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Date: 12 June 2021

Time: 12:23

Healthy eating

A balanced diet is made up of five main food groups:

  1. Starchy foods to provide energy
  2. Fruit and vegetables
  3. Protein foods such as meat, fish, eggs and pulses
  4. Dairy products to give us calcium
  5. Foods containing fat and sugar

Foods containing fat and sugar should be limited and kept to a minimum.  Having a well-balanced diet including all of these food groups is important to keep us looking and feeling well. 

The current UK guideline daily amounts are:

  • 2,000 calories for women
  • 2,500 calories for men

However, these values vary depending on someone’s age, gender and activity.  If you’re trying to lose weight you should aim to reduce these amounts by at least 500 calories per day.

The eatwell plate

Click the image below to open a larger version (PDF file - 1.61 MB).The eatwell plate

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Starchy foods


  • rice
  • potatoes
  • bread
  • pasta
  • maize
  • cereals
  • Important source of energy and fibre
  • You should aim to eat them at every meal
  • Choose high-fibre variants, e.g.:
    • seeded bread
    • brown rice
    • potatoes with skin left on for your daily meals
  • If making sadza, ugali, pap or nshima, try to choose the wholegrain (straight run) and/or millet/sorghum meals
  • Aim for seven to eight portions per day. Examples of one portion are:
    • one slice of bread
    • half a cup of rice
    • 30g cereal
    • 150g sadza (50g uncooked per person)

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Fruit and vegetables

  • Important source of vitamins and minerals
  • Good source of fibre
  • You should aim to have minimum of five portions per day (can be fresh, frozen, dried, juiced or tinned (in its natural juice; not syrup)
  •  One portion equals:
    • one apple/banana/pear
    • 150ml glass of fresh fruit juice
    • three heaped tablespoons of cooked vegetables
    • two plums/satsumas/kiwi
    • 30g dried fruit
    • a bowl of salad or vegetable soup
  • Great if you are trying to reduce weight as they can fill you up without giving you excessive calories and fat
  • Juice of fruits contains very little fibre and does not count as “fruit and vegetable” portions of a meal

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Meat, fish, eggs, nuts and pulses

  • A valuable source of protein that is necessary  for growth and tissue repair
  • You should aim to eat two to three portions per day. One portion is equal to:
    • two eggs
    • four tablespoons of lentils/pulses
    • 60g – 90g meat (size of a deck of playing cards)
  • Use lean cuts of meat, and remember to cut off excess fat and skin
  • You should aim to have one portion (150g) of oily fish per week, e.g.:
    • salmon
    • pilchards
    • sardines
    • trout
    • mackerel
  • Try not to fry, but oven bake and grill instead. Do not add fat and oil when cooking

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Dairy products


  • milk
  • yoghurt
  • cheese
  • Important for providing calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals
  • Choose low-fat options, e.g.:
    • diet yoghurt
    • semi-skimmed milk
    • low-fat cheese
  • You should aim for two portions of dairy products per day to ensure sufficient calcium for healthy bones. One portion is equal to:
    • 150g pot of diet yoghurt
    • one third of a pint of milk
    • one matchbox-sized cheese

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Foods high in fats and sugar


  • cakes
  • biscuits
  • sweets
  • fizzy drinks
  • As well as being high in fat and sugar, foods in this group contain very few vitamins, minerals or fibre
  • By increasing the amounts of calories, sugar and fat, these foods can cause weight gain if ate regularly
  • As part of a healthy diet you should eat these foods only occasionally. You should avoid them if you are trying to lose weight
  • Swap choices to low-sugar or low-fat alternatives, e.g.:
    • swap iced or cream-filled cakes for fruit scones or plain sponge such as Madeira cake
    • swap chocolate-covered biscuits for ginger nuts or rich tea biscuits
    • swap standard fried potato crisps for baked potato crisps
      • These foods still contain extra calories, so eat them only occasionally and not every day
  • There are two main types of fat; saturated and unsaturated:
    • Saturated fatis mainly found in meat and dairy sources, such as:
      • butter
      • ghee
      • cream
      • lard
      • foods containing the above ingredients, such as:
        • cakes
        • biscuits
        • pastry
        • chocolate
    • Saturated fat is detrimental to heart health by increasing weight and cholesterol, and should be avoided
    • Unsaturated fatsare mainly found in plant sources. Plant sources include:
      • (unsalted) nuts
      • seeds
      • olive and rapeseed oil
      • avocado
    • These foods containing unsaturated fats have been shown to be beneficial to heart health and can even help reduce cholesterol
    • It’s important to note that even though unsaturated fats are heart healthy, they still contain plenty of calories and if taken in excess can increase weight. It is therefore best to consume unsaturated only in limited amounts

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Salt (sodium chloride) is a common flavouring naturally found in food and also added to food. You don’t need to add salt to your meals to have too much in, as 75% of the salt we eat is already found in foods. Having too much salt in your diet can increase blood pressure, which can then increase the risk of stroke and heart attack. The Government recommends that we consume no more than 6g of salt per day; roughly one teaspoon.

High-salt foods include:

  • gravy
  • salted and roasted nuts
  • stock cubes
  • meats such as salami, bacon, gammon and sausages

Foods that can be high in salt include:

  • bread
  • crisps
  • soup
  • shop-bought sandwiches

Two ways to help reduce salt in the diet are:

  • avoiding having it on your table when eating
  • using alternative flavourings, such as pepper, lemon juice and herbs

Do not be tempted to use salt alternatives, such as LoSalt, as they can be high in potassium which, in large amounts, can also affect the heart. Rock salt and table salt are also exactly the same.

It’s also useful to understand what’s on your food labels to be aware what food is high in salt. Salt can be labelled as salt and/or sodium (sodium is a component of salt) and it’s useful to look at the “Per 100g” section of food labels.

Per 100g:

  • High is more than 1.5g salt (0.6g sodium). These foods may be colour-coded red for salt content
  • Low is 0.3g salt or less (or 0.1g sodium). These foods may be colour-coded green for salt content

Aim to choose foods which are colour coded green on the food labelling traffic light system.

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Take advantage of information on food labels

Food labels are very informative and provide information on what’s in the food we eat. However, sometimes they can be confusing.  Some companies have made them simpler to understand by using the traffic light system for fat, sugar and salt content.

  • Red indicates high levels
  • Orange indicates medium levels
  • Green indicates low levels

The green options are the healthiest options, so choose these for the majority of your diet. 

For more information, please see the NHS Choices guide to food labelling (link below).

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