A healthy diet can help you look and feel great. Don't follow the latest food fad: find out the truth about eating well.
Your body needs energy and nutrients from food to grow and work properly. If you don't eat a healthy, balanced diet, you could be putting your health and growth at risk.
A healthy diet also gives you the energy you need and can help you look and feel great. But eating well doesn't have to mean giving up all your favourite foods. A healthy diet means eating a wide range of foods so that you get all the nutrients you need, and eating the right number of calories for how active you are.
Beware of fad diets: they're rarely the best way to reach a healthy weight. Instead, use our tips to help you eat more healthily.
- Don't skip breakfast. Some people skip breakfast because they think it will help them lose weight. But skipping meals doesn't help you lose weight and is not good for you, because you can miss out on essential nutrients. Research shows that eating breakfast can actually help people control their weight. In addition, a healthy breakfast is an important part of a balanced diet and provides some of the vitamins and minerals we need for good health. Whole grain cereal with fruit sliced over the top is a tasty and healthy start to the day.
- Aim to eat at least five portions of a variety of fruits and vegetables a day. They are good sources of many of the vitamins and minerals your body needs. It's not as hard as it might sound: fresh, frozen, tinned, dried and juiced fruit and vegetables all count towards your total. So fruit juice, smoothies and vegetables baked into dishes such as stews all count. Learn more at Why 5 A DAY?
- At snack time, swap foods that are high in saturated fat or sugars for healthier choices. Foods high in saturated fat include pies, processed meats such as sausages and bacon, biscuits and crisps. Foods high in added sugars include cakes and pastries, sweets, and chocolate. Both saturated fat and sugar are high in calories, so if you eat these foods often you're more likely to become overweight. Too much saturated fat can also cause high cholesterol. Learn more in Eat less saturated fat.
- Make sure you drink enough fluids. Aim to drink six to eight glasses of fluids a day: water, unsweetened fruit juices (diluted with water) and milk are all healthy choices.
- If you're feeling tired and run down, you may need more iron in your diet. Teenage girls are at higher risk of being low on iron, because they lose iron when they have their monthly period and they are still growing. Good sources of iron include red meats, breakfast cereals fortified with iron, and baked beans. Learn more in Anaemia, iron deficiency.
- If you often feel hungry, try eating more high-fibre foods such as wholemeal bread, beans, wholegrain breakfast cereals, fruit and vegetables. Foods that are high in fibre are bulky and help us to feel full for longer, and most of us should be eating more of them.
- If eating makes you feel anxious, guilty, or upset, or you're often worried about food or your weight, you may have an eating disorder. Help is out there: tell an adult you trust. Learn more in Eating disorders explained.
- If you are underweight, you may not be eating enough. Restricting foods (or food groups) or not eating a balanced diet can stop you getting enough of the calories and other important nutrients your body needs. This can lead to weight loss. Being underweight can cause health problems, so if you're underweight it's important to gain weight in a healthy way. Your GP can help with this.
- If you are overweight, you may be eating too much. Foods high in fat and sugar are high in calories, and eating too many calories can lead to weight gain. Try to eat fewer foods that are high in fat and sugar, such as swapping to low- or no-sugar fizzy drinks. A healthy balanced diet will provide you with all the nutrients your body needs. Your body mass index (BMI) can tell you whether you are a healthy weight – check yours with our BMI healthy weight calculator.
- Don't follow fad diets. If you have an overweight BMI, aim to lose weight to bring your BMI into the healthy range. If you want to lose weight, it's important to choose your diet plan carefully. It can be tempting to follow the latest fad diet, but these are often not nutritionally balanced and don't work in the long term: once you stop, the weight is likely to come back. Diets based on only one or two foods may be successful in the short term, but can be dull and hard to stick to and deficient in a range of nutrients. The healthier, long-term way to lose weight is by combining long-term changes towards a healthy, balanced diet with more physical activity. If you're concerned about your weight, your GP can help.
- Watch out for "low-carb" diets, or any eating plans that advise you to cut out whole food groups. This can be unhealthy, because you may miss out on nutrients from that food group. Low-carb diets can be high in saturated fat. Eating too much saturated fat can cause high cholesterol, which can lead to an increased risk of developing heart disease. Other diets may involve cutting out dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese. These foods are high in calcium, which you need to ensure your bones grow properly. Choose lower fat dairy foods when you can – semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk contain all the important nutritional benefits of whole milk, with less fat.