A healthy, balanced diet provides your body with important nutrients and energy to function each day, maintain good health and help you to feel your best. Eating a balanced diet that includes a range of different types of foods, eaten in the right amounts, is beneficial for both our physical and mental health. Knowing what to eat can seem like a bit of a minefield but there’s no need for it to be confusing, time consuming, boring or expensive.
Here are just eight simple suggestions to help you to achieve a healthy, balanced diet:
- Aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. This can include 80g (about a handful) of fresh, frozen or tinned fruit/vegetables, 150ml of fruit/vegetable juice or a smoothie, or 30g of dried fruit.
- Include starchy carbohydrates, such as potatoes (ideally with skins on), bread, rice, pasta and breakfast cereals. Try to choose wholegrain (brown) options where possible, such as wholemeal bread, brown rice and wholegrain/bran cereals. These contain more fibre, vitamins and minerals than refined options like white bread and pasta and will help to keep you fuller for longer.
- Eat more fish. It is recommended to eat at least two portions of fish per week, one portion of which should be oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, trout, herring, pilchards and salmon. Remember that fish that is steamed, baked or grilled is a healthier choice than fried fish.
- Cut down on foods high in saturated fat and sugar. These include fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes, pastries, biscuits, chocolate, crisps and sauces (e.g. Ketchup, BBQ sauce, mayonnaise). It is fine to have these foods and drinks occasionally, but try to have them less often and in smaller amounts. You may find leaflets from the British Heart Foundation helpful.
- Eat less salt. Adults should eat no more than 6g salt a day, which is around one teaspoon. Children should have less salt than adults, and you can find out more at NHS Live Well. Reducing the amount of salt you add to your food is a great start, but it is estimated that around 75% of the salt we consume is already added to the foods that we buy. Therefore, checking food labels and choosing foods lower in salt is the best way to cut down. The British Heart Foundation website has lots of handy information and top tips on how to watch your salt intake.
- Drink six to eight glasses of fluid a day. Water, lower fat milk, sugar-free drinks and tea and coffee all count. Fruit juice and/or smoothies also count, but we should limit these to no more than 150ml per day. Plain water is the most hydrating option, so try to have as much of this as possible, using the other drinks to ‘top you up’ if necessary. Some people may find that avoiding caffeine for 5-6 hours before bedtime can help them to have a better night’s sleep – you could try fruit or herbal teas instead.
- Have breakfast. This helps to set you up for the day and provides energy to help you concentrate through the morning, as well as being a chance to consume important vitamins and minerals. Not everyone enjoys, or has time for, a big breakfast but even a light, quick breakfast can be very beneficial. You may find these breakfast ideas useful.
- Healthy eating and exercise go hand in hand when it comes to good health, especially if you are trying to reduce your weight or maintain a healthy weight. Controlling your portion sizes and checking food labels to choose foods/drinks lower in calories, saturated fat and sugar can help with weight management, and you may find this resource from the British Heart Foundation useful. In addition to a healthy diet, regular physical activity can help you to manage your weight as well as providing a wide range of other excellent benefits to your physical and mental health. The Government recommends that adults should do 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity, including strength training activities on at least 2 days of the week.
Eat Well Guide
In addition to the tips above, the Eatwell Guide gives a clear picture of the different food groups, how to make healthier choices within each foods groups, and how much of eat food group we should be aiming to eat. It can be followed by most people regardless of their weight, dietary restrictions/preferences or ethnicity, however some people may need to seek advice first such as people with dietary requirements or medical needs. The guide doesn't apply to children under the age of two, but children between two and five years can start to eat the same foods as the rest of the family. The healthy eating tips above are also generally relevant for children as well as adults, and ensuring children have a good diet is essential to ensure that they grow and develop healthily.
The Eatwell Guide shows the five main food groups which we should include in our diet every day. The more variety within each food group, the better as different foods provide different nutrients to fuel our bodies. The size of each section of the Eatwell Guide suggests how much of each food group to eat - the bigger the section the more you need. You don’t have to eat every meal in complete balance with the Eatwell Guide proportions, but you should aim to follow this as a guide for your overall day or week.
You may also find the Eatwell Guide Booklet useful for further information.
Information on the five main types of food found in the Eatwell Guide
- Fruit and vegetables
- Starchy carbohydrates (e.g. potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, cereals)
- Dairy and alternatives
- Oils and spreads
Other information about healthy eating
- NHS - Eat Well
- One You – Eat Better Information
- Change4life - Information, advice and recipes for the whole family
- British Heart Foundation - Eat Better Guide
- Diabetes UK – Healthy eating advice and recipes
- Download the Change4Life Food Scanner App to see how much sugar, salt and saturated fat is in everyday foods and drinks and get tips to cut back.
- Download the One You Easy Meals app for easy meal ideas to help get you cook healthier meals.
- Healthy You website has lots of healthy and well-balanced recipes.
- Find out more about eating out healthily in Cambridgeshire on the Healthier Options website
What is a healthy diet?
There is no ideal weight that suits everyone - each person is different and your healthy weight is determined by factors that are unique to you. It can be difficult to tell if someone is a healthy weight just by looking, especially in children. There are a couple of measurements you can use to check if you are currently a healthy weight.
You can use Body Mass Index (BMI) to find out if your weight is in a healthy range. A BMI calculator uses your height and weight to calculate whether you are a healthy weight, underweight, overweight or obese. A healthy BMI for an adult is between 18.5 and 24.9.
If you are checking your child’s weight on the BMI calculator, make sure you select child as the calculation is different to children than it is for adults. If you are concerned about your child’s weight you should speak to your school nurse or GP in the first instance or contact Cambridgeshire's Lifestyle Service which offers support to children and their families for weight management.
You can also check your waist measurement. If you carry more weight around your middle this may be unhealthy, even if your BMI is in the healthy range. A healthy waist measurement for males is 94cm or less and for females is 80cm or below.
You may find the British Heart Foundation ‘Understanding My Weight’ Booklet useful.
How is my diet linked with my weight?
A healthy diet is one of the most important factors for achieving or maintaining a healthy weight. Put simply, if we consume more calories through our foods/drinks than we burn off through exercise then we will gain weight. Certain foods/drinks are very calorie dense, meaning that they provide a lot of calories in only a small amount. These types of foods/drinks also often contain a lot of sugar, saturated fat and salt which do not provide our bodies with much good quality nutrition, so they are sometimes referred to as ‘empty calories’.
In the UK, two in three adults are classed as overweight or obese; increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes and some cancers as well as certain mental health problems. Being a healthy weight in childhood can help to prevent poor health in adulthood, but unfortunately 22.6% of reception (4-5 years) children were classed as overweight or obese in the 18/19 academic year and by Year 6, this figure had increased to 34.3%.
If you want to lose weight
Local weight management services for adults and children are free and available locally through the Lifestyle Service, including information, support and 1:1/group sessions around healthy eating and physical activity.
You may also find the below resources useful:
Information and support for breastfeeding
For your baby, breastfeeding is the food that gives the best start in life. Breastmilk is perfect and uniquely made for your growing baby. Every day counts and the longer you breastfeed, the greater the benefits for your baby.
Babies who are breastfed are less likely to have stomach, gut, chest and ear infections, as well as less risk of tooth decay. If your family has allergies your baby is less likely to get eczema and asthma if breastfed. Breastfed babies are less likely to be overweight which means they are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. It can also benefit mothers as it reduces the risk of developing certain types of ovarian and breast cancers, cardiovascular (heart) disease and osteoporosis (weak bones) as well as helping them to return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster.
We understand that breastfeeding can be challenging, but there is plenty of support available to help you and your family:
- National Breastfeeding Helpline - 0300 100 0212.
- NHS Choices – Benefits of Breastfeeding
- The Breastfeeding Network
- Association of Breastfeeding Mothers - Talk to a Breastfeeding Counsellor on the ABM Helpline: 0300 330 5453
- La Leche League, Telephone 0845 120 2918, 24 hours a day
- National Childbirth Trust – NCT Helpline 0300 330 0700 everyday 8am-midnght.
- UNICEF – ‘Off To The Best Start’ Leaflet
Local sources of support for breastfeeding
There are many sources of local support for breastfeeding where you can get advice online, by telephone, face to face and through groups. Your midwife and health visitor will be able to provide advice and support. You may wish to attend one of the friendly support groups where you can speak with an experienced person face-to-face about your concerns. Or you may prefer to speak with someone on the phone via one of the helplines or by calling a local volunteer breastfeeding counsellor.
However should you encounter a persistent or complex breastfeeding problem and your baby is less than 28 days old then your midwife or health visitor will be able to support you along with specially trained breastfeeding counsellors facilitating the local support groups. If despite this support your problem continues then a referral may be made to the Infant Feeding Team based at Hinchingbrooke Hospital.
For more information on local breastfeeding support groups and for local places to feed, support groups and more please visit:
- Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- Visit NHS Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Infant Feeding Facebook page for up-to-date information on local breastfeeding support groups and for local places to feed, support groups and much more #CambsIF
- Antenatal Infant Feeding Workshops for pregnant women/partners and family members at The Rosie Maternity Unit (Addenbrookes Hospital) and in the community. For bookings call The Rosie reception on 01223 217671 or speak to the Community Midwife.