A balanced diet
You need to eat a range of foods to get all of the nutrients and fibre your body needs. The five main food groups are:
Eating the right balance of foods from these groups will make sure your body gets all it needs to stay healthy.
- starchy foods including bread, pasta, rice and potatoes
- fruit and vegetables
- milk and other dairy foods
- meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein
- foods high in fat or sugar
The image below shows proportionately how much food you should eat from each of the different groups to enjoy a balanced and healthy diet. This includes everything you eat during the day, including snacks. You don't have to give up the less healthy foods you like, just adjust the amount of them you eat in proportion to the amount of healthy foods in your diet.
Getting the balance right
Starchy foods contain energy in the form of carbohydrates, and release this energy slowly throughout the day. You should eat starchy foods as your main source of energy.
Starchy foods include bread, pasta, cereals, rice and potatoes. Choose wholegrain or wholemeal varieties where possible, and brown rice, as they are particularly high in fibre.
Fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables are good sources of many nutrients, in particular vitamins, minerals and fibre. Aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. Your five portions don't all have to be fresh – dried, frozen, tinned, and juiced fruit and vegetables count too.
Milk and other dairy foods
Milk and dairy products such as cheese and yoghurt are important sources of protein, calcium and vitamins.
Choose lower-fat options such as semi-skimmed or skimmed milk and low-fat yogurts.
Some dairy foods, such as butter and cream, have a high fat content so you should eat these in much smaller amounts.
Meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein
Meat, fish and alternatives, such as beans, pulses, eggs and nuts are all important non-dairy sources of protein.
Try to eat two portions of fish a week (one portion is about 140g). One of these portions should be oily fish, such as mackerel, salmon or pilchards. Oily fish is particularly rich in long chain omega 3 fatty acids, which can help prevent heart disease.
Some types of meat are high in fat, so always cut off any extra fat and skin. Grill, bake or poach meat and fish rather than fry it. Try to limit the amount of processed meat you eat (such as sausages and beef burgers) as these foods often contain a lot of fat and may increase your risk of bowel cancer.
Foods high in fat and sugar
Fat is an important part of your diet but you don’t need very much. Try to eat less fat overall, but remember that the type of fat you eat is also important. Try to replace foods that are high in saturated (bad) fats such as butter, pastries and cheese with foods that are rich in unsaturated (good) fats such as avocado and olive oil.
Sugary foods such as sweets and biscuits provide you with energy but not many nutrients. Eating sugary foods can cause tooth decay and gum disease, so try to limit the amount you eat.