Health & Wellbeing
Good eating habits are important for maintaining health and wellbeing. If you are eating a well-balanced diet that is right for your age and lifestyle you are more likely to avoid problems with your health.
A healthy, balanced diet
When it comes to a healthy diet, balance is the key to getting it right. The Eatwell Guide highlights the different types of food that make up our diet, and shows how much you should eat from each food group to have a well-balanced and healthy diet. The Eatwell Guide applies to most people regardless of weight, dietary restrictions/preferences or ethnic origin.
However, it doesn’t apply to children under 2 because they have different nutritional needs.
Fruit and vegetables
Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables - try and aim for at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables each day.
Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy Carbohydrates
Starchy food is a really important part of a healthy diet and should make up just over a third of the food we eat. Choose higher-fibre, wholegrain varieties when you can by purchasing wholewheat pasta, brown rice, or simply leaving the skins on potatoes.
Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins
These foods are sources of protein, vitamins and minerals, so it is important to eat some foods from this group. Beans, peas and lentils (which are all types of pulses) are good alternatives to meat because they’re naturally very low in fat, and they’re high in fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals.
Aim for at least two portions (2 x 140g) of fish a week, including a portion of oily fish (salmon, sardines, trout and mackerel), these are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which can help to keep your heart healthy.
Some types of meat are high in fat, particularly saturated fat. So when you’re buying meat, try to get lean cuts of meat and skinless poultry whenever possible and use healthier cooking methods, such as grilling or poaching instead of frying, to cut down on fat.
Dairy and alternatives
Try to have some milk and dairy food (or dairy alternatives) – such as cheese and yoghurt. These are good sources of protein and vitamins, and they’re also an important source of calcium, which helps to keep our bones strong. Some dairy food can be high in fat and saturated fat, but there are plenty of lower-fat options to choose from; you could choose semi-skimmed, 1% or skimmed milk and low fat yogurt.
If you do chose to have alternatives ensure that they are fortified with calcium, to make sure you are not missing out on any key nutrients.
You can find more information about what foods contain calcium here.
Oils and spreads
Although some fat in the diet is essential, generally we are eating too much saturated fat and need to reduce our consumption.
Unsaturated fats are healthier fats that are usually from plant sources and in liquid form as oil, for example vegetable oil, rapeseed oil and olive oil.
Swapping to unsaturated fats will help to reduce cholesterol in the blood, therefore it is important to get most of our fat from unsaturated oils.
Foods and drinks high in fat and/or sugar
These foods tend to be high in calories and some are high in saturated fat, free sugars* and salt which can be bad for your heart. Think about your portion size and watch how often you eat or drink these foods during the day.
*Free sugars - Any sugar added to food or drink products by the manufacturer, cook or consumer including those naturally found in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juice.
Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of fluid every day. Water, lower fat milk and sugar-free drinks including tea and coffee all count.
Vitamin D is important for strong, healthy bones and teeth and to help control the amount of calcium in our blood.
We get Vitamin D from the action of sunlight on exposed skin but because we need to cover up, use sun cream or simply don’t get enough sun, particularly during the winter; we have to get Vitamin D in other ways. Although a few foods contain Vitamin D, for example oily fish, margarine, eggs and some breakfast cereals, we can only get a small amount of the Vitamin D we need from food.
Do I need a Vitamin D supplement?
The Department of Health recommends that:
- Breastfed babies from birth to 1 year of age should be given a daily supplement containing 8.5 to 10 micrograms of vitamin D to make sure they get enough
- Formula-fed babies shouldn't be given a vitamin D supplement until they're having less than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day, as infant formula is fortified with vitamin D
- Children aged 1 to 4 years old should be given a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D
You can buy vitamin D supplements or vitamin drops containing vitamin D (for under 5s) at most pharmacies and supermarkets.
Women and children who qualify for the Healthy Start scheme can get free supplements containing the recommended amounts of vitamin D. See the Healthy Start website for more information.
All children over 5 and adults (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the autumn and winter.
Food labels can help you to choose between foods and to pick those that are lower in energy, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. Where colour coded labels are used you can tell at a glance if they are high, medium or low in fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt. For a healthier choice, try to pick products with more greens and ambers and fewer reds.
Remember that the portion sizes used on the label are suggestions and may not be thesame as you actually consume. For example, some foods and drinks commonly consumedas single servings have the nutritionalinformation presented per half pack.
To find out more about food labelling here.