The Food Fact File

The most important thing you have to remember about healthy eating is that you must eat a balanced diet. Only by eating a balanced diet can you be sure that you are getting enough protein and carbohydrate and not too much fat. Only by eating carefully and knowledgeably can you be sure that you are eating enough fibre or taking in enough vitamins and minerals.

But in order to eat a balanced diet you have to know what is in the foods that you are eating! And complex tables are either too confusing or too time consuming.

The tables here are very simple. They are designed to help you see at a glance which foods contain which ingredients. I have used a very simple system: ticks indicate what is good for you, crosses indicate what you should avoid or cut down on. One tick or cross means that the food concerned contains very little or none of that particular ingredient; three ticks or crosses mean that the food concerned contains a good deal of that ingredient. So the more ticks the better, and the more crosses the worse.

You should now find that balancing your diet is simple and fast!

You should aim to follow a diet which:

Contains good quantities of fibre

Includes plenty of vitamins and minerals

Contains little fat

And if you are also trying to lose weight (or to control your weight) then you should also try to limit your consumption of calorie rich foods.


By and large biscuits are low in protein and high in calories. Oat cake biscuits are quite good for you since they contain more fibre, more vitamins and minerals and less calories than other biscuits.


Chocolate • XX • •

Digestive • X •• • XX

Ginger • X • • XX

Oatcakes • X •• •• XX

Semi-sweet • X • • XX

Shortbread • XX • •


Bread isn’t called the ‘staff of life’ without just cause! It well deserves the soubriquet. However, although all bread is good for you there is no doubt that some sorts of bread are much better for you than others. For example, wholemeal bread contains more fibre than white bread (although even white bread contains protein and essential minerals and vitamins). If you eat fresh, good tasting bread then you are more likely to eat it without spreading it with substances (such as butter) which are likely to be bad for you!


Brown •• X ••

Naan •• X ••

Pitta •• X ••

White •• X ••

Wholemeal •• X •••



Most cakes, pastries and buns contain a good deal of fat and a lot of calories—and very little fibre, hardly any minerals and few vitamins! (There are one or two exceptions—some cakes contain some minerals, particularly calcium and iron, and a few types of cakes, cheesecake and sponge cake for example, contain vitamin A).


Cheesecake • • ••

Choc, cake • • •

Danish pastry • • •

Doughnut • • •

Fruit cake • • •

Ginger cake • • ••

Meringue • • •

Rock cake • • ••

Sponge cake • • ••


Although pre-packaged breakfast cereals are often promoted as being fall of nutrients they are often too fall of sugar to be really healthy. Check out the packet before you buy. The two healthiest cereals are probably porridge (made with bran rich oatmeal) and muesli. Bran is very rich in fibre but is probably too ‘rich’ for most people by itself. You can make your own muesli—to your own taste—and sweeten it with fresh or dried fruit.


Bran • X ••• • X

Cornflakes • X •• ••

Muesli •• XX •• ••

Porridge •• XX •• •• X


Cheeses often contain lots of vitamins and minerals but they are also often packed with calories and fat. Many people who have cut down their meat consumption so that they can eat a healthier diet end up eating huge amounts of fatty cheese!


Brie ••• XX • ••• XX

Camembert ••• XX • ••• XX

Cheddar ••• • •••

Cheshire ••• • •••

Cottage ••• X • ••• X

Cream • • ••

Edam ••• XX • ••• XX

Gruyere ••• • •••

Parmesan • • ••

Roquefort ••• • •••

Stilton ••• • •••


There is surprisingly little goodness in an egg. Eggs contain small amounts of protein and fat and a tiny quantity of iron (most of the goodness is in the yolk) but are rich in one potentially dangerous ingredient—cholesterol. You should be careful not to eat too many of them: three a week is probably a sensible maximum allowance in your balanced eating programme. One egg contains about 250 mg of cholesterol—half our average daily intake. Very few foods—apart from brains and fish roe— contain more. The real danger in eating eggs is that if you eat too many you could increase your chances of developing heart disease. If you don’t like eggs then don’t worry—they contain nothing you can’t get from other foods. And there is a risk of contracting salmonella if you eat eggs from infected chickens. Buy free range eggs rather than those laid by hens which spend their lives in tiny battery cages.


Fish is still an underused—but excellent—substitute for meat. Fish are rich in vitamins and contain relatively few saturated fats. Fish also contain useful nutrients such as phosphorus. Small fish which are normally eaten whole (such as whitebait and sardines) are a useful source of calcium. Oily fish such as mackerel, herrings, salmon and tuna fish contain essential fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin A and vitamin D. All fish contain the B vitamins (which is probably where they got their reputation as being a good ‘brain food’). White fish such as haddock, plaice, sole and cod are low in calories—though it is important to remember that firying can double the number of calories.

Many fish are surprisingly rich in iron. For example, the humble sardine contains as much iron as many meats and fried sprats contain more iron than steak! Shellfish such as cockles, mussels, whelks, prawns, crab and oysters all contain about the same amounts of protein and fat as white fish and have a roughly similar vitamin content. Oysters are a rich source of zinc (which is just as well, given their reputation as an aphrodisiac, since semen contains zinc).

Two warnings:

First, fish which have been ‘farmed’ (I.e. Grown in artificial circumstances) are sometimes given hormones to make them grow faster and antibiotics to help make sure that they don’t acquire infections—as well as chemicals to control infestations. If you eat fish, you are probably best advised to avoid ‘farmed’ fish if at all possible.

Second, fish ‘products’, often sold as convenience foods in some countries, tend to be high in saturated fat and may contain a wide variety of ingredients as well as fish.

Many people worry about being ‘poisoned’ by eating bad fish. In practice this is a relatively rare problem since fish that

Has gone off usually smells so badly that you probably wouldn’t eat it.


Cod •••

Crab •••

Herring •••

Kipper •••

Mackerel •••

Pilchards •••

Plaice •••

Prawns •••

Salmon •••

Trout •••

Tuna •••


X • •• X

X • ••• XX

XX • •••

XX • •••

XX • •••

XX • ••• XX

X • ••• XX

X • ••• XX

XX • •••

XX • •• XX

XX • •••


Tinned fruit tends to contain sugar and other additives. Try to buy—and eat—fresh fruit as often as you can. And beware: it is not unusual for restaurants to serve up tinned fruit and call it fresh fruit salad! Dried fruits make excellent snacks (much better for you than sweets).


Apple • X •• •• X

Apricot • X •• •• X

Avocado • •• ••

Banana • X •• ••• X

Blackberry • X ••• ••• X

Cherry • X •• •• X

Fig • X •• •• X

Grapefruit • X • ••• X

Grape • X • •• X

Lemon • X • ••• X

Mango • X •• •• X

Melon • X • ••• X

Orange • X • ••• X


Most grains are rich in vitamins and minerals and fibre. Some contain useful quantities of protein. All are low in fit. Grains are excellent foodstuffs and should make up an important part of your balanced diet.


Oat bran •• X ••• ••• XX

Oat meal •• X •• ••• XX

Rice (brown) */ X •• ••• XX

Rice (white) / X • •• XX

Wheat (whole) •• X ••• ••• XX

Wheat (white) • X •• •• XX


Most people seem to think that it is impossible to eat a decent diet without eating meat at least three times a week. Many feel deprived if they don’t eat meat every day! In fact most types of meat contain a great deal of fat and are, therefore, not particularly good for you at all. Modern farming methods, designed to increase the weight of animals by making them fatter, have added to the problem.


Bacon ••• • ••

Beef ••• • ••

Beefburger ••• • ••

Lamb ••• • ••


Pork ••• • ••

Sausage ••• • ••

Venison ••• • ••


Milk contains a fair amount of protein and good amounts of vitamins and minerals (especially calcium) but milk isn’t quite the perfect food we have often been led to believe.

One problem is that the type of milk we drink most of— cow’s milk—is a good deal richer in protein, fit and minerals than human milk. Indeed, cow’s milk contains a quite different protein to human milk. And, of course, human milk contains antibodies which are designed to provide a baby with protection against a wide range of different infections.

Drinking milk is a fairly recent Western habit which grew out of the commercialisation of firming and there is now a lot of evidence to show that milk drinking is responsible for many health problems among both children and adults. As many as three-quarters of allergies such as eczema, asthma and sinus disorders, and half of digestive problems in children, may be caused by drinking cow’s milk. (It is now also claimed that the irritable bowel syndrome may be caused by drinking too much milk or eating too many dairy products).

It has been claimed that the calcium in milk is good for women who are going through the menopause—the suggestion being that it might help strengthen their bones and protect them from osteoporosis. However, I don’t think that particular argument stands up at all. On the whole I think most of us would be healthier if we drank less milk.

The final big problem with milk is that it contains quite a lot of fat. You can get round this by drinking skimmed or semi skimmed versions.


The vast majority of people probably only ever think of nuts as snacks to be eaten at parties. However although most nuts contain a considerable amount of fat (and rather a lot of calories) many are fairly rich in protein and vitamins and minerals and can make an excellent and healthy addition to a salad or a breakfast cereal. (Technically peanuts should be listed with ‘pulses’ but since most people think of them as ‘nuts’ I have listed them here).


Almonds •• • •

Brazil nuts • • •• XX

Cashews •• • ••

Chestnuts • X • • XX

Coconut • • •

Hazelnuts •• • • (Filberts)

Peanuts •• • ••

Pecan nuts • • •

Walnuts • • •


There is much, much more to pasta than spaghetti! There are dozens of different types of pasta. The most important thing to remember is that wholemeal pasta contains more protein, more


Sometimes known as ‘white meat’ to differentiate it from ‘red meat* poultry usually contains less fat. Most of the fit on poultry is found just underneath the skin so if you avoid the skin and just eat the white meat itself then you will be reducing your fat intake considerably (your calorie intake will also be lower).


Chicken ••• XX • •• XX

Duck ••• • ••

Turkey ••• XX • •• XX


Most puddings are (of course!) Terribly rich in fat and calories. But there are exceptions! Look through this list to find the healthiest puddings!


Fruit pie • XX

Fruit salad • X

Ice cream •

My • X

Pancakes •• XX

Rice pudding • X

Trifle •

Yoghurt (nat) •• X

Yoghurt (flav) •• X

FIBRE VITS&MINS CALORIES • •• • •• X • •• • • X • •• XX • •• XX • •• • ••• X • ••• XX


Beans are probably the best known pulses. But other members of this group (also known as legumes) include peas and soya.


Broad beans •• X •• ••• X

Butter beans •• X •• ••• X

French beans • X •• ••• X

Runner beans • X •• ••• X

Lentils •• X •• ••• X

Soyabeans ••• X •• ••• X


Sesame seeds and sunflower seeds make nutritious snacks—and are excellent for adding to salads. They are, however, rich in fat content (and high in calories).


Sesame •• • ••

Sunflower •• • ••


Most vegetables are healthier—and tastier—if eaten raw. Cooking reduces the amount of vitamins and minerals present. Those trying to lose weight will no doubt notice that all vegetables are low in calories.


Artichoke •• X

Asparagus •• X

Bamboo shoots •• X

Beansprouts • X

Beetroot • X

Broccoli •• X

Brussels sprouts •• X

Cabbage •• X

FIBRE VITS&MINS CALORIES •• •• X •• •• X •• •• X • • X • •• X •• ••• X •• ••• X •• ••• X


Carrots • X ••• •• X

Cauliflower •• X •• ••• X

Celery • X • •• X

Corn on cob X • •• XX

Cucumber • X • • X

Kale •• XX •• ••• X

Leeks • X • ••• X

Lettuce •• X • • X

Mushrooms •• X • • X

Olives • • • XX

Onions • X • •• X

Parsley • X • •• X

Parsnips • X •• •• X

Potatoes • X •• •• XX

Radishes • X • • X

Spinach •• X •• ••• X

Tomatoes • X • • X

Turnips • X •• •• X

Watercress •• X • •• X