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Healthy Eating and Drinking

Eating a healthy, balanced diet and moderating the amount of alcohol you drink can help reduce your risk of developing conditions like heart disease or stroke. It can also help with managing symptoms of many chest, heart, and stroke conditions.

Healthy eating does not always mean losing weight. It just means having a balanced, appropriate diet, which meets all your body’s needs without being too much.

Why eat healthily?

Living a healthier lifestyle often starts with the food you eat and the drinks you enjoy. While it may seem like a simple thing to change, it can be quite challenging, and requires a lot of patience and self-discipline. However, with the right help and the right attitude, you can take small steps to big changes.

By eating the right foods and limiting your alcohol intake, you can reduce your risk of developing serious health conditions such as stroke, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Healthy eating can also boost your immune system, helping to improve your overall health. It gives you more energy, and can help you to reach and maintain a healthy weight.

What is a balanced diet?

Eating healthily doesn’t have to mean cutting out everything you enjoy. Instead, enjoy everything in moderation, and make sure your diet is as balanced as possible.

Include a wide variety of foods in your diet to give your body all the essential nutrients it needs. A balanced diet should be high in fruit, vegetables, fibre, nuts, whole grains and pulses, and low in saturated fat, salt and sugar.

The Eatwell Guide is a quick and easy way to understand how much of each food group you should be eating.

Download Eatwell Guide

Salt and sugar

Like many things, salt and sugar are good in moderation – but many of the foods that we enjoy in our everyday life, especially convenience foods and snacks, contain far more than the recommended daily amount of each.

You should aim to have no more than 6 grams of salt per day (that’s around 1 teaspoon) and 30 grams of free sugars per day, or 7 teaspoons.

Salt and sugar are often hidden in pre-prepared food and drink. Try to get into the habit of preparing your own foods from scratch where possible. Spices and herbs can add flavour to your meals instead of salt. Other tips and tricks include:

  • Reducing how much sugar you take in tea or coffee, or replacing sugar with sweeteners
  • Opting for low or zero sugar options when you choose drinks or snacks
  • Eating fruit or sweet vegetables such as carrots when you crave something sweet
  • Avoiding crisps and salted nuts in favour of lower-salt options like unsalted nuts, oatcakes, or unsalted flatbreads

Five a day, done the right way

We all know that you’re supposed to eat five fruit and vegetables a day, but what does that really mean?

A “portion” is around 80 grams, which is equal to: one banana, two plums, a handful of broccoli florets, a carrot, a handful of strawberries, a cereal-bowl size serving of salad or two tablespoons of peas.

Try to make sure you include a variety of different fruits and vegetables in your diet. Why not eat the rainbow – you can get a good mix of nutrients and minerals by eating fruit and veg of different colours.

Try not to drink more than 150ml of fruit juices or smoothies a day – the sugar in these drinks is digested faster and can cause tooth decay.

In with the good, out with the bad (fats)

Learning which fats are good and which are not-so-good for you can help you to understand your diet and improve your approach to meal planning.

Cutting out fatty foods entirely is extremely difficult and rarely advised, but keep saturated fats (such as butter, biscuits, chocolate, bacon and cheese) as occasional treats and focus on introducing omega-3 fats instead. These are found in oily fish like mackerel and salmon, and in nuts, seeds, and plant-based oils such as flaxseed, soybean and rapeseed oil.

To reduce the amount of fat in your diet you can try:

  • Steaming, boiling, grilling, or poaching your food instead of frying it in butter or oil
  • Cutting down on takeaways and fried foods
  • Choosing lean meats (ones that don’t have much fat) like chicken or turkey, or removing the fat and skin from meat before cooking
  • Choosing reduced-fat dairy products like skimmed milk or low-fat yogurt

Fill up on fibre

Incorporating more fibre into your diet is great for digestion and heart health. It can also help to lower cholesterol. The best, most accessible sources of fibre are found in plant-based foods. This includes vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils, oats, and grains. However, root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and turnips do not usually contain a lot of fibre.

You can add fibre to some of your favourite meals by substituting regular bread, rice or pasta for the wholemeal or ‘brown’ version – it’s an easy swap!

Try to make sure that all your meals contain some kind of high-fibre food – not just meat and potatoes!

Create better habits

It can be difficult to eat more healthily, but a few small swaps can make a big difference to your diet.

Try to eat as well as you can, but don’t worry if there are days when this isn’t possible. Instead, focus on creating better long-term habits, and make sure your cupboards are stocked with healthy food. This will make healthy eating a long-term, sustainable goal, and eating healthily will soon become part of your everyday routine.

Set yourself small, achievable goals to help you reach your target. For example, don’t try to cut out chocolate, takeaways, alcohol, fizzy drinks, and pies all at once. Take it slowly and reduce each one at a pace that works for you.

When snacking, try to avoid things like biscuits, chocolate or sweets, and crisps. Instead opt for fruits and vegetables, nuts, or unsalted popcorn. You could add other foods such as homemade humous or flaxseeds to boost flavours and textures.

Try to eat regular meals, at regular times – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This will help to keep you feeling full, so you won’t snack as much throughout the day, and makes it easier to plan and manage your food.

Always remember that healthy eating is about more than just the number on your bathroom scale. While tracking your weight can be helpful if your doctor has recommended losing or gaining weight, there are other ways to judge whether your diet has improved. Look for other signs of a healthy diet – higher energy, fewer cravings, increased fitness, improved mood over time, and regular bowel movements.

It can be difficult to do this alone, so why not ask a friend or family member to join you on your journey to healthy eating? Having someone to talk to and get support from can be really helpful.

Stay hydrated

In addition to eating well, it is also important to keep your body well hydrated.

Try to drink 6-8 glasses of non-alcoholic fluid a day. Water is best, but low-fat milk, sugar-free drinks, herbal or fruit teas, and decaffeinated tea or coffee also count towards your total. (Caffeinated tea and coffee are not helpful for hydration, since caffeine makes you pee more).

If you’re out and about during the day, try to take a refillable water bottle with you so you can top it up. If you’re at home, refill your water glass once an hour until you’ve reached your target of 6-8 glasses.

Alcohol

Too much alcohol is bad for your health and can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and other serious health conditions. It can also lower your mood, damage your sleep, and worsen existing health problems as a result.

Alcohol is also high in ‘empty calories’. This means it contains a lot of energy, but none of the vitamins, minerals or nutrients you need to fuel your body.

To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, it is best not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. If you do drink as much as 14 units a week, spread them out over 3 or more days.

One unit is the same as:

  • 218ml cider
  • 76ml wine
  • 25ml whisky
  • 250ml beer
  • 250ml alcopop

For advice on how to reduce your alcohol intake visit the Drinkaware website or phone Drinkline for free on 0300 123 1110.

This page was last updated on July 21, 2022 and is under regular review. If you feel anything is missing or incorrect, please contact health.information@chss.org.uk to provide feedback.

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