper and healthier, but you also learn new skills for life.
- Choosing cheaper cuts of meat, or a whole chicken instead of breasts will provide you with meat protein at a lower price.
- Eating more vegetarian meals can help keep costs down further.
- Peas, beans & lentils are a cheaper alternative to meat protein and lower in calories & fat.
- Buying tinned or frozen fruit & vegetables is normally cheaper, they come pre-chopped, and can be just as nutritious as fresh produce, if not more so.
- Eating smaller portions can help you to manage your weight while the leftovers can be saved to make another meal.
Here are some great healthy recipe ideas: https://www.nhs.uk/change4life/recipes/
Staying active is important along with a balanced diet. Here are some reasons why:
- Proven benefits for physical and mental health
- Maintenance of healthy weight
- Improvement of sleep & mood
- Better management of stress
- Reduces your chance of type 2 diabetes by 40% and heart disease by 35%!
- Stronger bones and muscles mean less frailty in old age
|Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity OR at least 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity per week. And remember, some is better than none.