The benefits of healthy eating
Healthy eating is one of the factors that contribute to our wellbeing, but what constitutes a healthy diet? The modern, fast paced life has led to us eating more convenience foods and take away meals than ever before. These types of food have a tendency to contain a lot of sugar, salt, saturated fat, toxins and chemicals. If we eat a lot of processed food our bodies can become nutritionally starved of essential vitamins and minerals, leaving us feeling sluggish and lacking in energy. Eating a healthy diet doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive, it just takes a bit of planning.
The effects of what we eat
The food we eat will either give us greater health and higher energy or poorer health and lower energy.
Think about a car, which needs the right petrol and oil to perform at its best. Your body is the same. It needs all the essential nutrients to perform at its optimum. Putting the wrong fuel in your body will result in low energy and eventually poor health. We’re not talking about the latest diet craze, but a life-long, life-enhancing commitment to eating well. Check the ingredients on food packaging.
The body was designed to eat whole, natural, unrefined foods so watch out for additives and preservatives, along with high levels of salt, sugar and saturated fat. It is modern processing techniques that have led to an increase in highly processed foods in our diet. If we eat a lot of processed food our bodies can become nutritionally starved of essential vitamins and minerals, leaving us feeling sluggish and lacking in energy.
Our health, energy and weight are a reflection of what we eat and drink. Eating and drinking more of the good stuff gives your body all of the nutrients it needs to thrive. Implement good habits, while dropping your bad habits and you’ll be seeing the results very soon.
Tips for a healthy eating plan
According to the NHS, the majority of adults eat more calories than they need. Ideally, a healthy eating plan will allow for people to eat the right amount of calories for how active they are. The NHS recommends that men should have around 2,500 calories a day and women around 2,000 calories a day. Ideally each meal should contain a combination of:-
- good starchy foods and carbohydrates
- good fat
- fresh fruit and vegetables for vitamins, and
- good protein.
Starch should make up one third of the foods we eat. People often assume that starchy foods are fattening, but many starchy foods are high in fibre and low in calories, in particular when wholegrain options are used. Examples include potatoes, cereals, pasta, rice and bread. Wherever possible choose wholegrain and eat potatoes with their skins on for more fibre.
Not all fat is bad for you. Examples of healthy options include fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil, flaxseed oil, sesame oil, eggs, avocado and olives.
Protein is an essential part of a balanced diet and is also an important source of vitamins and minerals. Examples of healthy options include chicken, fish, nuts, seeds, tofu, lentils, beans and other pulses, and eggs.
Fruit and vegetables
Along with this add plenty of fresh vegetables, salad and seasonal fruit. Government guidelines say that people should have at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. The NHS has a good selection of recipes to help people to get started on their five a day, including options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For further information, including recipe suggestions, see the NHS website.
Opt for lower-fat milk and dairy foods. These are healthier options to help you to get enough protein and calcium.
Healthy eating recipe ideas
To give you an idea about how you could be eating healthily and still have lots of tasty, satisfying food, here are some ideas for a healthy eating day (remember breakfast is the most important meal of the day so even if you are in a rush try to grab a banana and some oat-cakes). Try to eat regularly. Included are some healthy ideas for snacks, as little and often is better than skipping meals:-
- porridge with honey
- home-made granola or muesli with fresh or dried fruit, skimmed milk or yoghurt
- grilled bacon, tomatoes and poached egg
- home-made fruit smoothie with yoghurt.
- chicken, quinoa and avocado salad
- vegetable soup with beans or lentils
- tuna and salad on wholemeal pitta, seeded wrap or wholegrain bread.
- roast vegetables, grilled chicken and quinoa or brown rice
- turkey or fish and vegetable stir fry
- honey, mustard and soya sauce tofu or halloumi kebabs with salad.
- natural yoghurt with strawberries and crushed almonds
- apple crumble, using oats and crushed almonds for the crumble
- home-made flapjack with nuts, seeds and dried fruit.
- fresh or dried fruit and nuts
- toasted pumpkin seeds and raising
- hummus with strips of chicken, cucumber and carrot.
People need between 1.6 to 2 litres of fluid every day in order to prevent dehydration. Try to avoid sugary soft and fizzy drinks. All non-alcoholic drinks count, but water and lower-fat milk are healthier choices. Fruit juice can count towards your five a day, but even fruit juice is sugary. The NHS recommends that you stick to one glass of fruit juice per day (about 150 ml). In warmer weather, or when exercising, people may need to increase their fluid intake accordingly. Please note that flavoured water drinks can contain high levels of sugar, so do always check the label.
For further information, see the NHS website.
Many foods are bad for your health. If you want a balanced diet, you should try to avoid or at least cut down on the following:-
A normal diet contains many different types of fat. There are two main types of fat, saturated and unsaturated. Small amounts of unsaturated fats such as mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated are necessary as part of a healthy diet, and the British Heart Foundation recommends that people replace saturated fats with these wherever possible. For further information, including how to choose the right type of fat and which food products to find it in, see the British Heart Foundation website.
According to the Government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition sugar should make up no more than 5% of our daily energy intake. This works out at approximately 30 grams.
In nature, many foods contain sugar, however they also contain other nutrients such as fibre, vitamins, minerals and water. A limited amount of sugar is not harmful, however too much is very detrimental to health and has been linked to medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and weight gain. For further information about sugar and health, including advice on how to eat less. see the Action on Sugar website.
Whilst some foods obviously contain high levels of sugar for example, sweets and cakes, be aware that sugar is often added to foods that do not even taste sweet, for example, bread, condiments and sauces. This hidden sugar can make it quite hard to stick to the recommended guidelines. Checking the food labels before buying can help. It also helps if people are familiar with the various names that sugar can be listed under. These include:-
- corn sugar
- maple syrup
For further information on food labelling and guideline daily amounts, see the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) website.
People do not need to add salt to their food in order to consume too much salt. According to the NHS about three-quarters of the salt that we eat is already in the food we buy, for example, breakfast cereals, soups, bread and sauces. A diet that is high in salt can cause raise blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease or strokes. They suggest checking nutrition labels on food packaging as a means of identifying salt content in food, for example, more than 1.5 grams of salt per 100 grams means that a product is high in salt.
Adults should not eat more than 6 grams of salt per day, this is approximately one teaspoon of salt. For further information, including some top tips for reducing your salt intake, see the British Heart Foundation website.
The eatwell plate
The eatwell plate, devised by Public Health England, shows the different types of food and proportions needed in order to have a well balanced, healthy diet. People with special dietary requirements or medical needs might want to check with a registered dietician to ensure that this system is right for them. For further information, see the Public Health England guide.
Vegetarians can incorporate much of the above guidance into their healthy eating plan. Equally, people who are looking to cut back on their meat intake may want to consider including some vegetarian options into their plan. The Vegetarian Society has a free advice and information service. For further guidance, including recipes and approved products, see The Vegetarian Society website.
Vegans can also incorporate much of the above guidance into their healthy eating plan. The Vegan Society has lots of useful guidance, including recipes, nutrition and health and lifestyle. This site is also useful for people who are looking to cut back on their meat intake. For further information, see The Vegan Society website.
A healthy eating plan should not lead to people being underweight or overweight. There are many reasons why a person can be over or underweight, for example, stress or other emotional problems can lead to a change in eating patterns. However, eating disorders lead a person to focus excessively on their weight and shape, and can lead to unhealthy food choices and lasting damage to health. For further information about eating disorders, see the Pharmacist Support Eating Disorder fact sheet.
Other useful information
The BBC food website contains lots of guidance on fitness and nutrition, and has lots of recipes and cooking tips to help you to eat a balanced diet. For further information, see the BBC Food website.
Change4life is helping people to make healthy changes to the way they live their lives. for further information, including eating well and drinking less, see the Change4life website.
This fact sheet was last reviewed on 11 February 2020.