Eating a balanced diet
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important part of maintaining good health, and can help you feel your best.
This means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, and consuming the right amount of food and drink to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. This page covers healthy eating advice for the general population.
People with special dietary needs or a medical condition should ask their doctor or a registered dietitian for advice.
Food groups in your diet
This Guide shows that to have a healthy, balanced diet, people should try to:
eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day (see 5 A Day)
base meals on higher fibre starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice or pasta
have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks)
eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein
choose unsaturated oils and spreads, and eat them in small amounts
drink plenty of fluids (at least 6 to 8 glasses a day)
If you’re having foods and drinks that are high in fat, salt and sugar, have these less often and in small amounts.
Try to choose a variety of different foods from the 5 main food groups to get a wide range of nutrients. Most people in the UK eat and drink too many calories, too much saturated fat, sugar and salt, and not enough fruit, vegetables, oily fish or fibre.
The info in this Guide does not apply to children under the age of 2 because they have different nutritional needs. Between the ages of 2 and 5 years, children should gradually move to eating the same foods as the rest of the family.
Fruit and vegetables: are you getting your 5 A Day?
Fruit and vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals and fibre, and should make up just over a third of the food you eat each day. It’s recommended that you eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. They can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced.
There’s evidence that people who eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
Eating 5 portions
A portion is:
80g of fresh, canned or frozen fruit and vegetables
30g of dried fruit – which should be kept to mealtimes
150ml glass of fruit juice or smoothie – but do not have more than 1 portion a day as these drinks are sugary and can damage teeth
Just 1 apple, banana, pear or similar-sized fruit is 1 portion each. A slice of pineapple or melon is also 1 portion, and 3 heaped tablespoons of vegetables is another portion. Adding a tablespoon of dried fruit, such as raisins, to your morning cereal is an easy way to get 1 portion. You could also swap your mid-morning biscuit for a banana, and add a side salad to your lunch.
In the evening, have a portion of vegetables with dinner and fresh fruit with plain, lower fat yoghurt for dessert to reach your 5 A Day.
Starchy foods in your diet
Starchy foods should make up just over a third of everything you eat. This means your meals should be based on these foods. Choose wholegrain or wholemeal varieties of starchy foods, such as brown rice, wholewheat pasta, and brown, wholemeal or higher fibre white bread.
They contain more fibre, and usually more vitamins and minerals, than white varieties.
Potatoes with the skins on are a great source of fibre and vitamins. For example, when having boiled potatoes or a jacket potato, eat the skin too.
Milk and dairy foods
Milk and dairy foods, such as cheese and yoghurt, are good sources of protein. They also contain calcium, which helps keep your bones healthy.
Go for lower fat and lower sugar products where possible.
Choose semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk, as well as lower fat hard cheeses or cottage cheese, and lower fat, lower sugar yoghurt. Dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks, are also included in this food group. When buying alternatives, choose unsweetened, calcium-fortified versions.
Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat
These foods are all good sources of protein, which is essential for the body to grow and repair itself. They’re also good sources of a range of vitamins and minerals.
Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc and B vitamins. It’s also one of the main sources of vitamin B12. Choose lean cuts of meat and skinless poultry whenever possible to cut down on fat. Always cook meat thoroughly.
Try to eat less red and processed meat like bacon, ham and sausages.
Eggs and fish are also good sources of protein, and contain many vitamins and minerals. Oily fish is particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Aim to eat at least 2 portions of fish a week, including 1 portion of oily fish. You can choose from fresh, frozen or canned, but remember that canned and smoked fish can often be high in salt.
Pulses, including beans, peas and lentils, are naturally very low in fat and high in fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals. Nuts are high in fibre, and unsalted nuts make a good snack. But they do still contain high levels of fat, so eat them in moderation.
Oils and spreads
Some fat in the diet is essential, but on average people in the UK eat too much saturated fat.
It’s important to get most of your fat from unsaturated oils and spreads.
Swapping to unsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol.
Remember that all types of fat are high in energy and should be eaten in small amounts.
Find out more about the different types of fats
Eat less saturated fat, sugar and salt
Too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases your risk of developing heart disease.
Regularly consuming foods and drinks high in sugar increases your risk of obesity and tooth decay. Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure, which increases your risk of getting heart disease or having a stroke.
Get into the habit of eating a morning meal with these simple breakfasts, designed to whet the appetite of even the most habitual breakfast-skipper.
Not hungry first thing in the morning? Pushed for time? Trying to lose weight? These calorie-counted treats will tempt you to rediscover the pleasure of breakfast.
From energy-boosting “apple pie” porridge and protein-packed scrambled eggs to a nutrient-rich green smoothie and granola bars, there’s something for everyone.
Creating the habit of eating in the morning is something you can build towards. Start off with a light bite, such as a piece of fruit or low-fat yoghurt. After a while, your morning appetite will naturally increase, and you’ll probably find you eat less throughout the day, including snacks.
Research suggests people who eat breakfast are slimmer because they tend to eat less during the day – particularly fewer high-calorie snacks.
If you’re short on time in the morning, think about ways to keep your breakfast choice simple. You could also try waking up 10 minutes earlier or getting other chores out of the way ahead of time.
‘Apple pie’ porridge
Serves: 1 adult
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes
Calories per portion: 315kcal (1,318kJ)
50g porridge oats
200ml semi-skimmed milk
1 medium dessert apple, diced
Pinch of cinnamon
This is a warm, comforting porridge spiced up with the classic flavours of a homemade apple pie.
Throw all the ingredients into a saucepan. Heat and stir until boiling, then lower the heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes, stirring often.
Spoon the porridge into a serving bowl and add a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Or you could try
Muesli, fresh fruit and low-fat yoghurt: fruit added to your muesli counts towards your 5 A Day. Low-fat yoghurt provides calcium and protein, but watch out for the sugar content. Go for muesli with no added sugar.
Porridge with mashed banana and dried blueberries:** put oats and a handful of dried blueberries in a bowl, and add semi-skimmed milk. Heat in the microwave for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring every so often. When cooked, stir in the mashed banana, which is a healthier substitute for sugar or honey. For the best results, use a very ripe banana.
Baked beans on wholemeal toast: not only are they naturally low in fat, but baked beans are also packed with fibre and protein, making them a vegetarian source of protein. Look out for reduced-salt and reduced-sugar ranges.
Breakfast cereals: cereals can be high in sugar, with some comprising up to 37% of the white stuff. Try switching to lower-sugar cereals or those with no added sugar, such as plain wholewheat cereal biscuits, plain shredded wholegrain pillows or plain porridge.
Find out more about reducing your sugar intake at breakfast.
Scrambled eggs (with optional wholemeal toast)
Serves: 1 adult
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes
Calories per portion: scrambled eggs 247kcal (1,033kJ), 2 slices of wholemeal toast 190kcal (795kJ)
4 tbsp semi-skimmed milk
2 slices wholemeal toast
2 tsp low-fat spread
Pinch of black pepper
Optional sprinkling of chopped chives (calories nominal)
The secret to perfect scrambled eggs is to fold them gently in the pan to get curds, rather than a dried, quivering mess.
Lightly mix the eggs and milk in a bowl. Melt the low-fat spread in a pan and add the egg mixture. Cook over a medium-high heat, stirring slowly and gently until they’re just set, with big, soft curds.
Serve the eggs on the slices of toast, sprinkled with chives and some pepper.
to make green eggs, scramble your eggs with a handful (40g) of spinach (30kcal/125kJ)
Or you could try
Low-fat Greek yoghurt topped with fruit and nuts: try strawberries and mixed nuts.
Smoked salmon and low-fat cream-cheese bagel: halve the bagel and toast it. Spread low-fat cream cheese on one side and top with salmon. Add a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of black pepper.
Serves: 1 adult
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: none
Calories per portion: 140kcal (586kJ)
40g tinned mango slices (discard liquid)
40g tinned peach slices (discard liquid)
40g frozen spinach
1 medium banana
200ml water (or as required)
Smoothies are a great introduction to breakfast if you don’t normally have much of an appetite at the crack of dawn. They’re also a good portable option for your morning commute.
Compared with some hardcore recipes, our green smoothie is quite sweet and fruity while still giving a healthy serving of greens.
Blend all the ingredients together until smooth. Add more water to achieve the desired consistency.
you could use frozen or fresh fruit instead of tinned
limit the amount of fruit juice and smoothies you drink to a combined total of 150ml a day
Or you could try
Banana and oats smoothie: transform your speckled bananas into an energy-boosting liquid breakfast. Blend 1 ripe banana with 2 tablespoons of oats and 100ml of semi-skimmed milk until smooth. This can also be made using a soya drink. Limit the amount of fruit juice and smoothies you drink to a combined total of 150ml a day.
Very berry smoothie: take 1 banana, 140g of frozen summer berries or forest fruits, 40g of low-fat natural yoghurt and about 100ml of apple juice. Blend the banana and berries until smooth. With the blades whirring, pour in apple juice to achieve the consistency you like. Limit the amount of fruit juice and smoothies you drink to a combined total of 150ml a day.
Pimp your toast: tired of your usual toppings? Toast doesn’t have to be boring. Brighten up your bread with these healthier combos: mashed avocado and hardboiled egg, marmite and grilled 30%-less-fat mature cheese, or banana slices and peanut butter.
‘Grab and go’ breakfast bar
Makes: 6 bars
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Calories per portion (1 bar): 300kcal (1,255kJ)
150g jumbo oats
2 very ripe medium bananas
60g melted butter
40g sunflower seeds
40g pumpkin seeds
Mornings can sometimes be a bit of a rush. Make a batch of these no-added-sugar granola bars in advance for a healthy breakfast on the go.
Preheat the oven to 200C (fan 180C, gas mark 6). Mix the oats, cherries, cranberries and seeds together in a bowl. Pour in the melted butter and mix in thoroughly to make sure the oats are well coated.
On a separate plate, mash the bananas into a pulp with a fork, then add to the oat mixture and mix well. Spread the mixture into a 30x20cm tin and bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Once cooked, transfer to a wire rack to cool, then cut into 6 bars.
press the mixture into the baking tin well to help the binding process – but not too hard or it may affect the flavour
if your first batch is more crumbly than you’d like, try increasing the amount of mashed banana to moisten the mixture before baking
Or you could try
Banana bagel sandwich: mash a ripe banana and serve it in a toasted (preferably wholemeal) bagel. Mashing instead of slicing the banana gives the filling a creamier texture, meaning you won’t need low-fat spread.
Quick porridge: making porridge is easier than you think. Combine 50g of rolled or instant oats with 200ml (or more for runny porridge) of semi-skimmed milk in a bowl, and microwave on full power for 2 minutes. Top with dried fruit or nuts.
1-minute omelette: combine 1 beaten egg, a few spinach leaves and some chopped lean roast ham in a bowl. Microwave on full power for 1 minute or until the egg is set.
English breakfast muffin
Serves: 1 adult
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes
Calories per portion: 309kcal (1,293kJ)
1 wholemeal English muffin, cut in half
1 poached egg
1 slice lean roast ham
20g reduced-fat or “light” medium-hard cheese
2 tsp low-fat spread
20g fresh spinach leaves
Pinch of ground black pepper
Oozing poached egg on a layer of cheese and roast ham – what’s not to love about this lower-calorie version of the classic English breakfast muffin?
Preheat the grill and toast the muffins on the cut sides only. Poach the egg in gently simmering water for 3 to 4 minutes until the yoke is set but still runny in the middle.
Spread the toasted muffin sides with the low-fat spread, and layer the spinach leaves, ham and cheese on 1 half. Place the poached egg on top, season with black pepper, and top with the other half of the muffin.
if you prefer, you can scramble the egg with 4 tablespoons of semi-skimmed milk – pour the mixture into a heated pan, cook and stir until the eggs are just set
Or you could try
Overnight oats: combine oats with low-fat yoghurt and let sit overnight in the fridge. Add fresh fruit, such as berries, in the morning.
*Baked eggs: * put an egg (with yolk unbroken) and some crème fraîche in a ramekin. Put the ramekin in a baking dish and fill the dish with hot tap water to 3/4 up the ramekin. Bake for 15 minutes or until the yolk is set to your liking
5 Tips as to why you should be eating Healthy..
1.You Will Be Happier
The food you put into your body has a huge impact on your mood and mental health. It stands to reason – after all, the mind is not separate from the body and our brains are built out of the foods we eat.
If those are mostly sugary foods or those composed of large amounts of chemicals, trans fats and other harmful substances then the effect on our mental wellbeing will be profound.
The link between nutrition and mental health has been found to be so strong that it has led to a whole new focus known as nutritional psychiatry. Nutritional psychiatrists support the idea that physical and mental health are inseparable and that, therefore, the healthier your diet, the better your state of mind as well as body.
Several studies have shown that people who eat more whole grains and whole foods such as those found in a clean or healthy eating diet are less likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder.
If we don’t get enough iron or tryptophan, found in large quantities in a healthy, balanced diet, then our brains are unable to produce the mood-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin which fundamentally makes us feel happier.
Similarly, if we don’t get enough vitamin B12 then our brains cannot make myelin, the substance that literally insulates our brain cells.
It may come down to pure biology but that’s how we function, and all the evidence shows that we function far better when we put good, clean fuel into our bodies and minds!
2. You Will Be Smarter
Sticking to a healthy, clean eating regimen will not only make you happier…it will make you smarter as well!
A study published in the leading scientific journal Neurology proved that eating a healthy diet rich in fish, fruits, nuts and vegetables improved memory and brain function by 24%.
Another study published in the same journal found that sticking to the same kind of healthy, Mediterranean-style diet reduced brain shrinkage due to aging, with those eating well showing a difference equivalent to five years. This means that those who ate healthily aged slower and had a lower incidence of dementia.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish recommended for healthy, clean diets such as wild salmon and tuna help reduce inflammation in the arteries and therefore keep blood flowing to the brain.
A particular type of omega-3, DHA, has been shown to interfere with the formation of the brain lesions that lead to Alzheimer’s, thereby having a preventative effect.
So, to stay sharp for longer and to keep your memory functioning at optimum levels, healthy eating is once more the way to go!
3. You Will Have More Energy
Feeling tired, run down or just plain exhausted? Chances are the main culprit is your diet…or rather, your unhealthy diet.
Fatigue is a modern epidemic and you only have to look at the typical sugar-packed, unrefined carbohydrate heavy diet to find the reason so many of us are looking for a better way to boost our energy reserves than yet more sugar or caffeine.
All that exhaustion not only affects our daily lives, it has serious long-term implications. Fatigue impacts the immune system, making us more susceptible to depression and disease.
But how to avoid those afternoon slumps and mornings not wanting to get out of bed?
Vitamins D and B, found in whole foods and grains as well as oily fish and vegetables will help boost energy levels while taking in the right kind of slow release carbs will prevent blood sugar levels fluctuating.
Simply eating an apple is enough to provide the fiber and vitamins necessary to get past that 3pm fuzzy patch and take you through to the evening ahead. Other good boosters include almonds, citrus fruits, kale and even a good, old-fashioned glass of water.
4. You Will Live Longer
Eating enough fruits and vegetables can lower your risk of heart disease by up to 76% while including enough whole grains in your diet will not only help protect against cardiovascular failure but also type 2 diabetes.
A growing number of studies suggests that drinking coffee may also help prevent type 2 diabetes as well as age-related mental decline. A Finnish study conducted in 2009 showed that drinking 3 – 5 cups of coffee a day during the middle years reduced the risk of developing dementia in later life by 65%.
Bone loss and osteoporosis are leading causes of disability in later life and once a senior becomes disabled their health often declines rapidly on other ways, potentially reducing their life span.
Eating enough vitamin D and calcium along with adequate protein can help slow the inevitable bone loss that comes with age. For this reason, a diet rich in low fat dairy products such as milk and yogurt will help supply the nutrients needed for healthy bones.
Dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach are also good sources of calcium although diet alone is often not enough to supply adequate levels of vitamin D.
It is therefore wise to supplement with 1 – 2,000 international units (IU) a day, especially as the skin becomes less efficient at generating this essential vitamin from sunlight as we get older.
A healthy, varied diet is the recipe for a rich, ripe old age that can be enjoyed to the fullest. The best way to achieve that? With good, clean food packed with all the nutrients you need.
5. You Will Be Less Stressed!
Good, healthy food is essential not just for the production of serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitters, but also to regulate the levels of stress-inducing hormones like cortisol and adrenalin.
In a 2014 Journal of American Cardiology study, people who ate flavonoid-rich dark chocolate before a mock interview had lower levels of adrenalin and were therefore less stressed, performing better.
Vitamin C, found in abundance in many fruits and vegetables, has been shown to lower blood pressure and help reduce levels of cortisol, thereby also reducing your stress.
Another great stress-buster is oatmeal which is high in fiber that the body takes a long time to digest. This means that your body will absorb the carbs in oatmeal more slowly which in turn means a steady flow of brain-relaxing serotonin through your system.
Other de-stressing healthy foods include asparagus, which is high in calming folate, and avocadoes which also contain plenty of folate as well as vitamins E and B. Avocadoes help stress-proof your body thanks to the glutathione they contain, a substance that specifically blocks the absorption of certain fats that cause oxidative damage.
Nuts are another excellent way to ensure you keep stress levels low, containing good levels of zinc which is known to combat anxiety and depression. Cashews are an especially good source of zinc and should be eaten regularly as our bodies have no way of storing this essential mineral.
Adopt a healthy, clean approach to eating and you will arm your body and mind against the leading contributor to the six biggest causes of death.
Stress accounts for 75% of all visits to the doctor. Do yourself a favour and eat healthy to stay stress-free.
Discover The Importance Of A Healthy Diet And Exercise
Just hearing the terms “work out” or “exercise” causes many people to cringe. Yet it is a proven fact that exercise is an important concept for a healthy body and diet routine. Dieting alone will help anyone lose weight, but they must include exercise and working out; as part of the regime to maintain the weight loss and healthy body.
Learning to incorporate an exercise program, as easy as walking daily, will increase your weight loss with a healthy diet. Since many people are stationery for most of their day, adding the exercise to their lives will increase the benefits of the diet. Increasing the amount of activity increases the effects of the healthy eating habits.
Eating a healthy diet with a plan rich in protein, good carbohydrates, grains, Omega-3, and low fat foods is necessary for a serious dieter. Adding fresh vegetables and fruits to the diet provides the essential nutrients to the body. Removing the condiments and fried foods from the diet also is a great way to improve the eating habits.
Avoiding sugary and fatty foods in the diet will increase weight loss when including regiments of walking, jogging, swimming, and riding a bicycle. A healthy diet with exercise creates a healthy life style that will provide long-term weight management as well as a healthier body that is resistant to diabetes, heart disease, and other health complications.
Add water to the daily diet. Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water to keep the body hydrated and flush out the toxins and fat from the body. The body needs water to have healthy lungs, kidneys, liver, hair, nails, bones, and teeth. Water in the diet also helps the person feel full (temporarily) and removes the urges to eat to relieve the feelings of hunger.
Avoid caffeine in coffee, tea, and sodas. The caffeine is not a good chemical for the body. Many feel caffeine energizes them but in reality, it actually causes fatigue when the levels drop thus creating weight gain due to the lack of energy to be active.
The more a person is active the more they will lose weight. They will have more energy, from the higher levels of exercise, which will then cause them to burn the stored fat. Losing the stored fat decreases the weight and provides a better looking body for many people.
Using a healthy diet combined with exercise and workouts can become a standard way of life, leading to a longer life span and a healthier body; that can fight off diseases and even the common cold. The well-maintained body is able to fight off heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer and other diseases. People have changed their lives with a healthy diet, a good exercise program; consequentily adding more productive years to their life span.