Healthy Eating

Why is it important to eat healthy? How should I do it?

Healthy Eating Tips

Childhood is the key time to create healthy eating habits that will influence your development and health in the short and long term. Discover how to eat a balanced diet to grow healthy and happy.

What does healthy eating mean?

Eating all the food groups in the correct amounts to provide your body with all the nutrients required to stay strong and full of energy..

Why is healthy eating important?

A healthy diet helps to protect our health and prevent cardiovascular diseases, as well as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol or some types of cancer. Thus, a healthy diet not only enables our body to operate optimally to cover our basic physiological needs, but also reduces the risk of suffering short and long-term diseases.

Why is it important to establish healthy habits in childhood?

Childhood is the most important time to teach children about healthy food and promote the best healthy eating habits. Habits are actions which are learnt by repetition and homes and school are the places where our children usually acquire their behaviour. Promoting healthy eating habits in childhood is key to encourage a healthier lifestyle in the future and prevent chronic illnesses in adults. In addition, if adequately nourished, a child will perform better at school and have more energy to do exercise.

Children learn by imitation: if older begin to teach them early, they will imitate their healthy eating habits from the beginning. Therefore, a key tool to help them develop habits is through our example.

Food groups

A varied and healthy diet should include the following food groups: fruit, vegetables, dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, legumes, cereal-bread-rice-pasta and potatoes, nuts and finally, healthy fats, as each group plays its role providing different nutrients to our body.

In each group, it is important to eat the widest variety possible as each food is unique and rich in certain nutrients and also other non-nutritious components that are good for our health, such as fibre. Therefore, the importance of each food group is based on:

Fruit and fruit juices supply water, sugars, vitamins and fibre. Frequent intake of whole fruit is recommended as juices only provide vitamins and minerals but lack most of fibre found in the whole piece of fruit. Taking into account their nutritional value and health protection role, we should eat 3 or more servings of fruit a day, and preferably fresh fruit. Some vitamins such as vitamin C found in citrus fruit, like kiwi and strawberries, help the immune system boosting our body defences, for example, against colds. Vitamin E, found in avocado, is good for the heart. Fibre, also present in vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains and legumes, is essential to regulate bowel movements, helping to maintain diabetes and cholesterol levels under control. Fibre also reduces the risk of suffering from diverticulosis and possibly some cancers such as colon cancer, etc.

The daily intake of vegetables as a major source of vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants, is highly recommended. Vitamin A, found in red/orange vegetables such as carrots and green leafy vegetables such as spinach, is good for the eyesight and in many cases, it has been linked to the prevention of certain types of cancer. A minimum consumption of 2 daily servings is recommended, favouring seasonal vegetables. One of the servings is recommended raw, for example in salads, while the other portion can be cooked following preparation guidelines to minimise the loss of nutrients. For example, cooking vegetables in the oven or grill are good options; and if boiled, saving the cooking water to make purées or soups is recommended as many minerals are left in the water. Steam cooking helps to preserve most of the nutrients.

Dairy products (milk, fresh yoghurt, cheese, custard, etc.) are a major source of high quality proteins, vitamins (A, D, B2 and B12) and mainly an excellent supply of calcium, which plays a very important role in the formation of teeth and bones as well as to prevent osteoporosis. Having 2 to 4 daily servings is recommended according to our age and physiological condition (pregnancy, breastfeeding, etc.). Due to their lower calorie, saturated fat and cholesterol contents, the consumption of products made from skimmed milk is recommended for adults. This recommendation is particularly applicable in cases of overweight, obesity and heart diseases. A school child who drinks half a litre of milk every day obtains half of the proteins and over 80% of the calcium and vitamin B2 he/she needs in this way. With the same amount, an adult covers 30% of the daily need for proteins and 100% of calcium.

Meat is a major source of high biological value proteins, group B vitamins and minerals such as iron. Due to its high saturated fat content, it is important to select lean meat cuts and remove any visible fat before cooking. Proteins are important to keep muscles strong and healthy and group B vitamins provide energy for our body and brain. Meat contains high bioavailability iron and also increases the absorption of iron from cereals or legumes. Eating 3 weekly servings of meat is recommended, and in particular lean cuts. Fatty sausages must be eaten only occasionally as they provide large amounts of saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium which may harm our cardiovascular system.

Fish is a good source of high-quality proteins, vitamin D and minerals such as phosphorous. Fatty fish is also rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids Omega-3 which reduce "bad" cholesterol (LDL), cutting down triglyceride levels and preceding substances which play a major preventative role in cardiovascular diseases. Vitamin D is important for correct calcium fixation in bones and phosphorous helps to maintain healthy teeth. Fish consumption is particularly important for pregnant and breastfeeding women and during periods of growth such as childhood. Eating from 3 to 4 weekly servings of fish is recommended. Seafood is an excellent source of vitamins (B1, B12) and minerals such as phosphorous, potassium, iron, iodine, fluorine, and zinc. Seafood has high protein content, and is low in sodium, calories and saturated fats.

Eggs are very interesting from the nutritional point of view, providing high quality proteins and vitamins A, D and B12, while promoting high energy and good mood. Eggs also offer essential nutrients in periods of growth and in particular, in physiological conditions such as pregnancy, breastfeeding and ageing. Eating 3 to 5 eggs per week is the nutritional recommendation.

Legumes are also a good source of proteins, providing carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and selenium as well. The last two help to maintain the immune system and neurons, improving our memory and concentration. Among other functions, magnesium helps to maintain muscles in good form. It is worth highlighting the role of legumes in colon cancer prevention and in reducing cholesterol levels. Eating at least 2 to 4 servings per week is recommended.

Cereals, bread, rice, pasta, and potatoes should be the main basis of our diet as they provide us with a major source of energy thanks to their carbohydrate content as well as group B vitamins. Food products containing whole-grains are richer in fibre, vitamins and minerals than refined ones. Potatoes should be cooked preferably using methods different from frying. Eating 4-6 servings of this food group per day is recommended.

Nuts are mainly defined by their high energy content and great source of unsaturated fatty acids and fibre, as well as being an extraordinary source of vitamin E, with antioxidant effects. Unsaturated fatty acids help to control triglyceride and cholesterol levels in blood and are beneficial to the cardiovascular system. The recommended intake of nuts is 3 to 7 servings per week for healthy adults without obesity or overweight.

Fats are essential for our health as components of cell membranes and nuclear structures. But due to their high calorie content, they must be eaten in moderation. Vegetable fats are much healthier and preferable to animal fats. The consumption of virgin olive oil, rich in mono-unsaturated fats and antioxidants, is particularly recommended for cooking as well as dressing due its beneficial properties with regard to cardiovascular health. The intake of saturated animal fats present in meat, sausages, confectionery, and bakery products as well as dairy fats should be limited. Moreover, excessive margarine intake should be avoided, since “trans” fatty acids are formed during its preparation which may act as risk factors in cardiovascular disease.

Rapid-absorption sugars, such as table sugar and honey provide energy and increase palatability of food and drink. This food group is superfluous and consumption is not necessary. The intake of this type of sugars must be moderate as a high consumption may lead to overweight and tooth decay. Therefore, the consumption of products rich in simple sugars must be limited, and only occasional intake of any sugary formulations is recommended.

Habits

👎 To be reduced

  • Fat intake, avoiding cooking fried and battered food. Preferably oven, microwave, papillote or grill preparations.
  • Frequent intake of sweets. Promote eating salt-free nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, etc.) and dried fruit (raisins, dried peaches, dried figs, etc.) as an alternative.
  • Sugary drinks (cola drinks, orangeade, etc.); encourage water consumption as a priority.
  • Sweet bakery and confectionery; prioritise the consumption of healthy snacks.
  • Chocolate creams, puddings, mousses, and other products as common desserts after meals.
  • Frequent consumption of fast food.
  • Excessive consumption of processed precooked meat foods and derivatives with higher fat contents (sausages, pates, etc.).
  • Presence of precooked meals (cannelloni, lasagne, croquets, tuna pastries, pizzas, batters, pre-fried potatoes and other industrial preparations).
  • The time allocated to “screen activities” (TV, computer, consoles, etc.) should be reduced to less than 2 hours per day.

👍 To be promoted

  • The intake of fresh and seasonal fruit, as regular dessert after meals and as a supplement for breakfast and afternoon meals. Fruit is best enjoyed whole to benefit from all its nutrients.
  • The consumption of seasonal vegetables as a starter and/or as garnish with the main course at different meals, as well as ensuring salads are regularly available. Try to eat raw vegetables instead of cooked ones.
  • Try to eat raw vegetables instead of cooked ones.
  • Eat legumes and raw and salt-free roasted nuts.
  • Eat whole grain starchy products (bread, pasta, rice...).
  • Eat dairy products made from skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, and mainly as milk, yoghurt and cheese.
  • The presence of preferably whole grain bread, in different meals.
  • Use olive oil, for dressing and cooking, as it reduces the risk of cognitive impairment and diabetes and controls cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
  • Prepare food with low salt content.
  • Drink water as the main vital drink in meals as well as between meals. Drinking plenty of water is crucial to have a normal fitness level and maintain cognitive function, as well as for heat-regulation and a proper functioning of our metabolism.
  • An active lifestyle including moderate/high intensity activities (walking, running, playing in the park, doing exercise, etc.), due to many advantages: increasing the quality of life making us feel “fit”; helping to regulate our blood glucose level; reducing total cholesterol in our blood and increasing HDL or good cholesterol; lowering the risk of heart related diseases as well as osteoporosis, fractures and falling; in addition to increasing lung capacity, preventing insomnia and improving our mood. Children and young people should exercise at least 60 minutes a day several times per week. Adults will benefit from at least 30 minutes a day to prevent chronic diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, overweight, etc.).

In addition, it is also important:

  • To have breakfast every day. Not having breakfast increases the risk of obesity and reduces our cognitive capacity and vitality during the day. Children and young people who skip breakfast are more likely to have a metabolic syndrome and lower school achievement. A complete breakfast includes food from the following three groups: dairy products, cereal based product and fruit.
  • Distribute your daily food intake in 5 meals a day. This will help to achieve a balanced diet throughout the day and prevent long periods of time without eating o excessively large meals.
  • Sit down to eat, do not rush and chew slowly.
  • Do not do any other activity while you are eating, such as watching TV or playing video games, etc., and make the most of this time to encourage family discussions.
  • Eat with your family or with adults, fostering a good atmosphere and offering an example that guarantees the acquisition of healthy habits.
  • Plan meals in advance to cover nutritional needs and supplement school meals, if any.
  • Invite children to participate in food or healthy menu selection, as well as in food preparation.
  • Encourage children to taste new foods.
  • Serve servings according to each age, as girls and boys require different amounts of energy according to their age and gender.
There are no good or bad foods, but the recommended intake of certain foods may be more or less frequent or sporadic.

Servings and frequencies of intake

Nutritional recommendations for adult general population.

Daily consumption

🍎 Fruits
Servings/day
Minimum 3
Serving example
1 medium piece
1 cup of cherries
2 slices of melon
🥗 Vegetables
Servings/day
Minimum 2
1 plate of salad
1 plate of boiled vegetables
1 large tomato
2 carrots
🥛 Dairy
Servings/day
2-3
Serving example
1 glass of skimmed milk
2 skimmed milk yoghourts
1 individual portion of cottage cheese/or a similar variety
2-3 slices of cheese
🥖 Cereals, bread, rice, pasta, and potatoes
Servings/day
4-6
Serving example
3-4 slices of bread / 1 bread roll
2 toasts or crispbreads
3 biscuits
1 handful of breakfast cereal
1 plate of rice or pasta
1 large potato
🥑 Healthy fats
Servings/day
3-5
Serving example
10 ml olive oil (tablespoon)
Half an avocado
10-12 olives

Weekly consumption

🥩 Lean meats
Servings/week
3
Serving example
1 small fillet
1 quarter of chicken or rabbit
🐟 Fish
Servings/week
3-4
Serving example
1 fillet
5 small fish
🥚 Eggs
Servings/week
3-5
Serving example
1 medium egg
Legumes
Servings/week
2-4
Example of serving
A half-cup of cooked legumes
🥜 Frutos secos
Servings/week
3-7
Example of serving
1 handful

Occasional intake

🥓 Sausages and fatty meat
Consume sparingly
Consume sparingly
Fats (butter, margarine, etc.)
Consume sparingly
Occasional and sparingly intake
🍭 Sweets, snacks, soft drinks, ice creams, etc.
Consume sparingly
Occasional and sparingly intake

Test Cómo como yo

Do you want to know how you eat?

ComoQuiz

How much do you know about food?

ComoQuiz

Recipes

Do you want to learn balanced and fun dishes for cooking with children?

Healthy and fun recipes for cooking with children

Project

What is Cómo como yo?

What is Cómo como yo?

Documentation

Information panels, brochures...

Documentation