A healthy diet may help to prevent certain long-term (chronic) diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. It may also help to reduce your risk of developing some cancers and help you to keep a healthy weight. This leaflet explains the principles of a healthy diet. It is general advice for most people. The advice may be different for certain groups of people, including pregnant women, people with certain health problems or those with special dietary requirements.
It is important to find the right balance between different nutrients to achieve maximum health benefits. A balanced diet generally contains food from each of the following food groups:
- Starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, etc.
- Fruit and vegetables.
- Milk and dairy foods.
- Protein foods. These include meat, fish, eggs and other non-dairy sources of protein (including nuts, tofu, beans, pulses, etc).
Fatty and sugary foods are the fifth food group that you eat. However, only a small amount of what you eat should be made up from fatty and sugary foods.
In addition to the above, having plenty of fibre and water in your diet is also important for your health.
A healthy diet may help to prevent certain serious diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. It may also help to reduce your risk of developing some cancers. If you become sick, eating a healthy diet may help you to recover more quickly. Also, a main way of preventing obesity and overweight is to eat a healthy diet. If you are overweight or obese, eating a healthy diet can help you lose weight.
As well as healthy eating, regular physical exercise is also very important for health and to avoid or reduce obesity. See the physical activity pages.
What makes up a healthy diet?
As a general rule, vegetables, fruits and starchy foods should provide the bulk of most of your meals. The remaining part of your diet should be made up from milk and dairy foods and protein foods. As mentioned above, you should limit the amount of foods and drinks that are high in fat or sugar.
Reducing the intake of saturated fat to less than 10% of total fat intake (preferably in lean meat and low-fat dairy products):
- Replace saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat where possible.
- Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day (new research has suggested that we should all aim for seven portions per day).
- Eat at least two servings of fish (preferably oily fish) per week.
- Consider regularly eating whole grains and nuts.
- Keep the amount of salt in your diet to less than 6 g per day.
- Limit alcohol intake to less than 21 units per week for men and less than 14 units per week for women. See also separate leaflet called Alcohol and Sensible Drinking.
- Avoid or reduce the following in your diet:
- Processed meats or commercially produced foods (including 'ready meals') which tend to be high in salt and trans fatty acids.
- Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and processed cereals.
- Sugar-sweetened drinks.
- High-calorie but nutritionally poor snacks, such as sweets, cakes and crisps.