Eight tips for healthy eating

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important part of maintaining good health, and can help you feel your best. It doesn't have to be difficult either. Just follow these eight diet tips to get started.

Download Losing weight: Getting started, a 12-week weight loss guide that combines advice on healthier eating and physical activity.

The key to a healthy diet is to do the following:

  • 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 and drink too little, you’ll lose weight. The average man needs around 2,500 calories a day (10,500 kilojoules). The average woman needs 2,000 calories (8,400 kilojoules). 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.

Get started

The eatwell plate

  • To help you get the right balance of the five main food groups, take a look at the eatwell plate (PDF, 1.6Mb)
  • To maintain a healthy diet, the eatwell plate shows you how much of what you eat should come from each food group

These practical tips cover the basics of healthy eating, and can help you make healthier choices:

Base your meals on starchy foods

Starchy foods should make up around one third of the foods you eat. Starchy foods include potatoes, cereals, pasta, rice and bread. Choose wholegrain varieties (or eat potatoes with their skins on) when you can: they contain more fibre, and can make you feel full for longer.

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 veg

It’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 (150ml) 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? Learn more in 5 A DAY.

Eat more fish

Fish is a good source of protein and contains many vitamins and minerals. Aim to eat 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 sugar

We 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 energy (measured in kilojoules or 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 22.5g of sugar per 100g means that the food is high in sugar. Learn more in Sugars and Understanding food labels.

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 weight

Eating a healthy, balanced diet plays an essential role in maintaining a healthy weight, which is an important part of overall good health. Being overweight or obese can lead 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 our 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. You can find information and advice in Lose weight. If you’re underweight, see Underweight adults. 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 energy. If you feel hungry after activity, choose foods or drinks that are lower in calories but still filling.

Don't get thirsty

We 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 and milk 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. Even unsweetened fruit juice is sugary, so try to drink no more than one glass (about 150ml) of fruit juice each day.

When the weather is warm, or when we get active, we may need more fluids. Learn more in Drinks.

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.

More information

Learn more about healthy eating in A balanced diet, and read about the energy contained in food in Understanding calories.

Page last reviewed: 14/12/2012

Next review due: 14/12/2014

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Comments

The 15 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

User910589 said on 09 October 2014

Thanks. You have given some really useful information and tips. Specially eating fruits is really helpful.
I found some other things that people can do to eat healthy and stay fit
Here is the link: http://ehealthmantra.com/eating-healthy-tips

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dialus said on 19 February 2014

It is good one.Eating fruits is really good one.This is good.Thank you for your suggestion.

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Tori Hunt said on 13 June 2013

This article is not designed to give weight loss advice. The tips are evidence-based and follow government recommendations for a healthy, balanced diet.

For advice on losing weight, please visit http://www.nhs.uk/loseweight

Kind regards,

Victoria Hunt
Live Well Editor

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Big Nathe said on 17 May 2013

This information is dated and misleading. If you are trying to loose weight you should read articles from the following health professionals:
http://www.dietdoctor.com/how-to-lose-weight
http://eatingacademy.com/how-can-i-lose-weight
http://chriskresser.com/the-top-3-dietary-causes-of-obesity-diabetes

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pinkcarlady said on 02 March 2013

For goodness sake! When will the NHS get up to date with the facts on carbohydrates? Even the diabetic clinics still trot out the same old rubbish about carbs with every meal. Carbohydrates are converted to sugar in the stomach. low GI carbs just convert more slowly. I have lost 2 stone and kept my blood surgars under 5.5mmol in the last year and my blood pressure is now 125/75 Please NHS get yourself up to date with the rest of the world.

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before2afterfatloss said on 16 November 2012

I had struggled with my weight all my life. I've been to dieticians, very expensive nutritionists & exercise professionals. I was even punished as a child when I said I hadn't eaten anything extra that the dietician had put down for me.Basically accused of being a liar.
I've tried low fat, low calorie, red & green, weight watches, the gym. None of that works after 2 or 3 months. 4 years ago I was 21 stone 9 pounds. My health was corroding fast.
I'm now 11 stone with no health problems at all. I'm actually an athlete at 40. Not bad for someone who was morbidly obese.
I agree with Jimbo68. I had read research on how the effect of starch carbs on insulin can cause massive weight gain. All I did is cut out high G.I. foods and trans fats. I also believe in short bursts of intense training.
I've never been healthier. Why this site is still promoting dated in effective weight loss programs is beyond me. I'm living proof it doesn't work.

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Jimbo68 said on 01 November 2012

I am as shocked as many visitors to this page that the article not only recommends starchy foods, and puts it as no1 on the list, but promotes them as the "base' of any meal.
This is both contradicts almost all solid scientific and nutritional research that has emerged over the last 15 years.
It reads like an article from a Home Management magazine from the 70s.

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CrabbyWater said on 21 June 2012

For the love of god especially if you are diabetic/overweight/have hypertension:

Do not base your meals on starchy foods!!!

This is incorrect advice. This webpage needs to be changed.

The majority of your meal should be vegetables with starchy foods as a small side serving alongside a side serving of protein.

And make sure you drink water after your meals. It helps with digestion.

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Christine45 said on 12 April 2012

Good on you timetochange (10 March 2012) for losing 2 stone and also for pointing out that starchy carbohydrates should NOT form the basis of meals, as encouraged in NHS Point 1 above. We should in fact INVERT the outdated 'food pyramid'. When will the NHS catch up their thinking?

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timetochange said on 10 March 2012

As a type 1 diabetic diagnosed 40+ years ago, I am now in my 50s finding it even more difficult to keep my weight in check . I have always been told to eat carbohydrate regularly and the NHS weight losing advice is to base meals on starchy carbohydrates. My diet has always been good, I do not eat sugary foods and would struggle to eat less than 10 veg portions a day. I rarely eat meat but do eat fish and regularly eat meals with pulses as the source of protein. Basically I followed all the NHS healthy eating rules, doing in excess of 10,000 steps a day. Still my BMI showed in the overweight range. About 8 months ago I read a comment on this site from a contributor who disagreed with your advice on basing all meals on starchy carbohydrates. I read what they had to say and did some more background reading and decided to change my diet to drastically cut down on the prime carbohydrates that had become one of my basic foods. I no longer eat bread and eat very small portions of either rice, pasta or potato once a day with my main meal. I count the carbohydrate from the fruit & veg(eg carrots and tomato) and pulses that I eat and inject my insulin accordingly. My diet is low fat but has been for over 30 years, I can now enjoy a bit more cheese and nuts than I have eaten for years,
I have reduced my BMI from over 26 to under 23 and lost nearly 2 stone in weight. My weight is now stable, I do not feel hungry and am confident that I can maintain this healthy BMI.
It is time that the NHS looked at the advice they are giving on healthy eating. Starchy carbohydrates should not simply be given the green light. If my comment stays on view long enough for just one person to see it and consider it as an alternative to basing your diet on starchy carbohydrates (that of course are converted to sugars by the body) then it will be my way of thanking the person whose comment I took on board last year allowing me to finally find a way to achieve a healthy sustainable weight

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fingersandtoes said on 04 March 2012

@luv_live4todaii
It's really hard to eat healthily when you are surrounded by temptation! I am actually studying food policy and once a week when we meet for class all of us sensible, knowledgeable people often fall into the trap of eating junk food - even though we of all people should know better!

I try to avoid it by packing healthy snacks that will keep me going through the day. Lots of fruit like clementines which are nice and portable, a small handful of nuts, rice cakes spread with hummus or peanut or cashew butter, and I carry a flask full of tea with me too.

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luv_live4todaii said on 03 January 2012

I eat really healthy when I am at work and placement but when I am at college I eat unhealthy food. I think this is due to the temptations being all around and that my friends all eat it around me. I always take my lunch with me which usually includes crackers as I don't eat bread but I always end up buying something such as chocolate, fizzy or crisps. What can I do to stop the temptation?? Anyone help :( x

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emmamelaney said on 21 October 2011

this is all good advice and im gonna try and change what and how much eat. I need to loose at least 6 stone and whatever i have tried before hasnt really helped so i am gonna follow these tips and the exercise tips and turn my life around

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User363614 said on 30 September 2011

I think most people know that carbs have only 4 kcal per gramme; if they stimulate your appetite aren't you still more likely to eat too much?

We've also heard the rhetoric that 'starches are an important part of any healthy diet'; how did our ancestors manage to thrive in pre-agricultural times?

With regard to half truths, if they weren't fortified how good a source of vitamins are most starchy foods, and how good a source of fibre kcal for kcal compared to fruit and veg?

If you eat starches then low GI sources provide sustained energy.

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12uthy said on 31 May 2011

Starchy foods are not fattening, they contain just a little under 4kcal per gram as opposed to fat which is 9kcal per gram. The reason for this hunger is due to the type of starchy foods or carbohydrates you are consuming, which will raise your blood glucose levels rapidly and then allow them to drop suddenly. Perhaps trying alternatives such as brown rice, pasta and bread will help this level off the rapid peak in blood sugar level causing you to feel fuller for longer as they don’t break down in the body as quickly. Starches are an important part of any healthy diet essential for energy or glucose if you prefer, which the brain and body needs in order to function correctly, they only like any food group become laid down as fat if you consume over and above the amount as the body does not use this energy up, (it has to go somewhere). Starches are a excellent source of fibre (preventing high blood pressure, certain cancers and promoting bowel health) and are a cheap food group to purchase. It would be great if we could look at a healthy diet in proportion instead of creating myths surrounding different foods all helped by mis-informed ideas, albeit half truths !!

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