It is important to eat a healthy, varied diet to maintain health and wellbeing throughout life and help to reduce your risk of disease such as heart disease and certain cancers. A healthy diet is based on starchy foods, such as wholegrain bread, pasta and rice, some protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, eggs and lentils, some milk and dairy foods and plenty of fruit and vegetables. It is also low in saturated fat and salt.
Top tips for a healthy balanced diet
- Eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day. It is important to include a variety as they all contain different nutrients and can have different benefits. Fruit and vegetables can be fresh, frozen, canned or dried, or even as a glass of juice (for portion sizes see page 3).
- Eat more starchy foods such as wholegrain bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and cereals. These should be the base of most meals and together make up a third of your diet.
- Cut down on foods that are high in saturated fat. Choose lower fat options such as 1% or semi-skimmed milk or reduced-fat cheese. Choose lean meat and trim off any fat and skin. Eat less fatty and sugar-containing foods, e.g. chips, sweets, some crisps or pastries.
- Why not try to eat more pulses such as beans, peas and lentils? They count as one of your 5 A DAY too.
- Try to eat fish at least twice a week and include one portion of oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines or trout. If you are of child-bearing age, you should eat no more than 2 portions of oily fish each week; older women can eat up to 4 portions. This is because oily fish can contain low levels of pollutants that can build up in the body. Also, you should have no more than one portion of swordfish, shark or marlin a week (pregnant women should not eat swordfish, shark or marlin). This is because these fish may contain higher levels of mercury than other species.
- Where ever possible grill, bake, poach, steam, boil or microwave your food. These are healthier than frying or roasting in fat.
- Reduce the amount of salt in your diet and use less salt in cooking. The recommended amount is no more than 6g a day (see page 4 for more information).
- If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation - guidelines for women are up to 2 to 3 units of alcohol a day. A unit is half a pint or ordinary-strength beer, lager or cider, a small glass of 9% ABV wine (125ml) or a single measure of spirits. Nowadays many drinks are much stronger. So for example, a large glass (250ml) of 12% ABV wine is 3 units.
- Keep hydrated. Try and drink 6-8 glasses of fluid a day.