This article provides information about the health benefits of a variety of foods, in several categories: vegetables and fruit; nuts and seeds; food made with or consisting of grains, such as pasta, rice and bread; the dairy products cheese and milk; oily fish; and confectionery. People are advised to eat some foods from each of those categories for a healthy diet, except confectionery, naturally, since eating that may give a nice feel-good sensation, but most of it's calories without significant nutritional value. (So it's naturally best to eat it as a treat now and again, rather than to have it as a significant part of the diet.)
Some healthy foods that seem boring might appear much more enticing when their health benefits are known.
At the end of the article, there's a section on ways of making healthy food more appealing to children.
Broccoli contains quite a lot of vitamin C, a fair bit more than an orange, which is itself known to have quite a bit. In fact, a handful of broccoli florets that amount to about 3 and a half ounces contain over half a person's daily requirement of vitamin C.
Broccoli also contains some beta carotene which the body converts to vitamin A. It also has some folate, potassium and iron, which are all extremely valuable. The darker its colour, the more vitamin C and beta carotene it contains.
Broccoli also contains chemicals that could protect against cancer. Some are called indols and one's called sulforaphane, and they help protect the body's DNA against damage from chemicals that increase the risk of some cancers. They may do that best in combination with other healthy foods though, so it's best to eat a variety of vegetables.
Studies have found that populations with diets high in fruit and vegetables have a lower risk of cancer.
It's better to microwave, lightly steam or stir-fry broccoli, or to eat it raw, than to boil it. It loses more vitamins when it's boiled than with the other methods. Eating it raw is best though.
Cabbage contains a lot of vitamin C as well. The green varieties are an especially good source of it, as well as being rich in vitamin K. They also contain a fair amount of vitamin E and potassium. Cabbage also contains thiamin which is vitamin B1, as well as beta carotene, fibre and folate. Most of the nutrients are in the dark outer leaves.
Cabbage could help protect against cancer of the colon if eaten often. Research has found that it contains a number of compounds that inhibit the growth of precancerous polyps in the colon.
It might also help prevent cancer of the breast and ovary, by preventing excess oestrogen build-up in the body.
Eating lots and lots at once could contribute to iron deficiency though.
It's best eaten raw, since it loses over half its vitamin C content when it's boiled. Microwaving it's quite a bit better than boiling it though.
Cucumber is mainly water and hasn't got as many nutrients as some vegetables, but the high water content makes it very low in calories, so someone losing weight can nibble on lots of it throughout the day and not worry about putting on weight.
There are some very useful nutrients in it though. It contains several substances that can protect against heart disease and several types of cancer. One set of substances called cucurbitacins are thought to help block several methods by which cancer forms. Besides those, it contains antioxidants such as beta carotene, vitamin C and manganese, which help neutralise free radicals; and it also contains substances with anti-inflammatory effects.
Carrots are high in beta carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. It can help prevent some cancers and protect against damage by free radicals. Vitamin A prevents a form of night blindness and can increase good night vision. Just one carrot a day can be enough. It's possible that a combination of beta carotene and vitamin C can also help prevent cataracts. Both of those things are also found in cantaloupe melon.
There are several chemicals found in vegetables that are thought to stimulate enzymes in the liver to stop some potentially carcinogenic chemicals causing harm, or help flush them from the body, so reducing the risk of cancer. Carrots, as well as green peppers and tomatoes, contain a substance called coumaric acid and similar substances, which seem to help prevent chemicals called nitrosamines forming in the gut which can be carcinogenic. Nitrosamines can form after certain other foods are eaten, such as some kinds of meat. Processed tomato products such as tomato soup and ketchup also contain the chemicals that help stop them.
While it's much better to eat most vegetables raw, it can be better to eat carrots lightly cooked, since they've got tough cell walls that prevent the body absorbing a lot of the beta carotene from them when they're raw, but the cell membranes are broken down when they're cooked, so the body absorbs more, especially if a food containing some fat's eaten with the meal, since the vitamin dissolves in fat. It's best not to cook them for that long though, since vitamin C is lost because it dissolves in the water the carrots are being cooked in.
It's best to peel carrots and cut the tops and bottoms off, because the peel can contain dangerous levels of pesticides. Nearly all's eliminated by peeling them and topping and tailing them.
Cauliflower is rich in vitamin C, among other nutrients, and may help to protect against cancer, particularly cancer of the colon. It contains the same cancer-fighting compounds as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and radishes.
Brussels Sprouts could help reduce the risk of cancer of the colon and stomach. They're a good source of folate, and indoles which may help prevent certain kinds of cancer, and they're a useful source of fibre.
Brussels Sprouts also contain a lot of vitamin C, and also a lot of beta carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A.
Brussels sprouts are at their best when they're small and have tightly-packed leaves, and are bright green, with no patches of yellow. They keep best in the fridge if they've had their outer leaves and removed but they haven't been rinsed yet.
Onions could help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. They're most effective for that if they're raw, and carefully peeled, since many of the nutrients are in the very outer layers. Cooking them for any longer than a few minutes begins to destroy nutrients. Cooking them does take the heat out of them though, so cooking them for a little while can make them more bearable to eat.
It's also been claimed that onions contain a substance that protects against the harmful effects of fatty foods on the blood.
Onions can help prevent bacterial infection. Freshly-cut raw onion has been found to be especially useful in helping to fight bacteria involved in infections of the teeth and gums.
It's thought onions can help reduce the risk of blood clotting, which can be useful if someone's in danger of getting something like deep vein thrombosis, strokes, heart disease or another illness where the risks of blood clotting in parts of the body where it could do harm are increased by problems with the circulation.
Onions might also reduce the risk of cancer. It's thought the sulphurous compounds in them help prevent the formation of tumour cells.
Onions could be incorporated into the diet in various ways, including being mixed with rice and other chopped vegetables, perhaps with something for a bit of added flavouring.
Unfortunately, onions can trigger off migraines in people whose bodies have an intolerance of certain substances.
Garlic has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. If eaten every day, it's also good for the heart; it can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol. The daily recommended dose of garlic is a couple of cloves, which is about four grams. In Germany, garlic has even been used to make a drug that lowers cholesterol.
Naturally, people shouldn't entirely rely on foods to prevent or combat health problems. If anyone has anything serious wrong with them, medical advice should always be sought. But food can play a part in a return to health.
It's best not to cook garlic much, since cooking might destroy some of its goodness. Again though, cooking it a bit does take the heat out of it, so it's easier to eat.
For anyone with a cold who can tolerate eating garlic raw, it can be a nasal decongestant.
There are people who have to be careful though, because it can trigger off migraines or allergies in susceptible people, and handling it a lot can irritate the skin and cause contact dermatitis in some people. For most people it doesn't cause a problem though.
Radishes are a worthwhile source of vitamin C, which is needed in the production of collagen, which the body needs to maintain healthy skin, bones, gums, teeth and cartilage. Vitamin C also helps the body heal wounds and burns. And it helps the body absorb the amount of iron it needs.
Radishes contain the same sulphurous chemicals that could well protect against some kinds of cancers as cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and broccoli do. They're in the same family of vegetables.
They're low in fat and calories, so like most other vegetables and fruits, they can be a good option if losing weight.
It's best to eat them in moderation though, just as it's best to eat all foods in moderation. Anyone with an underactive thyroid needs to be a bit careful, because eating a lot can dull thyroid function more. It's the same with vegetables in the same family like cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Cooking them for a little while stops them doing that though, since heat destroys the chemicals that do that.
Lettuce and salad leaves contain quite a lot of nutrients including vitamin C, folate, beta carotene, calcium and iron.
The folate content in lettuce is especially good for women in the first stages of pregnancy, because folate prevents birth defects in the child like spina bifida. Iceberg lettuce has an especially high level of folate.
The amount of nutrients in lettuce varies though, according to which variety of lettuce it is, how fresh it is, the time of year it's grown, and whether it's the outer or inner leaves being eaten; the darker outer ones contain more beta carotene.
Lettuce and salad leaves are very low in calories, since they're over 90 % water.
Lettuce and salad leaves can be great for a weight loss diet, except if they're coated in salad dressings which are often fatty, like mayonnaise. It can be nice to eat them without dressing in any case, because some have a nice flavour. Lettuce has different flavours depending on the species. It could be worth trying out different ones.
One problem with lettuce is that some can be high in nitrates, which mix with a chemical in the stomach to form chemicals called nitrosamines which can increase the risk of cancer. But eating vitamin C in the same meal is believed to counteract the effects. Still, it's probably wisest to eat lettuce in moderation, though there are laws about how lettuce can only be sold if the amount of nitrates in it are below certain recommended safety levels.
Peas are rich in vitamin C, and also contain folate, phosphorous and fibre, as well as thiamin.
Fresh uncooked peas have got the most nutrients, since frozen ones are blanched before being frozen so they lose a bit of their vitamin C, and canned ones lose some of their vitamin C and can contain added salt and sugar.
Broad beans are high in fibre and contain some iron, some beta carotene which the body converts to vitamin A, some vitamin C, vitamin E, and niacin, which is vitamin B3. They also contain quite a bit of phosphorous, which, among other things, helps to maintain healthy bones and teeth. Their high soluble fibre content can apparently help lower cholesterol levels.
While protein in its most complete form is just found in animal products, some vegetables contain some of the building blocks of protein, and eating certain combinations of them provides all the building blocks necessary to make complete protein. If broad beans are eaten with rice or pasta, the combination of incomplete proteins in each of them makes up complete protein. It's similar with things like lentils, beans and chick peas - eaten with rice or pasta, the combination creates complete protein.
It also helps make enzymes that enable us to digest food, antibodies that help the body fight off infection, and hormones that keep the body working efficiently.
Too much protein in the diet isn't good though, because it can put a strain on the liver and kidneys, and can cause the body to excrete more minerals than it should, such as calcium, which it ought to be using to keep itself healthy. Also, high-protein foods often contain a lot of fat and calories.
Though broad beans are a healthy food for most people, they can contribute to problems for some people: They can react with certain old types of antidepressant drugs called MAOIs to cause high blood pressure. There is also an inherited condition called favism that means affected people can get anaemia and other complications after eating some beans. It mostly affects some men from around the Mediterranean.
Celery might help to lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure. It's been claimed it can also help to relieve joint pain caused by arthritis and gout, because it has anti-inflammatory properties, though how much one would have to eat to get a pain-relieving effect from it is uncertain. It's low in calories and rich in potassium, which helps maintain a healthy level of blood pressure, as long as salt isn't added to the celery. There's also another substance in celery that scientists believe lowers blood pressure, as well as being a mild sedative.
Celery also helps the kidneys function efficiently so as to get rid of bodily waste in a timely manner.
Unfortunately, it's best to only eat it in moderation, since some can contain nitrates, which interact with other things in the gut to become carcinogenic, though some scientists think there are other things in celery that counteract the effects.
Not all celery will have the same amount of nitrates; the amount picked up by vegetables varies according to several things such as the kind of plant, the type of soil it was grown in, the kind of fertilisers used and the light intensity. Estimates of the amount people eat have been done and it's thought the amount is generally within safe limits. But still, it's best not to eat celery, spinach and lettuce in large amounts over a long period of time, but only in moderation. Steaming or lightly boiling such things does reduce the amount of nitrates in them though.
Sweet or bell peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C, which is necessary for keeping skin, ligaments and bones healthy, among other things. Weight for weight, green peppers contain twice as much as oranges, and red peppers contain three times as much.
Peppers also contain bioflavonoids, and have worthwhile amounts of beta carotene. Red peppers are an especially good source of it. Both bioflavonoids and beta carotene are thought to fight free radicals which can harm healthy cells. When free radicals are put out of action, it can help protect against the kinds of cancer they could contribute to causing otherwise.
Red peppers are also a good source of lycopene, another carotenoid that combats free radicals, which is also found in tomatoes and water melon.
Peppers can make a nice addition to salad.
It's possible peppers could be an eczema trigger for some people though, so anyone with eczema who eats a lot of them might want to think about experimenting with excluding them from their diet for a while to see if it goes away.
Apples contain quite a bit of vitamin C, which helps keep the immune system in good working order, among other things. Some varieties are better than others for that.
Some people recommend them to treat constipation. I once heard about someone with chronic constipation who complained of the pain he felt when he tried to go. Then someone recommended he eat an apple every morning before breakfast. If I remember the end of the story correctly, it solved the problem. That doesn't mean it would solve the problem for everyone, but it might sometimes be worth a try. Increasing intake of fruit and vegetables in general cures most constipation though, although it might be a few weeks before significant effects are felt.
Apples are also low in calories.
Fruit in general is low in calories, but also sweet and full of nutrients. It's a good source of vitamin C and fibre. It contains antioxidants that can help protect against diseases that are more likely to come on as people age like heart disease and cancer. Canned fruit's OK, but it's got less vitamin C than fresh fruit, and tends to be in fattening syrup. So fresh is best.
Pears are a useful source of vitamin C, fibre and potassium. Along with several other fruits, they contain pectin, which is a form of fibre and aids digestion. They're good to eat for a quick energy boost, since they're high in natural sugar.
Pears are one of the foods least likely to cause allergies in people, so they're a good thing for most people to eat when they're on exclusion diets to find out what foods are causing them allergy problems.
Dried pears, though less of a slimming food because a lot more will likely be eaten and more calories gained, will give a good energy boost. They're also rich in potassium and contain a worthwhile amount of iron and fibre.
Peaches are a very good source of vitamin C. If eaten unpeeled, an average-sized one provides more than three quarters of the recommended daily amount of it people should eat.
They also contain potassium and iron.
They're a good snack for people trying to lose weight, because fresh peaches are low in calories, like most other fruit and vegetables.
They're not so good canned though, because they lose a lot of their vitamin C content, and the syrup they're covered with increases their calories quite a lot.
Peaches are easily digestible, and a gentle laxative, so they can help prevent constipation.
Cherries contain a lot of potassium, which helps to stabilise the heartbeat and keep the skin healthy. They also contain useful amounts of vitamin C.
They might help to prevent gout, since they lower levels of uric acid which causes it; but quite a lot have to be eaten before that happens, about eight ounces a day, fresh or canned.
They also have a mild laxative effect so they can help relieve constipation.
Oranges are an excellent source of vitamin C. Just one medium-sized fruit contains more than the adult daily requirement. Vitamin C helps to make collagen, which is very important in keeping the skin healthy. It also helps fight infection, and is an antioxidant, so it helps fight harmful free radicals in the body that increase the risk of cancer if left to flow around the body unchecked.
Oranges also contain the B vitamins folate and thiamin.
Oranges also contain pectin, which may help to lower cholesterol levels if eaten in fairly large amounts. It's in the membranes between the segments, so it's better to eat the whole fruit rather than just drinking the juice, though that's still very nutritious. Pectin's a kind of soluble fibre that helps with digestion and is found in most fruits, especially apples, lemons and redcurrants.
The membranes between segments also contain bioflavonoids which are antioxidants, so they help fight harmful free radicals, just as vitamin C does.
It's best not to eat orange peel, or at least to wash it thoroughly if using it for marmalade or something, because that tends to be sprayed with fungicides to prevent damage. If any fruit at all has mouldy patches or spots on it, it's best not to eat it, because it could contain carcinogens. It's best to be especially aware of that problem if buying organic fruit, since it isn't protected from mould infestation by pesticides.
Other fruits besides oranges do contain pesticides, to keep them free from damage by pests and diseases, but they don't contain much; the health benefits of eating them far outweigh the risks. Recommended safe levels of pesticides are set by laws, so suppliers have to keep within them.
Oranges do unfortunately cause migraines in people who are susceptible to them, and some people are also allergic to citrus fruit and break out in a rash after eating them. For most people, they're a good health food though.
Dates have useful amounts of vitamin C, and dried ones, where the nutrients are more concentrated, are a very good source of potassium. They also contain other nutrients, such as copper, iron, magnesium and niacin.
Dates are a gentle laxative.
They make a healthy substitute for confectionery since they're so sweet; they taste very similar to sweets but have all these extra health benefits. The problem is they're high in calories because of their sugar content, and the sugars in them can cause tooth decay just as the ones in confectionery can, so care has to be taken over cleaning teeth regularly, although that's the case anyway.
Also, there are people with an intolerance to a substance in dates who get migraines after eating them. But they're only a small minority.
Dates do provide a good quick energy boost because of the carbohydrates in them.
Dried Fruit in general contains a good amount of vitamins and minerals, including a worthwhile amount of iron, and a lot of potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure, and works with sodium to help regulate the body's fluid balance.
One of the best things about fruit, and particularly dried fruit, is that it's a good source of fibre.
Dried fruit is also good for a quick energy boost, since it's high in sugar and calories. Unfortunately, that means it's best eaten in moderation by slimmers.
It's best not to eat it covered with some kind of confectionery, since even yoghurt-covered raisins are a lot higher in calories than raisins on their own; in fact they're even higher in calories than raisins covered in chocolate!
Because of the high sugar content of some dried fruit, it's ideally best to clean the teeth after eating them.
Nuts are a great source of vitamin E. And they're a useful source of the B vitamins thiamin and niacin. They also contain some nourishing minerals, including zinc, and help to make up protein.
Nuts are also one of the best sources of vitamin E, but both Vitamin E and thiamin are destroyed if nuts are roasted.
Walnuts could help reduce the risk of heart disease. If they're eaten as a replacement for biscuits, cakes and other things containing saturated fat, it's believed they can help lower cholesterol.
Walnuts, peanuts and hazelnuts are an especially good source of essential fatty acids that are vital for normal tissue growth and development.
Nuts are especially useful for vegetarians, because they can supply a lot of the nutrients most people get from animal products: most of the B vitamins, phosphorus, iron, copper, potassium and protein. The protein isn't as good as animal protein though, because it only contains some of the amino acids that make it up. But combining it with other foods that contain the other ones makes for something as good as the protein from meat. Eating nuts in a diet that also contains bread, grains and pulses, especially soya beans and lentils, means the body will have all the amino acids it needs to make its own protein.
Unfortunately, nuts are high in calories, healthy though they are. Except for chestnuts, they do contain a lot of fat, though it is the most healthy kind, not saturated fat.
Unfortunately, nuts, especially peanuts, can sometimes get moulds on them that increase the risk of cancer if eaten. It's best not to eat peanuts sold as bird food, because they aren't as strictly quality-controlled as nuts meant for human consumption. Nuts also shouldn't be given to little children unless they're finely ground, because they can be a choking hazard, since some little children don't chew their food well before swallowing it. And some people have severe allergies to peanuts.
It's best to store nuts somewhere cool and dry to minimise the risk of harmful moulds growing on them.
Seeds contain zinc, especially pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin seeds are also an extremely good source of iron and phosphorous, and contain a lot of potassium, magnesium, and especially useful amounts of zinc.
Most seeds contain good amounts of all the B vitamins except vitamin B12. They're also a good source of vitamin E.
Seeds contain a good amount of some of the amino acids that make up protein.
Seeds are a good source of fibre, so they can help keep the bowels regular, which means harmful substances derived from old food don't build up in them for too long.
Sunflower seeds are a good source of linoleneic acid, which helps to maintain cell membranes in good working order.
Unfortunately, seeds are high in calories. They have a high fat content. Still, the fat in them is unsaturated, so it's healthier than saturated fat.
Raw seeds tend to contain toxins as part of the survival mechanism of the plants they come from; they're there to stop animals eating them. Seeds should be cooked to kill the toxins, which can otherwise make protein hard to digest and may cause vomiting and diarrhoea. Most seeds that are sold for eating are cooked already.
Salted seeds aren't as healthy, because too much salt can contribute to high blood pressure.
Lentils come in different colours. Green and brown ones contain a good amount of selenium, and useful amounts of iron and manganese, and also contain vitamin B6, thiamin, folate, zinc and phosphorous.
Lentils, along with other pulses - beans, chick peas and the like, are a good source of some of the amino acids that make up protein, and fibre. They're a decent source of some of the B vitamins and minerals, and low in fat.
They can help control blood sugar levels if eaten as a substitute for refined carbohydrates like pies, because the starch in them is digested and turned into glucose by the body slowly, so the body doesn't get a blood sugar rush all at once like it does when foods it quickly breaks down and gets a lot of glucose from at once are eaten, like confectionery and junk food, but instead it provides a steady stream of energy, rather than a quick one that soon fades, which is what happens with junk foods. That makes them a good food for people with diabetes.
They also help lower cholesterol.
They can be flung in with rice to be cooked with it. When they're combined with rice and vegetables, the combination has all the amino acids to make up a protein as good as the protein got from meat, which is useful because of the important things it does like helping the muscles and tissues stay healthy.
Lentils and other pulses contain both insoluble and soluble fibre. Insoluble fibre helps keep the bowels regular so it can safeguard against constipation, and also give some protection against bowel cancer that's more likely to be triggered if old food waste often hangs around the bowel for some time. Soluble fibre helps lower cholesterol levels, so it could protect against problems like heart disease and strokes.
Brown rice contains B vitamins, and calcium and phosphorous. It contains a lot more nutrients than white rice.
It contains some of the amino acids the body makes protein with.
It is best to eat brown rice in moderation though, because eating lots over time stops the body absorbing iron and calcium so efficiently.
Wholewheat Pasta is good for people because it's a complex carbohydrate that provides energy. In fact, the body uses it to make energy it stores for when it's needed. Some athletes going on endurance races eat pasta beforehand to boost their energy.
Pasta's much healthier to eat than fried or fatty food, and can be the base for a meal made with things that are good for you, not fattening, and yet taste very nice. A bit of garlic gives pasta a delicate garlic flavour, as nice as garlic bread, or nearly. Different herbs sprinkled in it can give it some nice flavours. It doesn't take long to cook, especially in the microwave, so it can be the base for a meal that's both healthy and quick to prepare.
Wholewheat pasta's better than white pasta, though slightly higher in calories. White pasta's still quite good though, providing some fibre that helps to keep the digestive tract healthy. Wholewheat pasta's a better source of fibre though, and also a decent source of the B vitamin thiamin, which helps the body convert the carbohydrates in it into energy. It also contains some zinc.
Pasta doesn't in itself contain a lot of calories. Only when it's smothered in sauces or put with other foods with a lot of calories like cheese sauce or grated cheese does it become a fattening meal.
Wholemeal bread contains some B vitamins, and some calcium and iron and protein. It's high in fibre, so that aids digestion. The World Health Organisation reported that it may even help to lower cholesterol, and help to manage diabetes because it's got a high content of complex carbohydrates, which break down slowly so there isn't a rush of sugar into the system like there is with things like chocolate.
Bread isn't fattening in itself; it's the things spread on it that can be.
One problem with it though is that shop-bought bread tends to have a high salt content, which could raise blood pressure over time.
Fish are a great source of protein, and most are a very good source of vitamin D, which is necessary for the good functioning of the nervous system. They also contain iodine, which the thyroid gland needs to function properly.
The fats in oily fish are thought to have some good health-giving properties. In fact, eating oily fish like sardines at least a couple of times a week could protect against diseases like heart disease and strokes.
They could also help prevent circulatory problems. Most experts believe it's the omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish that help protect against heart and circulation problems, which means they could help prevent thrombosis, and also improve the flow of blood through small blood vessels.
Oily fish like sardines are believed to have anti-inflammatory properties because of the fatty acids in them and vitamin D, so if part of the body is swollen because it's inflamed, oily fish or fish oil supplements may help a bit. They could also help relieve some arthritis a bit. It's thought they can also help a bit with conditions like psoriasis and eczema, either because of the omega-3 fatty acids or the large amounts of vitamin D in oily fish.
Scientists have also found that omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the healthy development of the brain and eyes. So it's especially useful for mothers-to-be to include fish like sardines in their diet.
It can be most convenient to buy canned oily fish like sardines; fish bought fresh needs to be eaten quickly or it spoils and can cause food poisoning. It also needs to be cooked, since raw fish can be a health hazard. One useful thing about canned fish is that it can be bought with all the bones removed. But canned tuna has a lot of the omega-3 oil removed.
Sardines are a decent source of protein, iron, zinc, and several other nutrients.
Unfortunately though, fish is vulnerable to being contaminated by chemicals in the sea or fresh water where it lives. Fish sold commercially is monitored for pollutants that could damage human health. Fish from certain waters are more at risk than others.
Cheese contains vitamin A. It also contains vitamin B12, making it particularly useful for vegetarians who don't get that from meat and fish where most of it's found.
Cheese is also a good source of protein, and also calcium, which can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Eating a lot in childhood and the teens can help prevent problems later. Calcium in cheese and other dairy products is absorbed by the body much more easily than calcium in other foods.
Mature cheese is even said to help fight tooth decay caused by eating sugary foods. Some scientists think it works by preventing the formation of acid that attacks the tooth enamel, and say chewing a little bit of cheese after each meal might even reduce the number of cavities teeth get. It isn't necessary to swallow it.
Cheese does need to be eaten only in moderation though, because it's very high in saturated fat and calories, at least a lot of cheeses are. Saturated fat increases cholesterol levels, and that contributes over time to the clogging of the arteries which has a lot to do with heart disease and strokes. Just over a third of Cheddar cheese consists of saturated fat, while cottage cheese contains very little. Most cheeses are somewhere in between, almost all towards the higher end.
Cheese causes an allergic reaction in a small minority of people who have a sensitivity to it; in fact, people who get it will usually be allergic or intolerant to all dairy products. It can contribute to a number of problems, such as eczema, ear infections and migraines, and even hyperactivity and irritability.
Milk's a good source of protein. It also contains several B vitamins, zinc and phosphorous. It contains a bit of iodine. And it's an extremely good source of calcium.
The calcium in milk is easily absorbed by the body, which is especially good, because some foods contain quite a bit of a certain mineral but it's not in a form that's easily absorbed by the body, so the food's best eaten with another food that contains something that helps the body absorb it. For instance, iron's found in some foods derived from plants, but it's not as easily absorbed as the iron found in meat, if only those plant foods are eaten and they don't contain much vitamin C. But something else containing vitamin C eaten at a similar time will help the body absorb the iron.
It's possible to get most of the nutrients found in milk from other foods, but milk is especially useful for its calcium. Calcium is essential for keeping the bones strong, and forms part of the structure of the teeth. People need quite a lot. Breast-feeding mothers especially need a lot; it's worth them drinking over a pint of milk a day. Teenagers also need a lot, because their bones are still being formed. Drinking a lot of milk in childhood and the teens will strengthen their bones and could mean they have less chance of getting osteoporosis in later life.
Though milk's very nourishing, full fat milk should be drunk in moderation because its fat content is so high. Skimmed milk only contains half the calories of full fat milk, and yet it still has most of the nutrients. In fact, pint for pint, it has more, because the space no longer being taken up with fat is taken up with more skimmed milk and thus more of the nutrients in it. The only nutrient there's less of in skimmed milk is vitamin A, because it's stored in fat. So doctors recommend that children under five have full fat milk to get all the vitamin A.
One thing that means milk isn't ideal for everyone is that some people are intolerant to a sugar in it, lactose. Also, people shouldn't drink it unpasteurised, because the risk of food poisoning is quite high, because it hasn't been boiled to kill the germs. But most people in the developed world wouldn't come across unpasteurised milk.
Unfortunately, cakes, biscuits and sweets and so on have almost no nutritional value; they're mostly just empty calories, even cakes that sound healthier like carrot cake.
Chocolate has more nutritional value than the rest though.
It contains a few different chemicals that can give people a feel-good sensation when they eat it, as well as making people more alert.
It contains some protein, and some minerals. All chocolate contains a bit of potassium, and plain chocolate contains a bit of magnesium and iron.
Still, chocolate is high in fat, so it really should be kept for special occasions. Nearly a third of it is fat, as a rule.
Here are just a few suggestions on making healthy food seem more attractive to children.
Vegetables can often be cooked in combination with food children love. For instance, pizzas can be covered in vegetables chopped up small. If the children arrange the vegetables on the pizzas themselves, and you praise them for helping you prepare the food so they're getting more out of it, they might be more enticed by the vegetables.
Or appetising sauces can be poured over them. For instance, lumps of cooked broccoli can seem dreary on their own, but a bit of cheese sauce on them can transform them into something gorgeous.
Also, raw broccoli has a fresh wholesome flavour that's completely lost when it's cooked. It's the same with most vegetables. So if a child doesn't like a vegetable cooked, they could well enjoy it raw. And if they don't like it plain, they might well enjoy it mixed with something else.
There was a programme on television where they even chopped up raw Brussels sprouts into tiny bits and put them in yoghurt, and children ate the mixture for pudding. They said they loved it.
Vegetables tend to have a lot more flavour when they're raw than they do when they're cooked, so some children might love raw vegetables even though they've often rejected cooked ones.
That might be especially true if you find them something they can do to help in the kitchen, such as tearing lettuce into small bits, and you hand them little bits of a raw vegetable you're preparing to be eaten as treats as you're doing the preparation, so they think of them as things they can eat for fun, not just things they have to eat because they're there.
Some fruit and vegetables have got more attractive colouring than others. If children are presented with a variety of fruit and vegetables over the weeks, rather than just one or two they don't like much, they might warm to the idea of eating fruit and vegetables; and they might at first be more enthusiastic about eating the more brightly-coloured ones, or more enthusiastic about eating the others if they're chopped up and mixed with more brightly-coloured ones.
Another way of making healthy food more enticing to children is presenting it in fun ways. For instance, cheese can be cut into interesting little shapes, or just little cubes, and put on sticks or presented in an arrangement with bits of fruit. Kids can be asked to help arrange little bits of fruit and vegetables in pretty ways so they become more interested in them and might want to eat them more.
Or preparing and eating healthy food can sometimes be made into a game. If there are two or more children, for instance, sometimes they can have a competition to see who can eat the vegetables on their plate first. Or they can put their imaginations to thinking up interesting combinations of food that they can make to look like inventive things. For instance, some people have put peanut butter on celery sticks and then stuck raisins on them and pretended they're ants on a log. That's a strange mix of sweet and savoury, but making other combinations could be just as much fun; and thinking them up could be fun as well.
Children can get to enjoy vegetables even more if you have somewhere you can grow some. Children can enjoy watching them growing bigger and then picking and helping prepare them. Then eating them can feel like a reward for the time spent tending them, and they might well taste the nicer for being fresher than normal. You could also visit local farms where they sell vegetables if possible and let the children pick fruit or vegetables.
It's best not to try to force a child to eat anything or punish them for not eating something if they don't like it, because they'll come to view a food with even more dislike and disgust if they associate it from then on with memories of being forced to eat it or feeling miserable.
If they don't like the idea of eating something, good results can sometimes be got if you coax them to eat just a tiny little bit first. Then they can sometimes realise they do like it and want more.
But if they protest they don't like something, as long as they are eating some healthy food somewhere in their diet, it's best not to make a fuss about it or nag them, but you could cook that kind of food again a few weeks later and see if they've changed their mind about not liking it. After all, the reason they didn't like it the first time might have been because it was a bit limp or over-cooked or salty or anything else unrelated to the taste of the actual vegetable at its best. Or sometimes simply growing up a bit can make children less squeamish about certain foods they might have rejected at first because they looked a bit off-putting.
It's best to make a point of enjoying healthy food yourself in front of the children. You could find healthy food you like a lot and tell them how much you're enjoying it. Children can learn by example; if they see you enjoying something, they'll be more likely to want to try it themselves.
Also if they see you eating snacks such as dates, grapes, slices of apple, carrot sticks and so on a lot more than sweets and crisps and cakes, chances are they'll want some, so they'll eat a lot more healthy food than unhealthy food too.
When parents think carefully about what habits they're unwittingly giving their children by what they themselves eat, they can start eating more healthily themselves and the whole family's eating habits get better so they all benefit.
And if everything on the child's plate is healthy, then even if they don't eat everything, they'll still be eating something healthy.
Puddings could often be mixtures of chopped-up fruit rather than unhealthy things.
That doesn't mean anyone should try to put children off eating unhealthy but enjoyable meals or snacks. They shouldn't be considered bad foods, just treats rather than everyday food. Some people who think of delicious but unhealthy food as forbidden food start craving it because they don't like not being allowed to have it and wish they could have it, and then they end up bingeing on it, which is even more unhealthy than eating the amount they would have eaten before. So it can be best to think of unhealthy food as something to eat quite a bit less often, rather than food to eliminate altogether.
It's best to give children fairly small portions of things on fairly small plates. Giving them big portions will put them at risk from becoming overweight, and giving them big portions of things they're not keen on and then insisting they finish them will put them off the food even more.
Also, it can be good to explain to them why each healthy food is good for them; perhaps try to sound enthusiastic about it. But even if you just sound matter-of-fact, the children will probably enjoy learning the information and get more enthusiastic themselves.
Eating meals around a table together without the television on, rather than eating separately while everyone has their attention distracted by something else, can be an opportunity for a busy family to come together and enjoy each other's company and so become closer.
If there's not much to talk about, mealtimes can be made fun if games are played around the meal table, that don't need any items cluttering up the table because they're just brain games. For instance, there's a word game where one person says a word, and then the person next to them has to say a word beginning with the letter the first person's word ended with, and it goes round the table like that. There are probably lots of ideas for simple games like that on the Internet.