Energy is needed for your body to function – from the most basic activities in your cells, to keeping your heart pumping blood around your body. So whether you’re fast asleep or running the marathon, you need energy.
Energy is measured in calories - usually called ‘kcal’ on food labels - or kilojoules (kj).
Energy takes into account your overall intake of carbohydrates (including sugar), protein, fat and alcohol. Each of these provides a different amount of calories (kcal) per gram:
Carbohydrate: 4 kcal per gram
Protein: 4 kcal per gram
Fat: 9 kcal per gram
Alcohol: 7 kcal per gram
The daily recommended amount (known as the ‘reference intake’ or ‘RI’) of energy for men is 2500 kcal and for women it's 2000 kcal. Children have different energy requirements specific to their age.
At different times of life and in different circumstances, you'll need different amounts of energy. This is especially important if you're trying to manage your weight. If you are at all concerned about a new diet you are about to start, speak to your GP.
It’s essential to have a small amount of fat in the diet (up to 30% of the calories we eat should come from fat), for our cells to function, for essential fatty acids that the body can't make and to absorb some vitamins.
However, we should eat fat-containing foods in moderation as fat contains high amounts of energy which is stored if it's not used up, leading to weight gain and the potential health problems which can be linked to being overweight.
The reference intake (RI) for fat if you’re a man is 95g and for women it’s 70g. Children have different fat requirements specific to their age.
Fat can be separated into two broad types - saturated and unsaturated (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated). Most of us need to reduce our saturated fat intake.
Saturated fat in the diet can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which in turn can increase the risk of developing heart disease.
Saturated fats are usually found in foods from animal sources, such as the fat found in butter, cheese, milk, yoghurt and meat, and in foods containing these ingredients, such as pastries, biscuits, pies and confectionery.
The reference intake (RI) for saturated fat if you’re a man is 30g and for women it’s 20g. Children have different saturated fat requirements specific to their age.
Dietary surveys show that most of us need to reduce the amount of saturated fat we eat. Try to replace foods containing saturated fat with foods containing monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. These are usually found in plant foods such as seeds, nuts, vegetable oils and fish.
Unsaturated fats including Omega 3
Most of us would benefit from cutting our saturated fat intake and switching instead to foods containing unsaturated fats, to help maintain or lower cholesterol levels (high cholesterol levels are a risk factor for heart disease).
Monounsaturated fats can be found in foods such as olive oil, olives, avocados, nuts and seeds.
Omega 3 is a polyunsaturated fat, found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines. It’s an essential fatty acid, which means the body can’t make it so we have to consume it in our food. Most people don’t eat enough fish – it’s recommended that we eat two portions a week, one of which should be oily.
There is a plant source of omega 3 as well, which is found in some nuts and seeds – however, it’s thought that this may not be as beneficial as the omega 3 found in fish.
It’s recommended that adults consume no more than 6 grams of salt per day (around one teaspoon) and that children consume much less, according to their age. Cutting salt intake helps keep blood pressure normal.
Morrisons has signed up to the Government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal, which means we are reducing salt in all of our own brand products.
Keep an eye on your salt intake by checking the colour coded nutrition labelling on the front of our packaging when buying prepared foods, and watch how much you add during cooking – instead of salt, try a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, or season with herbs and spices.
Sugars occur naturally in all sorts of foods, like fruit and vegetables and milk, and they're also added to processed foods. Sugar is added not just for taste, but also to help keep food fresh for longer, give crispness and texture and help baked goods turn golden brown during cooking.
There are several different types of sugar but the most useful is glucose (a single sugar ‘unit') because this is used to fuel your body.
Starchy foods (also called ‘carbohydrates’) are made up of chains of sugar units and, as they're digested, the chains are broken and the single sugar units (glucose) are released into the bloodstream. It's then used to fuel your brain, red blood cells, muscles and every individual cell.
As the glucose enters the bloodstream your blood glucose (or ‘blood sugar') level rises. Foods which contain carbohydrate have a greater effect on your blood sugar levels than fatty foods or protein-rich foods. Those high in sugar have the greatest effect, while starchy foods (particularly wholegrains) tend to be digested more slowly. Extreme highs and lows of blood glucose are bad for your health.
Sugar not used as energy is converted to fat so the body can store it.
The reference intake (RI) for sugar if you’re a man is 120g and for women it’s 90g. Children have different sugar requirements specific to their age.
It’s important to bear in mind that the reference intake is for total sugar – which includes sugar that’s been added to food by the manufacturer or by you, as well as naturally occurring sugar such as that in fruit and milk.
The naturally occurring sugar found in fruit, vegetables and milk is not considered to be harmful to health, as it’s wrapped up inside good nutritious food!
It’s recommended that we reduce the amount of sugar we add to foods and cut down on foods and drinks that are high in sugar added by the manufacturer. Although the nutrition table on packaging can only tell you the total amount of sugar, you can look at the ingredients list. If sugar is high up the list then it may well be high in added sugar.
Sugar is used in processed foods in many forms, so may be called something else in the ingredients – look out for common alternatives:
- - dextrose
- - glucose
- - honey
- - maple syrup
- - agave syrup
- - invert sugar
- - maltose
- - sucrose
- - concentrated fruit juice
Carbohydrates and fibre
Starchy foods (also known as carbohydrates) are staples in diets all over the world, and make up an important part of every meal. Bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, breakfast cereals, couscous, plantain, cassava and maize are all starchy foods.
Fibre is a type of carbohydrate, found only in food that comes from plants (so there's none in meat, fish or dairy products). Most of us need to eat more fibre for good health.
Fibre-rich foods include wholegrain bread, brown rice, wholegrain breakfast cereals and fruit and vegetables as well as oats, beans and pulses.
Making some simple changes can have a big impact on your fibre intake:
- - White bread > wholemeal or rye bread
- - Sugary breakfast cereal > wholewheat biscuits or porridge topped with dried fruit
- - Bag of crisps > small handful of plain nuts, such as almonds
- - Chips > baked wedges with the skin on
- - Meat-based casseroles or curries > lentil- or chickpea-based casseroles or curries
- - White pasta > wholewheat pasta