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A beginner's guide to healthy eating and nutrition

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is easier than you might think. Make these easy changes and you’ll be well on your way.

During times of stress and uncertainty, many of us fall into bad habits when it comes to food. But maintaining a healthy diet can actually make you feel better in body and mind.

Eating well benefits your health in so many ways, from protecting your mental health, to improving cognition, to bolstering your immune system.

And ensuring a balanced, nutritious diet doesn’t have to be complicated.

Despite what crazy fad diets seem to tell us, the best ways to make sure you are eating right are also the simplest.

We’re sharing seven of our best tips to help you eat more healthily, as well as a bonus 10 easy changes to get you started.

1.  Create your healthy eating plan around whole, unprocessed foods

This is the golden rule of healthy eating. Follow this rule and you’ll probably be following all the other advice on this list. Whole foods are things like fruits, vegetables, pulses and whole grains.

The best way to stick to whole foods is to make everything from scratch using raw ingredients. But that’s not a very realistic aim! People rely on pre-made foods for all sorts of reasons.

Instead, make healthier choices.

Pay attention to traffic light labelling on foods and favour those with lots of green.

Think about the ingredients of what you’re about to buy: can you tell how this was made? If not, there may be additives and processed foods lurking in there.

2.  Government guidelines for healthy eating include your 5 A Day 

We all know we should be eating our 5 A Day, right? Well, actually we should be aiming for at least five. When it comes to getting the vitamins and minerals you need, the more fruit and vegetables the better!

Foods that count as a portion are:

  • 80g of fruit or vegetables (fresh, canned and frozen all count)
  • 30g of dried fruit
  • 150ml fruit or vegetable juice
  • 80g beans or pulses

You should limit fruit or vegetable juice to one 150ml portion a day due to the high sugar content. Beans and pulses only count as one portion a day however many you eat, because they are lower in nutrients than other fruits and vegetables.

If you struggle to eat five portions, try eating fruit or veg as snacks, starting your day with a glass of juice, and making sure you have at least two portions with both lunch and dinner.

3.  Add more fibre to your healthy eating meal plan

The simplest way to instantly improve your diet is swapping white breads, rice and pasta for brown or wholemeal varieties. These all have much more fibre in them than white options. Alternatively, seek out ‘high fibre’ white versions.

Fibre is essential to a healthy diet but around 90% of people in the UK don’t eat enough.

4. Don’t eat too much salt, sugar or fat

WHO guidelines advise getting less than 30% of your total energy intake from fats and less than 10% from added sugars, and limiting your salt intake to 5g (one teaspoon).

How to eat less fat

To reduce your fat intake, try steaming or boiling food instead of frying. Use healthy fats such as rapeseed or olive oil in cooking.

Trim visible fat from meat before you cook it, or opt for oily fish instead of meat. And cut back on pre-packaged cakes, snacks and biscuits.

How to eat less salt

Pre-packaged foods also tend to be high in salt, as do processed meats and – unsurprisingly – things like cheese and crisps that taste very salty.

You can also reduce how much you add during cooking and stop adding salt at the table. Your taste buds will adapt before long.

How to eat less sugar

Cut back on added sugars by avoiding sugary snacks such as sweets, soft drinks, cakes and biscuits. Drinks are often the main culprit, so stick to water wherever possible.

And remember, traffic light food labels highlight the levels of salt, sugar and fat in many foods, so it’s always a good idea to check them.

5. Stay hydrated

Studies show that drinking enough water can help you maintain a healthy weight, think more clearly and avoid stress, among many other benefits.

The government recommends drinking six to eight glasses of fluids every day.

Although people often talk about this in terms of water, most non-alcoholic drinks count.

So, if you’re not a fan of water, stay hydrated with tea, coffee and other low-sugar drinks.

It’s important to remember that fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies, though they do contain nutrients, are also high in sugar. You should only drink around 150ml of these a day.

If you really miss your sweet drinks, try sugar-free squash.

6. Burn more calories than you consume

A healthy BMI won’t cure all your problems but it can certainly promote good health. Maintaining a healthy bodyweight is one of the best ways to keep your body fighting fit.

In order to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume.

The NHS Eatwell guide has some great advice on getting started, but it’s always best to seek advice from a professional.

Speak to your GP, who will help you access the right advice for you, or book an appointment with a dietician. They’ll give you a dietary consultation that will result in a tailored nutritional plan specific to your individual needs.

7. 8 tips for healthy eating

Don’t try to overhaul your diet overnight. You’ll be setting yourself up to fail.

Instead, adopt small changes, one at a time, allowing yourself the space to get used to them.

These 10 habits seem like small changes, but over time they will make a difference. If these exact changes don’t apply to you, consider other similar small changes. You’ll be surprised how soon you see a difference.

1. Switch to semi-skimmed milk

If you’re a big tea drinker or have cereal for breakfast, switching from full fat to skimmed or semi-skimmed milk could save a significant number of calories over time.

2. Cut your portion sizes

Most people have a skewed idea of what a portion looks like. Learn the healthy portion sizes for the foods you eat most regularly and you could significantly cut down your calorie intake with minimal effort.

3. Pay attention to food labels

Start looking at the traffic light labels on foods and try to avoid those with lots of red. Another thing to look out for is portion size. Many products that seem like they’re made for one will actually turn out to contain two or more portions.

4. Buy healthy snacks

If hunger strikes and you already have a healthy snack to hand, it’s far easier to resist the temptation of something sugary.

5. Plan your meals

If you plan your meals a week or even a few days in advance, you’re more likely to stick to what’s scheduled rather than grabbing something unhealthy at the last minute.

6. Avoid fizzy drinks

Fizzy drinks are filled with sugar and calories but offer almost no nutritional value. If you love bubbles, swap them for sparkling water, perhaps with a dash of sugar free squash. 

7. Cook more

Home-cooked foods tend to be more healthy and lower in additives than premade foods and takeaways. Cooking more will also make you more aware of how food is made, allowing you to make healthier decisions outside the home.

8. Use smaller plates

Smaller plates will restrict your portion sizes without you having to think about it. We don’t mean eat all your meals from a side dish, but have a think about the size of your dinner plates and whether they could be inadvertently adding to your waistline.

For more advice on nutrition and healthy eating, speak to a GP by video today.  A GP can assess your current diet, identify any unhealthy eating habits and support you with your personal health goals. Lead GP at Livi, Dr Rhianna McClymont shares further lifestyle tips to help you stay on top of your wellbeing.