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What does a healthy diet look like?

What you eat and drink has a huge impact on your physical health, mental health, your sleep, and your energy levels. From the health of your skin and teeth, to your risk of cancer and heart disease, it all starts with what you consume. Often, making just small changes to make your diet healthier can have a big difference to how you feel.



What a healthy diet looks like


Fruit & vegetables


‘5 a day’ is an easy way to track whether you’re eating enough fruit & veg, and if you miss a couple of portions one day, aim for 7 the next day to get you back to target. Include as much variety as you can. Fruit and veg are rich in vitamins, minerals & fibre – essential ingredients to make your body function properly.


1 portion = 80g (or 30g if dried e.g., 1 apple, 2 satsumas, 7 strawberries, 2 broccoli spears, 7 cherry tomatoes, 3 heaped tablespoons of beans).


Carbohydrates


Starchy carbs, such as rice, potatoes, pasta and bread, are our body’s main source of energy. Wholegrain and higher fibre versions of these offer the best benefits, so choose brown bread and rice, and wholegrain pasta when you can. Starchy carbs are also a source of fibre, calcium, iron and B vitamins.



Protein


Protein is found in eggs, pulses, fish, and meat and is necessary for the growth and repair of cells in the body. Pulses, such as beans and lentils, have less fat and more fibre than meat, and can be combined with other plant proteins such as tofu, nuts, and seeds to provide the same protein benefits as animal products. It’s recommended that you include 2 portions of fish in your diet each week, one of which should be oily fish such as salmon or mackerel. Non-meat eaters need to find an alternative source of omega 3.


Dairy & dairy alternatives


Dairy products are a good source of calcium which is needed to keep your bones strong. They include milk, cheese, yoghurt, and alternatives such as plant-based milk drinks, and soya alternatives to cheese and yoghurt. Plant-based alternatives often have calcium added, but check the label to make sure. Low fat and low sugar varieties are the healthiest option.


Fats


A little fat in your diet is essential for helping your body absorb certain vitamins, but too much can cause weight gain and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. To stay healthy, cut down your total fat intake, and replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats e.g. avocados, olive oil, rapeseed oil, and their spreads, some nuts including almonds and peanuts, and oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and kippers.




What about sweets and treats?

Whether it’s cake or crisps that are your downfall, most of us have got a weak spot when it comes to certain unhealthy foods.


A big part of sticking to a healthy diet is about making it sustainable long term. If you know you can’t resist a biscuit now and then, there’s no point swearing off them forever because, chances are, you’ll slip up and then feel bad about it. It’s important to find a balance between eating healthily and giving yourself permission to have the odd treat - but being mindful and honest with yourself about it when you do.


Small changes you can make right now

Here are some simple, small changes you could make right now to make your diet healthier. Pick one, or think of your own change that works for you.

  • Switch your lunchtime sweet treat for a piece of fruit.

  • Buy wholemeal bread rather than white.

  • Plan a meal this week which includes fish.

  • Check the traffic light nutrition labels on your lunch – aim for lots of green and no red.

  • Add one extra type of veg to your meal this evening to boost your variety.

  • Switch a packet of crisps for a handful of nuts or seeds.

  • Try cooking with half as much butter or oil than you normally do.

  • Have a fresh fruit smoothie for breakfast a couple of times a week.


Remember, if you slip up, it’s ok. Each new day is a chance to try again.



Our sources and information

NHS - The Eatwell Guide

British Nutrition Foundation

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Disclaimer:

Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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