Eat well

A_0218_healthy-eating_BATM01 copy.jpg

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 people who don’t have specific dietary requirements as a result of having a condition like diabetes.

Food groups in your diet

The Eatwell 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 a day (see 5 A Day)
  • base meals on 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, eaten in small amounts
  • drink plenty of fluids

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.

Most people in the UK eat and drink too many calories, too much fat, sugar and salt, and not enough fruit, vegetables, oily fish or fibre.

Read more about understanding calories and cutting down on calories.

The Eatwell Guide does not apply to children under the age of 2 because they have different nutritional needs.

Between the ages of 2 and 5, children should gradually move to eating the same foods as the rest of the family in the proportions shown in the Eatwell Guide.

Fruit and vegetables: are you getting your 5 A Day?

Fruit and vegetables are a vital source of vitamins and minerals, 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 a day have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

Eating 5 portions is not as hard as it sounds. Just 1 apple, banana, pear or similar-sized fruit is 1 portion (80g) each.

A slice of pineapple or melon is 1 portion. Three heaped tablespoons of vegetables is another portion.

Having a sliced banana with your morning cereal is an easy way to get 1 portion. Swap your mid-morning biscuit for a tangerine, and add a side salad to your lunch. 

Have a portion of vegetables with dinner, and snack on fresh fruit with natural plain yoghurt in the evening to reach your 5 A Day. 

Read more about what counts towards 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.

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.

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.

Read more about starchy foods.

Milk and dairy foods: go for lower-fat varieties

Milk and dairy foods such as cheese and yoghurt are good sources of protein. They also contain calcium, which helps keep your bones healthy.

To enjoy the health benefits of dairy without eating too much fat, use semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk, as well as lower-fat hard cheeses or cottage cheese, and lower-fat, lower-sugar yoghurt.

Unsweetened calcium-fortified dairy alternatives like soya milks, soya yoghurts and soya cheeses also count as part of this food group and can make good alternatives to dairy products.

Read more about milk and dairy foods.

Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins

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.

Try to eat lean cuts of meat and skinless poultry whenever possible to cut down on fat. Always cook meat thoroughly.

Read more about meat.

Fish is another important source of protein, and contains 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.

Eggs and pulses (including beans, nuts and seeds) are also great sources of protein.

Nuts are high in fibre and a good alternative to snacks high in saturated fat, but they do still contain high levels of fat, so eat them in moderation.

Read more about eggs and pulses and beans.

Oils and spreads

Some fat in the diet is essential, but should be limited to small amounts.

It's important to get most of your fat from unsaturated oils and spreads. Swapping to unsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol.

Eat less saturated fat and sugar

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.

Read more about why you need to cut down on saturated fat and sugar in your diet, which foods they occur in, and how to make healthier choices in 8 tips for healthy eating.

Need to lose weight?

Most adults in England are overweight or obese. Check whether you're a healthy weight using the BMI calculator.

If you need to lose weight, you can use the NHS weight loss plan. It's a free 12-week diet and exercise plan to help you lose weight and develop healthier habits.

The plan, which has been downloaded more than 2 million times, is designed to help you lose weight safely – and keep it off.

Page last reviewed: 11/02/2019
Next review due: 11/02/2022