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The healthy eating guide

Man baking with two children in a kitchen
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What is healthy eating?

With so many different diets and opinions out there, it’s hard to know exactly what healthy eating actually means. According to the NHS, put simply, eating healthy means eating a wide variety of food in moderate amounts.

This includes:

  • Lots of fibre
  • Dairy (or dairy alternatives)
  • At least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
  • Beans, pulses, fish, meat or other proteins
  • Low amounts of fat
  • Plenty of water

On average, men should be aiming for 2,500 calories a day and women 2,000. Eating healthy means avoiding overly processed food, the sort which can be found in fast food restaurants. These high calorie foods often contain little nutritional value (no minerals or vitamins) but are high in saturated fat and sugar.

Why is eating healthy important?

Healthy eating can help with a fitter, healthier lifestyle. When looking at changing your diet and lifestyle, there’s a few factors to consider. From staying in control of your portion sizes, trying healthier alternatives or looking at ways to be more active.

There has long since been established a link between weight and chronic health conditions. Being overweight (having a BMI of over 25) has been linked to diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. The only way to keep your weight at bay is by eating healthy and exercising.

It’s also possible to have a poor diet and still be within weight range. Research has shown that those who make poor food choices who are at a normal weight are still at risk of developing these chronic conditions because their body is not receiving the nutrition it needs to function properly, which over time can lead to serious consequences. 

What is a balanced diet?

A healthy, balanced diet consists of all of the food groups in moderate amounts. When eaten properly, this diet should provide you with the correct amount of energy in order to maintain energy balance. Our bodies need energy in order to carry out its natural processes, such as breathing or pumping blood around the body.

Why is a balanced diet important?

It’s important to maintain a balanced diet because no one food group can provide us with all of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients we need to survive. For example, carbohydrates can provide us with energy, calcium and B vitamins, but does not provide us with protein. Dairy products are great for protein and calcium but are bad for fibre. It’s important we receive a full range of nutritional support, and the only way this can be done is through a full balanced diet.

How to start eating healthy

The important thing to recognise is that it’s never too late to start eating healthy. If you’re overweight or underweight, it’s important that you check in with your GP first to establish whether the changes you would like to make to your diet are safe. Once you’ve done this, you’ll need to educate yourself on where you need to make a change. The NHS website is a good resource for this, as well as the visual Eatwell Guide.

If you would like to start eating healthier, focus on the following steps:

  • Make a meal plan and stick to it
  • Base main meals on high fibre, starchy carbohydrates
  • Eat more fish (including oily fish)
  • Include plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • Cut down on saturated fat and sugar
  • Consume less salt (no more than 6g a day)
  • Don’t skip meals
  • Drink plenty of water

For best results, be sure to incorporate exercise into your weekly plan.

What are calories?

Calories are used as the measurement of energy we get from food. When we consume more calories than our body needs to function, this energy is stored as fat in our body. In order to maintain a stable weight, our energy (calorie) consumption needs to match our energy output. For example, an office worker who spends all day sitting will need to eat less than a policeman who spends a large amount of their day patrolling the streets. You can determine the number of calories your food product contains by looking at the label. As a general rule, men should aim to eat 2,500 calories a day and women 2,000 to maintain a normal weight.  

What are macronutrients?

Macronutrients (macro meaning large) are the nutrients we need from food in large quantities. The three main macronutrients are fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Without these building blocks in our diet, the body will struggle to maintain proper energy levels throughout the day.

What are micronutrients?

Micronutrients (micro meaning small) refers to the essential vitamins and minerals found in the foods we eat. In comparison to macronutrients, the quantities needed are far lower but are still of significant importance to overall health and energy levels

Why eating wholefood is important

Put simply, wholefoods are foods based on whole ingredients, with minimal processing or preserving involved. Wholefoods are mainly plant based foods such as vegetables, nuts and fruit, but also include animal based products such as eggs, meat, fish and poultry. Eating wholefoods are important because they can provide you with all of the nutrients your body needs for optimal health, without the fat or sugar content often found in highly processed foods.

Can I lose weight by eating healthy?

As long as your body is using more energy than it’s consuming, it’s possible to lose weight. Often foods high in fat and sugar have a high calorie (energy) content but do not keep you full, so by excluding these from your diet and replacing them with meals that are high in fibre but low in fat, you’ll feel fuller for longer and will find yourself needing to eat less. If you’ve ever wondered what 100 calories looks like in healthy products compared to unhealthy ones, be sure to visit this page from the NHS.

We answer your frequently asked questions about weight loss: 

 

What are the main food groups

The main basic food groups are:

  •  Breads, cereals, rice, pasta and other grains
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Dairy and alternatives
  • Meat, beans, pulses or other sources of protein
  • Oils and spreads 

By ensuring your diet consists of each of these food groups in moderate amounts, combined with exercise and drinking plenty of water, you’ll be eating healthily.

Foods to avoid or eat less of

When you’re trying to eat a more balanced diet or lose weight there are a few food groups and ingredients you should consider eating less of. This doesn’t mean you should cut them out of your meals entirely, but perhaps be more mindful of what you’re eating. It’s ok to have a little of what you fancy, but moderation when it comes to saturated fat, sugar and salt could help you reach your goals.

Saturated fat

Eating lots of saturated fat can raise your cholesterol levels. It’s a common ingredient in lots of pre-packaged foods including:

  • Biscuits
  • Sausages and bacon
  • Cakes
  • Pastries such as sausages rolls
  • Chocolate
  • Cheese
  • Butter and coconut oil
  • Fatty cuts of meat and cured meats
  • Ice cream

Sugar

Is found in a wide variety of the foods we eat and not all of them are sweet, many savoury foods can be high in sugar like breakfast cereals or ready-made sauces. Simple swaps, drinking water instead of fizzy drinks and cooking from scratch, if you’re able to, will help to cut down the amount of sugar you’re consuming each day.

Salt

Foods can often be high in salt because of how they’re made, or we tend to eat a lot of certain foods and this can increase our salt intake that day. Salty foods can include; bacon, olives, cheese and soy sauce. You may find that the amount of salt in your food also changes from brand to brand so it’s always a good idea to check nutrition labels.

Foods to eat

Fruit and vegetables

  • Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day

Oils and spreads

  • Choose unsaturated oils
  • Use in small amounts

Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meats and other proteins 

  • Try to eat more beans and pulses
  • Two portions of sustainably sourced fish per week, one of which is oily
  • Try to eat less red and processed meat 

Dairy and alternatives

  • Milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products are good sources of protein and some vitamins

Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates

  • Choose wholegrain or higher fibre versions with less added salt, fat and sugar

How to control portion sizes when losing weight

The British Heart Foundation recommend the following steps when trying to control portion sizes:

  • Use a smaller plate – this well prevent overloading and may help trick your mind into thinking you have a full meal.
  • Avoid doubling carbs – for example, spaghetti bolognese does not require a side of garlic bread even though it’s considered traditional.
  • Try using measuring cups – you may be surprised by how much you’re actually eating.
  • Replace puddings with fruit – if you’re used to eating something sweet after each meal, try ditching the cake and instead reach for some fruit.
  • Be selective with seconds – food wastage is not desirable, but it doesn't mean that you need to eat leftovers from people’s plates. If this is a regular problem, reconsider the amount you’re cooking.
  • Wait 20 minutes – if you feel you want a second helping, wait 20 minutes and drink a glass of water. You might not be as hungry as you think.
  • Check food labels – always be aware of what exactly is going into the meal you’re preparing.
  • Ask for less – if you’re in a situation where you’re not preparing the food (i.e. a restaurant or a friend’s house) simply ask for less so you’re not forced to test your will later on.

Top tips to improve your diet

Eat lots of fruit and veg 

We all know fruit and veg is good for us, they are great sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre to help maintain a healthy gut. Plus, according to the NHS eating your 5 a day can help to reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer*. To get the most out of your 5 a day, you should be eating a variety of fruit and vegetables as they all contain different combinations of fibre, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.

Remember, fresh, frozen, canned, dried and juiced fruit and vegetables all count towards your 5 a day. Also potatoes and yams do not count towards your 5 a day as they mainly contribute starch to your diet.

You could try:

  • Adding fruit to your cereal, porridge or yoghurt in the morning for breakfast
  • Snack on cucumber, peppers or carrot
  • Add an extra portion of vegetables to your favourite meals, try chopped carrot in your bolognese, chopped red peppers into your pasta or mushrooms in your stir fry
  • Have a salad or vegetable side dish with your main meal at dinner 

Eat more oily fish

We should all be aiming for at least 2 potions of fish per week, including at least 1 portion of oily fish. These are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Fish is also a good source of protein in your diet.

Oily fish you could try includes:

  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Herring
  • Sardines, pilchards, mackerel. You can choose from fresh, frozen and canned.

But, keep an eye on smoked and canned fish because they can be high in salt.

Cut down on salt 

Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure and increase the chance of stroke as well as heart and kidney problems. The recommended daily intake of salt for adults is just a heaped teaspoon (about 6g).

Try to cut down on these foods that have a high salt content:

  • Processed foods such as ready meals and takeaways
  • Hams, bacon and sausages
  • Snacks such as crisps, salted nuts and biscuits
  • Stock cubes, gravy powder and soy sauce
  • Cheese
  • Prawns, smoked fish and tinned anchovies
  • Some bread and breakfast cereals
  • Canned, packed and instant soups 

Stay hydrated

A healthy diet consists of plenty of water - we should aim to drink six to eight glasses a day. Drinking water can contribute to feelings of fullness and reduce the likelihood of snacking. Plain water is best as other drinks often contain added sugars, although it’s important to note that caffeinated hot drinks such as teas and coffees cause you to produce more urine, which offsets the results of hydration.

Water makes up nearly two thirds of our body, so it’s no surprise that we experience negative health consequences when we’re dehydrated.

Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Lack of concentration

If left untreated, dehydration can be life threatening. Your urine colour is the easiest way to determine your hydration levels. As a general rule, the lighter your urine the more hydrated you are.

Don't skip breakfast

Skipping breakfast leads to low energy levels and can cause your body to crave those high energy (fatty) foods. This can be difficult to maintain and may lead to eventual overeating to compensate. A recent study has suggested that skipping breakfast is associated with overweight and obesity.

Here are some ideas for healthy breakfast recipes.

Stay active

Any type of exercise is good for you – aim to be physically active every day. Exercise boosts energy and delivers oxygen-rich blood and nutrients to your muscles. It also strengthens your heart muscle, allowing it to work more effectively. You should aim to do 150 minutes of moderate exercise (brisk walking, tennis, rollerblading etc.) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (running, swimming fast, martial arts etc.) every week.

If you need some inspiration on ways to incorporate exercise into your daily life, check out this useful guide.

What is the most effective weight loss supplements? 

The effectiveness of weight loss supplements depends on how they are used. If you eat a low calorie replacement bar or take supplements to encourage calorie burn, but continue to eat high calories meals, then you cannot expect to lose weight quickly. Supplements must be taken alongside a healthy change in diet and lifestyle to see the best results. At LloydsPharmacy we have a full weight loss range including diet and slimming aids, meal replacements and supplements.

We also provide a medicated weight loss service, a prescription injection that acts as an appetite suppressant. You will need to consult with one of our pharmacists to ensure you are suitable for this treatment.

Weight loss service

References

*www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/why-5-a-day/
**All recipe ideas are from the NHS or Change4Life
www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/eat-less-saturated-fat/
www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-to-cut-down-on-sugar-in-your-diet/
www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/salt-nutrition/
www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/food-and-nutrition/eating-well/health-benefits-of-eating-well
www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/nutrition.htm
www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/
www.nhsinform.scot/campaigns/hydration
www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/the-eatwell-guide/
www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/what-are-processed-foods/
www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/nutrition/ask-the-expert/macronutrientshttps://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/basics/exploring-nutrients.html?start=1
www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/understanding-calories/
www.gosh.nhs.uk/conditions-and-treatments/general-health-advice-children/eat-smart/food-science/food-group-fun
www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/healthydiet/healthybalanceddiet
www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/bmi-calculator/?tabname=you-and-your-weight