Healthy eating tips

Eating a varied and balanced diet is important for everyone. It will help you stay healthy and active for longer.

If you want to get the balance of your diet right, then the 'eatwell plate' makes healthy eating easier to understand, by showing the types and proportions of foods we need to have a healthy and well balanced diet. Eating the right foods is only half the story when it comes to a healthy diet; the other half is eating the right amount.

 


Top tips for healthy eating:

Eat lots of fruit and veg

Most people know we should be eating more fruit and veg. But most of us still aren't eating enough. Try to eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and veg every day. It might be easier than you think. For example, you could have:

  • A glass of juice and a sliced banana with your cereal at breakfast
  • A side salad at lunch
  • A pear or apple as an afternoon snack
  • A portion of peas, spinach or other vegetables with your evening meal

You can choose from fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or juiced, but remember potatoes count as a starchy food, not as portions of fruit and veg.

Base your meals on starchy foods

Starchy foods such as bread, cereals, rice, pasta and potatoes are a really important part of a healthy diet. Try to choose wholegrain varieties of starchy foods whenever you can. Starchy foods should make up about a third of the food we eat. They are a good source of energy and the main source of a range of nutrients in our diet. As well as starch, these foods contain fibre, calcium, iron and B vitamins.

Most of us should eat more starchy foods - try to include at least one starchy food with each of your main meals. So you could start the day with a wholegrain breakfast cereal, have a sandwich for lunch, and potatoes, pasta or rice with your evening meal.

Eat more fish

Most of us should be eating more fish - including a portion of oily fish each week. It's an excellent source of protein, contains healthy omega fats, many vitamins and minerals. 
Aim for at least two portions of fish a week, including a portion of oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, fresh tuna or sardines. You can choose from fresh, frozen or canned - but remember that canned and smoked fish can be high in salt.

Cut down on saturated fat and sugar

We need fat in our diets. It's the kind of fat we eat that is important to watch out for. There are two main types of fat:

  • Saturated fat - having too much can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases the chance of developing heart disease
  • Unsaturated fat - having unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat lowers blood cholesterol.

Try to cut down on food that is high in saturated fat such as meat pies, sausages, hard cheese, butter, pastry, cakes and biscuits. You should try to have foods that are rich in unsaturated fat instead, such as: vegetable oils (including olive oil), oily fish, avocados, nuts and seeds.

Most people in the UK are eating too much sugar. We should all be trying to eat fewer foods containing added sugars, such as sweets, cakes and biscuits, and drinking fewer sugary soft and fizzy drinks.

Having sugary foods and drinks too often can cause tooth decay, especially if you have them between meals. Many foods that contain added sugar can also be high in calories, so cutting down could help you control your weight. When you check the food labels watch out for other words used to describe added sugars, such as sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, hydrolysed starch and invert sugar, corn syrup and honey.


 

Try to eat less salt 

Lots of people think they don't eat much salt, especially if they don't add it to their food. However three quarters of the salt we eat is already in the food we buy, such as breakfast cereals, soups, sauces and ready meals. So you could easily be eating too much salt without realising it. 
Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure. And people with high blood pressure are three times more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke than people with normal blood pressure.

Make sure you get the vitamins and minerals you need

Proper vitamin and mineral intake is necessary for a strong immune system, which prevents illness and reduces your risk of chronic disease. Eating a balanced and varied diet will help make sure you get enough of these nutrients. 

Get active and try to be a healthy weight

It's not a good idea to be either underweight or overweight. Being overweight can lead to health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes. Being underweight could also affect your health. Whenever we eat more than our body needs, we put on weight, this is because we store any energy we don't use up (usually as fat). If you're worried about your weight, ask your GP for advice. But if you think you just need to lose a little weight, the main things to remember are:

  • Only eat as much food as you need
  • Make healthy choices - choose low fat and low sugar varieties, eat plenty of fruit and veg and whole grains
  • Get more active to use up extra calories.

Drink plenty of water

We should be drinking about 6 to 8 glasses of water, or other fluids, every day to stop us getting dehydrated. When the weather is warm or when we get active, our bodies need more than this. But avoid drinking soft and fizzy drinks that are high in added sugar.

Don't have too much alcohol

There is nothing wrong with the occasional drink. But drinking too much can cause problems. Alcohol is also high in calories, so cutting down could help you control your weight. For good health, it's a good idea to spread your drinking throughout the week and avoid binge drinking. Drinking heavily over a long period of time can damage the liver.

Watch your portion size

When it comes to getting a balanced diet, it's not easy understanding what a healthy portion looks like. It depends on what food you're eating for example, a cup of vegetables is healthy - but not a cup of butter! It may seem time consuming to begin with, but one trick is to watch what you're eating throughout the day. Read food labels to check the serving size and nutritional value of each serving, and if you've got time, use food weighing scales to check out your portion size.

Further information:

You can find lots of helpful advice, top tips and tools to help you eat healthier on the NHS Choices website.

 

If you are worried about your eating habits or your weight, you should speak to your GP or practice nurse. They may assess your current weight and size and carry out other tests if needed.