The two keys to a healthy diet are:
- Eat the right number of calories for how active you are, so that you balance the energy you consume with the energy you use. If you eat or drink too much, you’ll put on weight. If you eat too little you’ll lose weight. The average man needs around 2,500 calories a day. The average woman needs 2,000 calories. Most adults are eating more calories than they need, and should eat fewer calories.
- Eat a wide range of foods to ensure that you’re getting a balanced diet and that your body is receiving all the nutrients it needs.
These practical tips cover the basics of healthy eating, and can help you make healthier choices:
- Base your meals on starchy foods
Starchy foods include potatoes, cereals, pasta, rice and bread. Choose wholegrain varieties when you can: they contain more fibre, and can make you feel full for longer. Starchy foods should make up around one third of the foods you eat.
Most of us should eat more starchy foods: try to include at least one starchy food with each main meal. Some people think starchy foods are fattening, but gram for gram they contain fewer than half the calories of fat. Learn more in Starchy foods.
- Eat lots of fruit and vegIt’s recommended that we eat at least five portions of different types of fruit and veg a day. It’s easier than it sounds. A glass of 100% unsweetened fruit juice can count as one portion, and vegetables cooked into dishes also count. Why not chop a banana over your breakfast cereal, or swap your usual mid-morning snack for some dried fruit?
- Eat more fishFish is a good source of protein and contains many vitamins and minerals. Aim for at least two portions a week, including at least one portion of oily fish. Oily fish is high in omega-3 fats, which may help to prevent heart disease. You can choose from fresh, frozen and canned; but remember that canned and smoked fish can be high in salt. Oily fish include salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, fresh tuna, sardines and pilchards. Non-oily fish include haddock, plaice, coley, cod, tinned tuna, skate and hake. Anyone who regularly eats a lot of fish should try to choose as wide a variety as possible.
- Cut down on saturated fat and sugarWe all need some fat in our diet. But it’s important to pay attention to the amount and type of fat we’re eating. There are two main types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. Too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases your risk of developing heart disease. Saturated fat is found in many foods, such as hard cheese, cakes, biscuits, sausages, cream, butter, lard and pies. Try to cut down, and choose foods that contain unsaturated rather than saturated fats, such as vegetable oils, oily fish and avocados. For a healthier choice, use a just a small amount of vegetable oil or reduced fat spread instead of butter, lard or ghee. When you're having meat, choose lean cuts and cut off any visible fat. Learn more, and get tips on cutting down, in Eat less saturated fat.
Most people in the UK eat and drink too much sugar. Sugary foods and drinks, including alcoholic drinks, are often high in calories, and could contribute to weight gain. They can also cause tooth decay, especially if eaten between meals. Cut down on sugary fizzy drinks, alcoholic drinks, cakes, biscuits and pastries, which contain added sugars: this is the kind of sugar we should be cutting down on rather than sugars that are found naturally in foods such as fruit and milk. Food labels can help: use them to check how much sugar foods contain. More than 15g of sugar per 100g means that the food is high in sugar. Learn more in Sugars.
- Eat less salt
Even if you don’t add salt to your food, you may still be eating too much. About three-quarters of the salt we eat is already in the food we buy, such as breakfast cereals, soups, breads and sauces. Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure. People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke. Use food labels to help you cut down. More than 1.5g of salt per 100g means the food is high in salt. Adults and children over 11 should eat no more than 6g of salt a day. Younger children should have even less. Learn more in Salt: the facts.
- Get active and be a healthy weightEating a healthy, balanced diet plays an important part in maintaining a healthy weight, which is an important part of overall good health. Being overweight or obese can led to health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease and stroke. Being underweight could also affect your health. Check whether you’re a healthy weight by using the Healthy weight calculator. Most adults need to lose weight, and need to eat fewer calories in order to do this. If you're trying to lose weight, aim to eat less and be more active. Eating a healthy, balanced diet will help: aim to cut down on foods that are high in fat and sugar, and eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. Don't forget that alcohol is also high in calories, so cutting down can help you to control your weight. If you're worried about your weight, ask your GP or a dietitian for advice.
Physical activity can help you to maintain weight loss or be a healthy weight. Being active doesn’t have to mean hours at the gym: you can find ways to fit more activity into your daily life. For example, try getting off the bus one stop early on the way home from work, and walking. Being physically active may help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. For more ideas, see Get active your way. After getting active, remember not to reward yourself with a treat that is high in calories. If you feel hungry after activity choose foods or drinks that are lower in calories but still filling.
- Don't get thirstyWe need to drink about 1.2 litres of fluid every day to stop us getting dehydrated. This is in addition to the fluid we get from the food we eat. All non-alcoholic drinks count, but water, milk and fruit juices are the most healthy. Try to avoid sugary soft and fizzy drinks that are high in added sugars and can be high in calories and bad for teeth. When the weather is warm, or when we get active, we may need more.
- Don’t skip breakfast
Some people skip breakfast because they think it will help them lose weight. In fact, research shows that eating breakfast can help people control their weight. A healthy breakfast is an important part of a balanced diet, and provides some of the vitamins and minerals we need for good health. Wholemeal cereal, with fruit sliced over the top is a tasty and nutritious breakfast.