All the food we eat can be divided into 5 groups. A healthy diet
means that you eat the right balance of these groups:
- Starchy foods, such as rice, wholewheat pasta and bread, and
- Fruit and vegetables.
- Meat, fish, eggs and beans.
- Milk and dairy foods.
- Foods containing fat and sugar.
Most of us eat too much fat, sugar and salt, and not enough
fruit and vegetables or starchy foods and wholegrains.
Starchy foods such as bread, cereals, potatoes, pasta, maize and
cornbread are a crucial part of a healthy diet. They contain
carbohydrates, which are an essential source of energy. Starchy
foods are fuel for your body.
In a healthy meal, starchy foods should make up around a third
of everything we eat, making them the main part of the meal. It’s
even better if you chose wholegrain or wholemeal varieties, such as
brown rice, wholewheat pasta and brown wholemeal bread because they
contain more fibre and minerals than white flour or rice.
Starch can also be found in beans, lentils, peas, breadfruit and
Fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables are a vital source of vitamins and minerals
and it's advised that we eat five portions of them a day. There's
good evidence that people who eat five portions a day are at lower
risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.
What's more, eating five portions is not as hard as it might
sound. Just one apple, banana, pear or similar sized fruit is one
portion. A slice of pineapple or melon is one portion and 3 heaped
tablespoons of vegetables is another. A glass of fruit juice also
counts as one portion. But more than one cannot be counted towards
your five a day. Juice only counts as one of your five a day, no
matter how much you drink.
Having a sliced banana with your morning cereal is a quick way
to get one portion. Swap your mid-morning biscuit for a tangerine,
and add a side salad to your lunch. Add a portion of vegetables to
dinner, and snack on dried fruit in the evening to reach your 5 a
Meat, fish, eggs and beans
These foods are all sources of protein, which is essential for
growth and repair of the body. Around 15% of the calories we eat
each day should come from protein.
Meat is a good source of protein, as well as vitamins and
minerals such as iron, zinc and B vitamins. It is also one of the
main sources of vitamin B12. Try to eat lean cuts of meat whenever
possible to cut down on fat, and make sure you always cook meat
Fish is another important source of protein. There is evidence
that people who eat two portions or more a week of oily fish such
as sardines, mackerel, herring and salmon are at lower risk of
heart disease. That's because oily fish contain high levels of a
'good fat' called omega-3. However, women who plan to have
children, or are pregnant or breastfeeding, should eat no more than
two portions of oily fish each week.
Eggs and pulses – including beans, nuts and seeds – are also
great sources of protein. But eggs and some nuts contain high
levels of fat, so eat them in moderation.
Milk and dairy foods
Milk and dairy foods such as cheese and yoghurt are also sources
of protein. They also contain calcium, which helps keep bones
healthy. But some dairy products have a high saturated fat content,
and eating too much saturated fat is linked to heart disease. To
enjoy the health benefits of dairy without eating too much fat, try
using skimmed milk, low-fat hard cheeses or cottage cheese, and
low-fat yoghurt instead of cream or soured cream.
Fat and sugar
Of all the five food groups, it is our consumption of foods that
are high in fat and sugar that does the most to make our diet
unbalanced. Fats and sugar are powerful sources of energy for the
body. But when we eat too much of them we consume more energy than
we burn, meaning we put on weight. Obesity – linked to diabetes,
heart disease, stroke and certain cancers – can be the result.
But did you know that there are bad fats and good fats?
Saturated fat – contained in high levels in such foods as pies,
meat products, sausages, cakes and biscuits – can raise your
cholesterol level, and increase your risk of heart disease. Most of
us in the UK eat too much saturated fat, putting us at risk of
Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, can lower cholesterol and
provide us with the essential fatty acids needed to stay healthy.
Oily fish, nuts and seeds, avocados, olive oils and vegetable oils
are sources of unsaturated fat.
There are two kinds of food containing sugar, too. Sugar occurs
naturally in foods such as fruit and milk. But sugar is added to
processed foods such as fizzy drinks, cakes, biscuits, chocolate,
pastries, ice cream and jam. It's also contained in some ready-made
savoury foods such as pasta sauces and baked beans.
It’s the foods with added sugar that most of us need to cut down
on. Instead of a fizzy drink, have a half and half mixture of fruit
juice and water. Make a pasta sauce yourself instead of buying it
ready made. Have dried fruit for a snack instead of a chocolate