5 top tips for healthy eating
Do you want to start your journey towards healthy eating, but don’t really know where to start? You’re not alone - with so much misinformation out there about what’s good for you and what’s bad for you, it can be difficult to wrap your head around it all.
Luckily, we’re here to share some top tips for healthy eating so you can feel as confident as possible in your quest toward a healthy, balanced lifestyle!
Get your 5-a-day
Getting your 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day is one of the healthiest habits you can take up. Fruits and vegetables have a wide range of health benefits and it’s really important that we eat enough of them every day.
They’re an excellent source of vitamins and minerals including folate, vitamin C and potassium. They’re also full of dietary fibre which is vital for preventing constipation and other digestive problems.
Fruits and vegetables can also reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and even some types of cancer. It’s easy to get your 5-a-day - an 80-gram portion of almost all fruits and vegetables count whether they’re fresh, frozen or canned.
150ml of fresh fruit juice can also count towards your 5-a-day, but you should limit your juice intake to just one portion per day as they can be extremely sugary. A 30g portion of dried fruit will count too, as well as 80g of beans and pulses.
Do be aware though, beans and pulses only count once as a part of your 5-a-day, no matter how many you eat - whilst they’re a good source of fibre, they contain fewer vitamins and minerals than other fruits and vegetables.
The only vegetables that don’t count are potatoes, yams and cassava as these mainly just contribute starch to your diet. You should aim for a variety of fruits and vegetables to make sure you’re benefiting from a range of essential vitamins and minerals.
Subtract those added sugars
Added sugar, also referred to as ‘free sugars’, shouldn’t make up more than 5% of the total energy we get from our diet every day - that's about 30 grams. >According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey though, 14% of the average Briton’s daily calories come from added sugar.
Added or free sugars are:
- Any sugars added to food or drinks, such as the sugars in biscuits, chocolate, breakfast cereals and fizzy drinks.
- Sugars in honey, syrups, juices and smoothies. These are naturally occurring but still count as free sugars.
The top 6 sources of added sugar in the British diet are:
- Sugar, preserves and confectionery (table sugar, jam, chocolate bars)
- Non- alcoholic drinks (cola, squash cordials)
- Biscuits, cakes and cereals (frosted corn flakes, iced buns)
- Alcoholic drinks (cocktails, liqueurs)
- Flavoured dairy products (fruit yoghurt, chocolate ice cream)
- Savoury food (tomato ketchup, salad cream)
Sugars naturally found in fruit, vegetables and milk, for example, don’t count towards the 30g sugar target. If you want to get serious about cutting down your added sugar, you might need to get used to reading food labels.
The labels won’t always state ‘sugar’ in the list of ingredients - they might say ‘fructose’, ‘glucose’ or ‘dextrose’ for example. Instead, look for the ‘carbohydrates, of which sugars’ figure in the nutrition label - the sugar content is considered high if this figure is over 22.5g of total sugars per 100g, whilst it’s considered low for 5g or less of total sugars per 100g.
There’s usually a traffic light system on food packaging which makes it easier to tell whether the sugar content is high or low in that particular food item.
It’s also a good idea to take a close look at the serving size - the nutritional label on a 250ml bottle of orange juice, for example, could be referring to a 150ml serving size.
Eating too much sugar can contribute to weight gain and tooth decay, so cutting down on the sweet stuff can make a huge difference to your health.
Avoid ultra-processed foods
Processed foods have gotten a bad reputation recently, but sometimes processing our food is necessary to make them safe. A processed food is any food that has been altered in some way during its preparation - pasteurized milk, frozen vegetables or dried fruits are all examples of healthy, minimally processed foods.
Ultra-processed food, however, is often a cause for concern. These foods usually contain a lot of ingredients that you don’t recognise the names of, things that you wouldn’t add while cooking or baking at home.
Common examples of ultra-processed foods include industrialized bread, sausages, ready meals, breakfast cereals and confectionery. So what makes a food ‘ultra-processed’, and how can you tell?
Some almost identical looking foods on the shelf of your local supermarket could be either minimally processed or ultra-processed. For example, plain natural yoghurt is healthy and minimally processed, but if it’s flavoured with sweeteners, colours and preservatives, it’s ultra-processed.
Ultra-processed foods often contain added salt, fat and sugar which can increase the calorie content dramatically. Not only that, but some artificial preservatives that are added to ultra-processed foods have been shown to be bad for our health by increasing the risk of serious disease.
The best way to cut down on ultra-processed foods is by cooking your meals from fresh ingredients more often. That could mean buying fresh meat and vegetables or even trying your hand at making your own bread or pasta.
Instead of eating flavoured yoghurts, buy plain natural yoghurt and add fresh fruit for flavour, for example.
If you can’t avoid certain ultra-processed foods, try to compare the nutrition labels of the different brands to find out which one has the least amount of added sugars, salts, fats or preservatives.
Don’t be salty
Eating too much salt isn’t good for your health, as it can increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. Adults should be eating no more than 6 grams (around one teaspoon) of salt a day.
Check the nutrition labels on your favourite foods to see if they’re high in salt - you may find that common staples in our diets like ham, cheese, certain fish, nuts and stock cubes have a particularly high salt content.
To cut down on your salt intake, you may need to eat less of some of these high-salt foods. Other foods can contribute to your salt intake too - bread, for example, isn’t necessarily a high-salt food, but if you eat a lot of it then it can add up quickly.
Compare the brands of your favourite foods to find varieties with the lowest amount of salt, or look for items that are advertised as ‘low salt’. Make sure you’re not adding too much table salt to your meals, either, as even small pinches can and will add up.
If you’re trying to shed excess weight in a healthy manner, it’s important to think about calories and nutrition. A lot of fad diets - especially those that feature pre-packed meal replacement snacks or shakes - aren’t particularly healthy.
They could help you to lose weight, but they might not nourish your body properly and it’s likely the weight loss won’t be sustainable. Losing weight is all about eating in a calorie deficit - that means eating fewer calories than you burn.
The easiest way to do this is by eating lots of healthy, low-calorie foods like fruits, vegetables and lean meats as staples in your diet. That said, you don’t need to avoid the foods you love and you don’t need to force yourself to eat foods you don’t like the taste of.
If chocolate is your favourite snack, for example, try to limit your portion size to under 100 calories by buying snack-size bars or weighing out a portion with a food scale.
Make a habit of weighing out your portion sizes - after a while, it’ll become second nature and you’ll know what’s a healthy portion size and what isn’t.
Keep checking nutrition labels too, as you may be surprised at the calorie content in certain products that are marketed as ‘healthy’ or ‘low fat’.
It’s also a good idea to avoid drinking your calories - sugary drinks and alcohol will increase your calorie intake, so it’s best to opt for something like water, plain tea or coffee, or low-calorie squash. That said, you can still enjoy your favourite drinks from time to time, as long as you drink them sensibly in moderation.
Always make sure you're eating and drinking enough to nourish your body, even while you're trying to lose weight - depriving yourself isn't good for your health and can increase the likelihood of binge eating.
Losing weight doesn’t have to be restrictive or complicated, and you’re far more likely to keep the weight off if you avoid fad diets and change your habits for good instead.
It can be hard to break unhealthy habits, but eating a balanced diet full of nutritional value will benefit your health dramatically in the long run. You’ll reduce your risk of serious health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
You’ll maintain a healthy weight too, have more energy and perhaps even find yourself in a better mood. The benefits of healthy eating are countless and your body will be sure to thank you for it!