Eating a balanced diet
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important part of maintaining good health, and can help you feel your best.
This means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, and consuming the right amount of food and drink to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
This page covers healthy eating advice for the general population. People with special dietary needs or a medical condition should ask their doctor or a registered dietitian for advice.
Food groups in your diet
The Eatwell Guide shows that to have a healthy, balanced diet, people should try to:
• eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day (see 5 A Day)
• base meals on higher fibre starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice or pasta
• have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks)
• eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein
• choose unsaturated oils and spreads, and eat them in small amounts
• drink plenty of fluids (at least 6 to 8 glasses a day)
If you're having foods and drinks that are high in fat, salt and sugar, have these less often and in small amounts.
Try to choose a variety of different foods from the 5 main food groups to get a wide range of nutrients.
Most people in the UK eat and drink too many calories, too much saturated fat, sugar and salt, and not enough fruit, vegetables, oily fish or fibre.
The Eatwell Guide does not apply to children under the age of 2 because they have different nutritional needs.
Between the ages of 2 and 5 years, children should gradually move to eating the same foods as the rest of the family in the proportions shown in the Eatwell Guide.
Fruit and vegetables: are you getting your 5 A Day?
Fruit and vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals and fibre, and should make up just over a third of the food you eat each day.
It's recommended that you eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. They can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced.
There's evidence that people who eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
Eating 5 portions is not as hard as it sounds.
A portion is:
• 80g of fresh, canned or frozen fruit and vegetables
• 30g of dried fruit – which should be kept to mealtimes
• 150ml glass of fruit juice or smoothie – but do not have more than 1 portion a day as these drinks are sugary and can damage teeth
• Just 1 apple, banana, pear or similar-sized fruit is 1 portion each.
A slice of pineapple or melon is also 1 portion, and 3 heaped tablespoons of vegetables is another portion.
Adding a tablespoon of dried fruit, such as raisins, to your morning cereal is an easy way to get 1 portion.
You could also swap your mid-morning biscuit for a banana, and add a side salad to your lunch.
In the evening, have a portion of vegetables with dinner and fresh fruit with plain, lower fat yoghurt for dessert to reach your 5 A Day.
Starchy foods in your diet
Starchy foods should make up just over a third of everything you eat. This means your meals should be based on these foods.
Choose wholegrain or wholemeal varieties of starchy foods, such as brown rice, wholewheat pasta, and brown, wholemeal or higher fibre white bread. They contain more fibre, and usually more vitamins and minerals, than white varieties.
Potatoes with the skins on are a great source of fibre and vitamins. For example, when having boiled potatoes or a jacket potato, eat the skin too.
Milk and dairy foods (and alternatives)
Milk and dairy foods, such as cheese and yoghurt, are good sources of protein. They also contain calcium, which helps keep your bones healthy.
Go for lower fat and lower sugar products where possible.
Choose semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk, as well as lower fat hard cheeses or cottage cheese, and lower fat, lower sugar yoghurt.
Dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks, are also included in this food group.
When buying alternatives, choose unsweetened, calcium-fortified versions.
Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins
These foods are all good sources of protein, which is essential for the body to grow and repair itself.
They're also good sources of a range of vitamins and minerals.
Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc and B vitamins. It's also one of the main sources of vitamin B12.
Choose lean cuts of meat and skinless poultry whenever possible to cut down on fat. Always cook meat thoroughly.
Try to eat less red and processed meat like bacon, ham and sausages.
Eggs and fish are also good sources of protein, and contain many vitamins and minerals. Oily fish is particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Aim to eat at least 2 portions of fish a week, including 1 portion of oily fish.
You can choose from fresh, frozen or canned, but remember that canned and smoked fish can often be high in salt.
Pulses, including beans, peas and lentils, are naturally very low in fat and high in fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals.
Nuts are high in fibre, and unsalted nuts make a good snack. But they do still contain high levels of fat, so eat them in moderation.
Oils and spreads
Some fat in the diet is essential, but on average people in the UK eat too much saturated fat.
It's important to get most of your fat from unsaturated oils and spreads.
Swapping to unsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol.
Remember that all types of fat are high in energy and should be eaten in small amounts.
Eat less saturated fat, sugar and salt. Too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases your risk of developing heart disease.
Regularly consuming foods and drinks high in sugar increases your risk of obesity and tooth decay.
Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure, which increases your risk of getting heart disease or having a stroke.
Budgeting! It sucks if you've never done it before but it's absolutely the most important thing when it comes to all aspects of personal finance - including paying off debt and saving.
It can be overwhelming if you've no idea where to start so here's some recommendations of places to begin;
You Need A Budget
YNAB is a beast of a budgeting tool. They very much focus on educating people to plan ahead, to think about the things you "still have the ability to influence" rather than just just giving you a pretty pie chart at the end of the month telling you that you spent way more than you could afford on restaurants again. YNAB allows you to face your problems head on and create a real solution to fixing them.
• Deeply changing the way you think about money
• People that want to make a serious change and have some time to dedicate to learning how this very powerful tool works
• Paying off debt and saving all in one app
• People that like to plan- you can plan out where all of your money will go as you receive it
• Students - you get a free year of use!
NOT SO GOOD FOR
• People that want a free app (this has a month free, then after that there is a monthly subscription cost for non-students)
• A simple solution, as there is a slight learning curve
• People living in their overdraft as they don't have good overdraft functionality
• Those that don't have access to a laptop or desktop, as the app is not great to use on it's own
You Need A Budget
Monzo is an 'app-only' bank account that is growing at an astronomical rate, with 40,000 new people opening an account every week. They pride themselves on being accessible for all so that you have no surprises, both with notifications every time you spend, budgeting linked to your card's spending, and even the Terms of Service being written in a simple to understand manner. Monzo also allows you to 'round up' your spare change, so if you spend £3.60 it can automatically put 40p in a savings pot. This is the fastest growing of the 'app-only' banking options, but there are also similar apps such as Revolut, Starling and N26 which are worth looking in to.
• People starting out with budgeting, everything is done for you when you use your card
• Budgeting and banking all in one place- there is no need to link your bank account to a seperate budgeting app
• Saving easily by using Monzo's built in "pots" feature to separate your money without needing several different accounts
• Those wanting a simple to understand bank account, as everything is written in plain English
• "Where has all my money gone?!" people, as notifications pop up every time a transaction goes through, meaning there are no surprises when you look at your balance
NOT SO GOOD FOR
• People without a smartphone, as currently it can only be managed via app
• If you're happy with your current bank and have no plans of using another one for any reason
Plum is another app that automates your savings for you. It analyses your spending and, based on that, estimates how much it thinks you can save and does so automatically. You have the option of choosing how "aggressive" the saving is, depending on how quickly you want to rack up your money.
• Not having to think about saving, as it does it automatically
• People that impulse spend their savings, as it takes a few days to withdraw
• People that want a simple solution, as it can be easily set up and managed via Facebook Messenger (yes, I know!!)
NOT SO GOOD FOR
• People that want a more all-round app, as it only has very basic budgeting features
• If you want more control, as most of the app is automated
Bean is a free app which helps you keep track of your regular payments, including all of those subscriptions you secretly know you shouldn't be spending so much on. You can connect your bank accounts and credit cards to the app and it will seek out all of your recurring payments- drawing your attention to the services you don't really use or need. You can make cancellations within the app and it will even offer you comparisons to find cheaper alternatives.
• Managing subscriptions, bills are credit cards- you can make cancellations within the app and it will even offer you comparisons to find cheaper alternatives
• Easy to see your regular spending across several different accounts
• Free to use- Bean makes its money through commissions when users make switches through the app
• Smart notifications- Bean will notify you when it has found a new saving opportunity for you
NOT SO GOOD FOR
• Those who are security conscious- Bean is authorised and regulated by the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority), but it is best to check with your bank to see if it is approved by them before handing your details over to a third party app. This is to make sure you are protected in case your account is compromised in any way
• International users- Bean is currently only available in the UK
Oval is an app for iOs and Android that offers creative and flexible ways to save money as well as categorising your spending and even offering investment opportunities. Fun features within the app include connecting it to your social media, Google Fit or Apple Health, so you could save money every time you post on Facebook or go for a run. They have also recently released their own payment card which is free to sign up for.
• Budgeting and saving features all in one app
• Option to connect to your PayPal account as well as bank accounts
• Save in a way that suits you- you can choose to save based on your spending patterns (such as saving money every time you spend on food or drink) or put aside fixed amounts of money as either a regular payment or as a one-off
• Set up spending rules such as "Save £1 every time I post on Facebook" or give yourselves fitness incentives like "Save £5 every time I don't reach my daily step count
• Choose if you want to save a percentage of your money of a fixed amount
• Track how much you are spending by category
• Investment opportunities based on your financial habits and a personal risk profile
NOT SO GOOD FOR
• Compatability- Oval does not support all UK banks so it is worth checking before downloading
• Those who might be tempted by risky investments. Oval is not authorised to give financial advice so using the investment requires a good personal understanding of how to safely invest your money- there is always a chance you might get back less than you invested
• Withdrawing money from your savings is not instant and can take a few days
If you have difficulty falling asleep, a regular bedtime routine will help you wind down and prepare for bed.
Few people manage to stick to strict bedtime routines. This is not much of a problem for most people, but for people with insomnia, irregular sleeping hours are unhelpful.
Your routine depends on what works for you, but the most important thing is working out a routine and sticking to it.
Sleep at regular times
First of all, keep regular sleeping hours. This programmes the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine.
Most adults need between 6 and 9 hours of sleep every night. By working out what time you need to wake up, you can set a regular bedtime schedule.
It is also important to try and wake up at the same time every day. While it may seem like a good idea to try to catch up on sleep after a bad night, doing so on a regular basis can also disrupt your sleep routine.
Make sure you wind down
Winding down is a critical stage in preparing for bed. There are lots of ways to relax:
• a warm bath (not hot) will help your body reach a temperature that's ideal for rest
• writing "to do" lists for the next day can organise your thoughts and clear your mind of any distractions
• relaxation exercises, such as light yoga stretches, help to relax the muscles. Do not exercise vigorously, as it will have the opposite effect
• relaxation CDs work by using a carefully narrated script, gentle hypnotic music and sound effects to relax you
• reading a book or listening to the radio relaxes the mind by distracting it
• there are a number of apps designed to help with sleep. See the NHS Apps Library
• avoid using smartphones, tablets or other electronic devices for an hour or so before you go to bed as the light from the screen on these devices may have a negative effect on sleep
If you need more ideas, you can get help and advice from a GP.
Make your bedroom sleep-friendly
Your bedroom should be a relaxing environment. Experts claim there's a strong association in people's minds between sleep and the bedroom.
However, certain things weaken that association, such as TVs and other electronic gadgets, light, noise, and a bad mattress or bed.
Keep your bedroom just for sleep and sex (or masturbation). Unlike most vigorous physical activity, sex makes us sleepy. This has evolved in humans over thousands of years.
Your bedroom ideally needs to be dark, quiet, tidy and be kept at a temperature of between 18C and 24C.
Fit some thick curtains if you do not have any. If you're disturbed by noise, consider investing in double glazing or, for a cheaper option, use earplugs.
Keep a sleep diary
It can be a good idea to keep a sleep diary. It may uncover lifestyle habits or daily activities that contribute to your sleeplessness.
If you see your GP or a sleep expert they will probably ask you to keep a sleep diary to help them diagnose your sleep problems.
A sleep diary can also reveal underlying conditions that explain your insomnia, such as stress or medicine.
Physical activity guidelines for adults aged 19 to 64
Adults should do some type of physical activity every day. Any type of activity is good for you. The more you do the better.
• aim to be physically active every day. Any activity is better than none, and more is better still
• do strengthening activities that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) on at least 2 days a week
• do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week
• reduce time spent sitting or lying down and break up long periods of not moving with some activity.
You can also achieve your weekly activity target with:
• several short sessions of very vigorous intensity activity
• a mix of moderate, vigorous and very vigorous intensity activity
You can do your weekly target of physical activity on a single day or over 2 or more days. Whatever suits you.
These guidelines are also suitable for:
• disabled adults
• pregnant women and new mothers
Make sure the type and intensity of your activity is appropriate for your level of fitness. Vigorous activity is not recommended for previously inactive women.
What counts as moderate aerobic activity?
Moderate activity will raise your heart rate, and make you breathe faster and feel warmer. One way to tell if you're working at a moderate intensity level is if you can still talk, but not sing.
Examples of moderate intensity activities:
• brisk walking
• water aerobics
• riding a bike
• doubles tennis
• pushing a lawn mower
What counts as vigorous activity?
Vigorous intensity activity makes you breathe hard and fast. If you're working at this level, you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath.
In general, 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity can give similar health benefits to 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity.
Most moderate activities can become vigorous if you increase your effort.
Examples of vigorous activities:
• jogging or running
• swimming fast
• riding a bike fast or on hills
• walking up the stairs
• sports, like football, rugby, netball and hockey
• skipping rope
• martial arts
For a moderate to vigorous workout, try Couch to 5K, a 9-week running plan for beginners.
What counts as very vigorous activity?
Very vigorous activities are exercises performed in short bursts of maximum effort broken up with rest.
This type of exercise is also known as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
Examples of very vigorous activities:
• lifting heavy weights
• circuit training
• sprinting up hills
• interval running
• running up stairs
• spinning classes
• What activities strengthen muscles?
To get health benefits from strength exercises, you should do them to the point where you need a short rest before repeating the activity.
There are many ways you can strengthen your muscles, whether you're at home or in a gym.
Examples of muscle-strengthening activities:
• carrying heavy shopping bags
• tai chi
• lifting weights
• working with resistance bands
• doing exercises that use your own body weight, such as push-ups and sit-ups
• heavy gardening, such as digging and shovelling
• wheeling a wheelchair
• lifting and carrying children
Muscle-strengthening exercises are not always an aerobic activity, so you'll need to do them in addition to your 150 minutes of aerobic activity.