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Fact File - Healthy Eating - What Is and How To Eat a Healthy Diet

Healthy Eating is about eating the right amount of food and a variety for your energy needs and improving your wellbeing. It can help reduce the risk of a many chronic conditions such as some cancers, diabetes, osteoporosis and obesity.

In the UK, most adults are either overweight or obese which means many of us are also eating more than we need and not doing enough physical activity. This fact sheet will highlight the principles of healthy eating.

In the UK the Eatwell Guide is a pictorial guide to help understand the main food groups, to get the balance right. It does not however apply to everyone, such as children under two years or people with special dietary requirements or medical needs. The key points of each food group is discussed in more details below.



Fruit and Vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are a vital and rich source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre all needed for health.

  • This food group should be the largest part of your diet.
  • Include at least five portions of different types and colours of fruit and vegetables a day and aim for seasonal, fresh or frozen when possible. Different ones will provide a diverse source of nutrients.
  • There is evidence to show that eating at least five portions a day can lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
  • Five portions is easy to achieve, aim for half your plate at main meals to be a variety of vegetables and include raw vegetable and fruit as snacks when you feel hungry.
  • One portion is around 80g. In practical terms this is the equivalent of a medium sized fruit, such as an apple, a ‘cereal’ bowl of salad and 3 tablespoons of vegetables.
  • Pulses (3 tablespoons) also count towards one of your portions, but only as one portion, no matter how much you have.
  • Unsweetened 100% juice and smoothies, depending on how much edible pulp is contained can count up to two portions no matter how much you have, but limit these as the process of blending and chopping releases the natural sugars.


Starchy Foods

A rich source of carbohydrate needed for energy.

  • For each meal, base some of your meal on this food group, but aim for the whole grain varieties.
  • Whole grain varieties are not only higher in minerals and vitamins but are also a richer source of fibre than refined versions which is important for gut health as well as many other health benefits.
  • Some examples of whole grains include quinoa, rye, brown rice, oats, buckwheat, corn and spelt.


Meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and pulses (beans, chickpeas and lentils)

Rich source of protein which is essential for growth and repair. Also good source of vitamins and minerals, such as iron, zinc and B vitamins.

  • Choose lean cuts of meat and poultry without the visible fat. Meat should be the smallest portion on your plate at main meals. Vegetables and whole grains should be the main part of your meal.
  • Aim for at least two portions of fish a week, one at least should be oily which is rich in omega-3. Oily fish includes salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and fresh tuna.
  • Pulses are a great alterative to meat, they are high in fibre and can count as one of your 5-A-Day.
  • Nuts and seeds are high in fibre and sources of a variety of minerals and vitamins, in moderation they are a great snack option.


Milk and dairy foods (yoghurt, cheese and dairy alternatives)

This group is a good source of protein and calcium which plays and important role in bone health.

  • Choose plain low-fat varieties and include a couple of portions a day to help meet your calcium requirement. If you choose dairy alternatives, check that they are enriched with calcium.
  • Foods such as fish, pulses, seeds and green leafy vegetables are also good sources of calcium.


Oils and Spreads

  • If adding fat to your food, choose those that are rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFA) and some polyunsaturated fats (PUFA). These fats, particularly MUFA are heart friendly.
  • Fat is naturally found in the other four main food groups.
  • Rich sources of MUFA’s include, olive and rapeseed oil. Rich sources and PUFA’s include vegetable, seed and some nut oils, such as walnut oil.
  • Avoid added hydrogenated fats in manufactured products and oils that have been repeatedly used.
  • Avoid added saturated fats, often found in highly processed foods, lard, ghee and palm oil.
  • Saturated and hydrogenated fat increase bad cholesterol (LDL) in your blood which increases the risk of heart disease.


Foods containing fat and/or sugar

These are often highly processed foods or drinks. Aim to limit or avoid these.

  • Some fat is needed in the diet, but you do not need to eat or drink any highly processed foods for a source of fat.
  • Sugary foods and drinks can be high in empty calories, with little other nutrient value.


To further enhance your health though healthy eating and lifestyle, read on for other important points to consider.

  • Eat less salt – we should have no more than 6g a day. Remember foods already contain some salt naturally and highly processed foods often a lot more. Eating too much can raise your blood pressure so rely on other spices and herbs to enhance your taste. If you are reading a food label more than 1.5g per 100g means the product is high in salt. Younger children should have even less.
  • Regular exercise and being a healthy weight – by eating healthily, this will help control your weight. Physical activity also plays an important role, not only for weight control, but for your health, by being physically active this may help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
  • Drink enough water – we need about 1.6 to 2 litres of fluid a day to stop us becoming dehydrated. Water is the best choice, but you can also count other non-alcoholic drinks if in moderation. Aim to avoid sugary soft and fizzy drinks that are high in added sugars and calories, and are also bad for teeth. Even unsweetened fruit juice is sugary.

This factsheet is intended for adults as a general guide only and not a substitute for professional advice or a diagnosis. If you are on certain medication or suffer from a medical condition, seek individual advice from your health care professional. Date produced August 2015. Date edited April 2016.

If you already have a health and wellbeing initiaitve as part of your Employee Benefits package and would like to add something new, invigorating and exciting to spice things up then for full details of our Power Up & Motivate With Positive Nutrition Workplace Wellbeing Initiative please find our brochure here and to chat through how this may be implemented in your workplace please call Anna on 07778 218009.

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