Arabic food groups
We’ve included further information about each food group below:
Fruit and vegetables
It’s recommended that we eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day which most of us are still not achieving.
Fruit, such as mangoes, pomegranate, cherries, figs and vegetables such as tomatoes, bell peppers, mushroom and onions, should make up at least a third to a half of what we eat every day and you can choose from fresh, frozen, tinned and dried.
Try to limit your intake of dates, fuit smoothies and fruit juices to 150 ml per day as they are usually high in sugar and don’t contain as much fibre.
Fruit and vegetables are a great source of essential vitamins, minerals and fibre which are all needed to keep our bodies healthy.
Carbohydrates are foods that break down to sugar in the body. These may be sweet foods like baklawa, kunafa, zalabia, halwa, dates, sugared breakfast cereals, honey, and concentrated fruit juices, or starchy foods like flatbreads, pitta, khubz, rice and french fries.
Sweet (refined) carbohydrate foods should be limited as they can cause blood glucose levels to rise quickly. These types of carbohydrates are classified as having a high glycaemic index.
Starchy carbohydrates (like bulgar, pitta, khubz, spaghetti) may be taken in moderation and can make up about a quarter of our plate along with plenty of vegetables and protein foods such as chicken, fish or beans.
Some people have found reducing their starchy carbohydrate intake below these levels helps them lose weight, and gives better control of their blood glucose levels if they have diabetes.
There are better choices that you can make with starchy foods that raise blood glucose levels much slower. Wholegrain varieties have a much lower glycaemic index so choose these when possible as they provide the most nutrients and higher levels of fibre.
Bhajra (millet) roti is a good source of fibre as is besan (gram flour). You can also mix soya flour with your regular chapatti atta to boost fibre and protein.
Dairy includes things like milk, laban, and cheese and you should aim to eat 2 – 3 portions of dairy a day.
Dairy products are a great source of calcium which is really important to keep your bones strong, protein, which is important to build and repair muscles, and vitamins.
Dairy products can sometimes be high in fat and sugar so check the labels and choose low-fat and low sugar varieties.
Beans, meat, fish, eggs, pulses and other proteins:
We should aim to eat 2–3 portions a day and 2 portions of fish, 1 of which is oily fish, per week.
All of these foods are good sources of protein, which is important for the body to grow and repair itself. They also contain vitamins and minerals including iron, zinc and B vitamins.
Red meat is a great source of these nutrients, but it is important to consume these in moderation. The current recommendation is to eat no more than 3 portions a week.
Try to choose lean cuts of meat and cut off any visible fat. Limit the amount of red and processed meat as these tend to be higher in saturated fat.
Pulses such as beans, lentils and peas (creating foods such as hummus and tahini) are good alternatives to meat as they are great sources of protein and fibre and are lower in saturated fat.
Oily fish contains omega 3 fatty acids which are essential fatty acids that cannot be made by the body in sufficient amounts. They can lower triglycerides (a type of 'bad' fat found in the blood) and help protect against heart disease.
Examples of oily fish include fresh tuna, salmon and sardines.
Oils and spreads:
We do need some fat in our diets but this should come from unsaturated fats such as sunflower, rapeseed and olive oils and spreads made from these oils.
Try to use healthier cooking oils made from plants or seeds like rapeseed, olive and sunflower oils rather than palm oil or coconut oil which are rich in saturated fat.
Too much fat in our diets, particularly saturated fats raises our cholesterol levels which increases the risk of developing heart disease and stroke.
All types of oils and fats are high in energy (calories) which leads to weight gain, so only use small amounts. Whenever possible, air-fry, steam, grill, bake instead of frying. You can also consider air-frying your food, this is where you simply use heat to fry food instead of oil.
Foods high in fat, sugar and salt:
As part of a healthy diet, we don’t need any foods that are high in saturated fat, sugar and salt.
Salt can raise blood pressure, so avoid adding salt to food and when cooking, use low salt stock cubes rather than ready made. Takeaway and processed foods are also generally high in salt.
High fat/ sugar/ salt foods such as fried kibbeh, samosas and falafels will damage our health and increase the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer and stroke.
Obvious examples of these types of foods are cakes, biscuits, crisps, pastries, french fries, ice cream and fizzy drinks. We should only eat these occasionally and in small amounts, as they are high in calories, saturated fat, sugar and salt, which over time can seriously affect our health.
Takeaways are also high in saturated fat and salt and sometimes have added sugar. Avoid buying these and highly processed foods such as french fries, nuggets and pizza as they have little nutritive value.
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