What is a healthy diet?

Fruit and vegetables for a healthy diet

A healthy diet is important for people of all ages. 

Eating well and staying active helps us to live better lives by giving us the energy we need. A healthy diet also reduces the risk of getting a large number of preventable conditions and improves our physical and mental health.

What should we eat?

The NHS Eatwell Guide shows how much of what we eat overall should come from each food group to achieve a healthy, balanced diet.

A healthy diet consists of:

  • starch and fibre such as:
    • bread
    • rice
    • pasta
    • cereals
    • potatoes
    • oats
  • beans, peas, lentils
  • fruit and vegetables.

Starch and fibre

Starchy foods are a good source of energy and the main source of a range of nutrients in our diet. Starchy foods should make up just over a third of the food we eat.

Choose higher fibre wholegrain varieties, such as wholewheat pasta and brown rice, or simply leave skins on potatoes.

Fruit and vegetables

Aim to eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and veg each day. Choose from fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or juiced.

Dairy or dairy alternatives

Milk, cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais are good sources of protein and some vitamins. They're also an important source of calcium, which helps keep our bones healthy. Try to go for lower-fat and lower-sugar products where possible, like 1% fat milk, reduced-fat cheese or plain low-fat yoghurt.


Foods such as beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other sources are good sources of protein, vitamins and minerals.

Pulses, such as beans, peas and lentils, are good alternatives to meat because they're lower in fat and higher in fibre and protein too.

Choose lean cuts of meat and mince, and eat less red and processed meat like bacon, ham and sausages. Aim for at least two portions of fish every week, 1 of which should be oily, such as salmon or mackerel.

Healthy fats

Choose unsaturated oils and spreads, and eat in small amounts. Unsaturated fats are healthier fats and include vegetable, rapeseed, olive and sunflower oils. Remember all types of fat are high in energy and should be eaten sparingly.

Eating less fat, salt and sugar

Eat less foods high in fat, salt and sugar and in small amounts. These foods include:

  • chocolate
  • cakes
  • biscuits
  • sugary soft drinks
  • butter
  • ghee
  • ice cream.

They're not needed in our diet, so should be eaten less often and in smaller amounts.

Portion sizes

Watch your portion sizes. You should aim to adjust portion sizes to ensure you have the correct amount, depending your age, size and activity level. Using your hand acts as a great guide.

  • carbohydrates: a portion of carbs is a handful
  • protein: the size of your protein should be the same as the palm of your hand
  • fruit: a portion of fruit is the same size as your fist
  • vegetables: a portion of vegetables is the same as our hands held together.

Altogether you should aim for three balanced meals and two snacks per day. Choosing healthy snacks is key. Healthy snacks include plain nuts, rice cakes, fruit and low fat yoghurt.


Drink plenty of fluids. The government recommends six to eight cups or glasses each day.

Water, lower-fat milks and lower-sugar or sugar-free drinks, including tea and coffee, all count. Fruit juice and smoothies also count towards your fluid consumption, but they contain free sugars that can damage teeth, so limit these drinks to a combined total of 150ml a day.

Different dietary needs

The NHS EatWell Guidance is designed for the general population. Individuals might have slightly different dietary needs. Speak to your GP if you are in doubt.

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