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    A balanced diet

    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.

    Food groups in our diet

    The Eatwell Guide shows that to have a healthy, balanced diet, people should try to:

    • eat 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 and eat 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 five 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 our page on understanding calories. 

    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 we eat each day. It's advised that we eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day.

    There's evidence that people who eat at least five portions a day have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

    Eating five portions is not as hard as it sounds. Just one apple, banana, pear or similar-sized fruit is one portion (80g). A slice of pineapple or melon is one portion. Three heaped tablespoons of vegetables is another portion.

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

    For more tips on getting your five portions of fruit and veg, check out our 5 A DAY page.

    Starchy foods in your diet

    Starchy foods should make up just over one third of everything we eat. This means we should base our meals 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.

    Try to 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.

    Learn more from our starchy foods page.

    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.

    Learn 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 are 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 is 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. Learn more by reading our page on 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 for at least two portions of fish a week, including one 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. Learn more from our pages on 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 our fat from unsaturated oils and spreads. Swapping to unsaturated fats can help to 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, while regularly consuming foods and drinks high in sugar increases your risk of obesity and tooth decay.

    Find out more about why we need to cut down on saturated fat and sugar in our diet, which foods they occur in and how we can make healthier choices in Eight 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.

    You can use the panel below to download the NHS weight loss guide, our free 12-week diet and exercise plan.

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

    How to promote healthy diets

    How to promote healthy diets

    Diet evolves over time, being influenced by many social and economic factors that interact in a complex manner to shape individual dietary patterns. These factors include income, food prices (which will affect the availability and affordability of healthy foods), individual preferences and beliefs, cultural traditions, and geographical and environmental aspects (including climate change). Therefore, promoting a healthy food environment – including food systems that promote a diversified, balanced and healthy diet – requires the involvement of multiple sectors and stakeholders, including government, and the public and private sectors.

    Governments have a central role in creating a healthy food environment that enables people to adopt and maintain healthy dietary practices. Effective actions by policy-makers to create a healthy food environment include the following:

      • Creating coherence in national policies and investment plans – including trade, food and agricultural policies – to promote a healthy diet and protect public health through:

      • increasing incentives for producers and retailers to grow, use and sell fresh fruit and vegetables;
      • reducing incentives for the food industry to continue or increase production of processed foods containing high levels of saturated fats, trans-fats, free sugars and salt/sodium;
      • encouraging reformulation of food products to reduce the contents of saturated fats, trans-fats, free sugars and salt/sodium, with the goal of eliminating industrially-produced trans-fats;
      • implementing the WHO recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children;
      • establishing standards to foster healthy dietary practices through ensuring the availability of healthy, nutritious, safe and affordable foods in pre-schools, schools, other public institutions and the workplace;
      • exploring regulatory and voluntary instruments (e.g. marketing regulations and nutrition labelling policies), and economic incentives or disincentives (e.g. taxation and subsidies) to promote a healthy diet; and
      • encouraging transnational, national and local food services and catering outlets to improve the nutritional quality of their foods – ensuring the availability and affordability of healthy choices – and review portion sizes and pricing.
      • Encouraging consumer demand for healthy foods and meals through:

      • promoting consumer awareness of a healthy diet;
      • developing school policies and programmes that encourage children to adopt and maintain a healthy diet;
      • educating children, adolescents and adults about nutrition and healthy dietary practices;
      • encouraging culinary skills, including in children through schools;
      • supporting point-of-sale information, including through nutrition labelling that ensures accurate, standardized and comprehensible information on nutrient contents in foods (in line with the Codex Alimentarius Commission guidelines), with the addition of front-of-pack labelling to facilitate consumer understanding; and
      • providing nutrition and dietary counselling at primary health-care facilities.
      • Promoting appropriate infant and young child feeding practices through:

      • implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and subsequent relevant World Health Assembly resolutions;
      • implementing policies and practices to promote protection of working mothers; and
      • promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding in health services and the community, including through the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative.

    10 Ways Your Diet Can Reduce Your Cancer Risk

    10 Ways Your Diet Can Reduce Your Cancer Risk

    A healthy diet can impact many areas of health. A poor diet can increase the risk of the six most common types of cancer worldwide. There are many different sources telling many different stories about what a healthy diet and lifestyle look like. While there are many ways to achieve a balanced diet, getting started can be easy. We encourage you to follow these 10 simple guidelines to get healthy and reduce the risk of cancer.

    Stop – or don’t start – smoking

    Smoking might not seem like part of one’s diet, but it remains a huge risk factor for lung cancer, which is the most common cancer worldwide. People who quit smoking, regardless of their age, live longer than those who continue to smoke.

    Find a healthy body weight

    Obesity is a huge risk factor for several types of cancer. Gall bladder, kidney, stomach, breast, and colon cancer are all associated with obesity. Eating a balanced diet and keeping active plays an important role in cancer prevention.

    Eat the rainbow

    Moderation is an important aspect of diet, but so is variety. Eating fruits and vegetables of different categories can help balance the nutrients and vitamins in the body. Certain foods contain compounds that have been found to have anticancer properties. Broccoli, for example, contains sulforaphane which may reduce breast cancer cells by up to 75%.

    Get the servings right

    It is common to overlook the suggested serving size of most foods. While having a slightly larger serving of starches is acceptable now and again, most people are rarely consuming the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Eating at least five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables can easily aid in a healthier diet and lifestyle.

    Fiber, fiber, fiber!

    High-fiber diets are associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer. Whole grain cereals, legumes, and vegetables are all high fiber elements to add to one’s diet.

    Reduce fat intake

    Fat is necessary to one’s diet.  However, most people are typically consuming significantly too much fat. An adult’s diet should only consist of 25 to 30 grams of fat each day.

    Cut back on alcohol

    Alcohol is associated with an increased risk of multiple cancers. Additionally, most alcohol is high in calories and sugars which contribute to an unhealthy diet.

    Limit the consumption of salt

    Salt is a normal part of a diet, but there is a fine line between an acceptable amount of salt and too much salt. Having a salt-heavy diet may increase one’s risk of stomach and esophageal cancer.

    Take vitamin D supplements

    It is important to meet the quota for all vitamins and nutrients. Low levels of vitamin D, however, have been associated with an increased risk of breast, colon, and pancreatic cancer.

    Develop an exercise routine

    A healthy diet is important, but it needs to be coupled with an exercise regime. People who exercise two to three times a week are typically healthier and have a lower risk of developing several types of cancer than those who do not exercise regularly.