Eatwell Guide: How to eat a healthy balanced dietSee all parts of this guide Hide guide parts
The Eatwell Guide outlines the recommendations for eating a healthy balanced diet.
The guide shows the different types of foods and drinks you should consume – and in what proportions – every day or over a week.
The 5 main groups
The Eatwell Guide divides the foods and drinks we consume into 5 main groups:
- fruit and vegetables
- potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates
- beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins
- dairy and alternatives
- oils and spreads
You should try to choose a variety of foods from each group to help you get the nutrients you need to stay healthy.
Who should follow these recommendations?
These recommendations apply to most people regardless of their:
- dietary restrictions or preferences
- ethnic origin
If you've special dietary or medical needs, ask a registered dietitian or nutritionist about the best way to adapt this guide to your needs.
Babies and young children
Children between the ages of 2 and 5 should gradually move towards eating the same foods in the same proportions recommended by the guide.
Children under 2 have different nutritional needs and so these recommendations don't apply.
More healthy eating guidance for babies
Using the Eatwell Guide
You can use this guide to help you make healthier choices when:
- planning what to eat
- cooking or preparing a meal at home
- food shopping
- eating out or on the go
Most of the meals we eat are a combination of food groups. When planning meals, work out the main ingredients and think about how these fit within the 5 main food groups.
Fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables are a good source of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre — essential for maintaining a healthy gut and preventing digestion problems.
They're one of the 5 main food groups and should make up over a third of your diet.
How much should I be eating?
You should aim to eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables each day. However, potatoes don’t count towards your 5 a day as they're a starchy food.
You can choose from fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced.
A portion of fruit and vegetables is 80g or:
- an apple, pear, banana, orange or other similar-size fruit
- 3 heaped tablespoons of vegetables, fruit salad (fresh or tinned in juice) or stewed fruit
- 1 heaped tablespoon of dried fruit (should be kept to meal times)
- a dessert bowl of salad
A small glass (150ml) of fruit juice or smoothie:
- counts as a maximum of one portion a day regardless of how many portions you have
- are often much higher in sugar and don't contain as much fibre as whole fruit
- should be consumed at meal times to limit the impact on your teeth
Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates
These foods are a good source of nutrients, energy and fibre and should make up just over a third of your diet.
They're one of the 5 main food groups.
How much should I be eating?
Starchy foods should make up just over a third of your food intake. You should base each meal around these.
Wherever possible, choose wholegrain foods as they are:
- higher in fibre and nutrients
- digested more slowly and so will keep you feeling full for longer
When preparing these foods, limit the amount of added fat by using unsaturated oils (olive or sunflower) or lower-fat spreads.
Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins
These foods are sources of protein, vitamins and minerals, therefore, it's important to include some foods from this group.
Protein is used by the body for growth and repair.
Some types of meat are high in fat - particularly saturated fat.
The type of meat you choose and the way you cook it can make a difference:
- Choose leaner meats where possible and avoid adding extra fat or oil when cooking - use the grill instead of frying.
- Cut the fat off meat and remove the skin from chicken.
- Limit processed meats such as sausages, bacon and cured meats.
If you eat more than 90g per day of red or processed meats, try to reduce this to no more than 70g per day.
Beans and pulses
Beans and pulses are naturally low in fat, filling and can often provide a healthy and cheaper alternative to meat in most dishes. This includes beans, chickpeas, lentils and peas.
You can eat fresh, frozen or canned fish. Remember that fish canned in brine, or smoked fish, can be high in salt.
You should aim for 2 portions of fish per week, with one portion being oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines or fresh tuna.
Eggs are high in a range of nutrients including:
- B vitamins
Boiled, scrambled or poached eggs made without using fat are better for you than fried. Try to avoid adding salt and saturated fats such as butter or cheese when having eggs.
Dairy and alternatives
Dairy includes milk, cheese, yoghurt, fromage frais, quark and cream cheese as well as non-dairy alternatives to these foods.
Dairy and dairy alternatives (for example - soya and nut milks) are a good source of protein, vitamins and calcium — essential for strong teeth and bones.
When buying dairy alternatives, go for unsweetened, calcium-fortified versions.
How much should I be eating?
You should aim to eat a variety of dairy foods. Some dairy products like cheese and flavoured yoghurts can be high in fat, sugar, or salt. Choose lower fat, salt and sugar options wherever possible.
Semi-skimmed, skimmed, or 1% milk are lower in fat than full fat milk, but still contain the same amount of calcium and protein.
Low-fat yoghurts and fromage frais are also lower in fat than full fat yoghurts, but don’t forget to check the labels and look for unsweetened or versions with less sugar.
As an example, a portion of dairy is a:
- glass (200ml) of milk
- matchbox size (25g) piece of cheese
- pot (125ml) of yogurt
Oils and spreads
Use these products sparingly as they're high in fat. Although some fat is essential in the diet, generally we consume too much and need to reduce our consumption of certain types of fat.
Although some fat is essential in the diet, generally we consume too much and need to reduce our consumption of certain types of fat.
Saturated and trans fats can increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood. Too much cholesterol can have a serious effect on your health as it increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Saturated fats can be found in:
- butter and ghee
- palm oil
- coconut oil
- margarine and other food products that contain hydrogenated oils or fats
Wherever possible replace saturated fats with small amounts of unsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats provide essential fatty acids and can help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
Unsaturated fats are usually from plant-based sources and can be found in:
- olive, rapeseed, corn and sesame-based oils and spreads
- nut-based oils and spreads
Lower fat spreads are a good alternative to butter to help reduce your saturated fat intake.
How much should I be eating?
As fats used in oils and spreads are high in calories, you should only eat a small amount to maintain a healthy weight.
As a guide:
- an average man should have no more than 30g of saturated fat a day
- an average woman no more than 20g
More about fats
Water and other drinks
Drinking plenty of fluid is essential to keep our bodies hydrated and working properly.
How much should I be drinking?
You should aim to drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of fluid every day. This can include:
- low-fat milk - choose lower fat options
- tea and coffee - some speciality drinks (for example - lattes and mochas) can be high in fat and sugar
- fruit juices and smoothies - up to 150ml counts towards your 5 a day
- fizzy drinks - choose sugar-free varieties
During hot weather and exercise, you might need to drink more than this to avoid becoming dehydrated.
Fruit juices and smoothies
Fruit juice and smoothies are a good source of vitamins and minerals.
A small glass (150ml) of either fruit juice or a smoothie counts as a maximum of 1 of your 5 a day, however, these drinks contain a lot of sugar. Any more than this and you'll just be consuming extra sugar that you don't need.
High sugar drinks
Drinks that are high in sugar:
- contain a lot of calories and very few nutrients
- are one of the main causes of excess sugar consumption amongst children and adults in the UK
Swap sugary soft drinks for water or diet, sugar-free and no added sugar varieties.
Drinks that contain caffeine - including tea, coffee and some fizzy and energy drinks - can make you pass urine more frequently. This means your body will lose more water than normal.
To keep hydrated, you might need to drink more to replace the fluids you lose.
Alcohol contains a lot of calories and can damage your health if you drink too much and too often.
The calorie content of an alcoholic drink depends on the:
- type of alcohol
- type of mixer (if used)
- volume served
As a guide:
- a pint of beer (5%) contains 182 calories and 2.3 units of alcohol
- a medium glass of wine (175ml, 13%) contains 159 calories and 2.3 units of alcohol
- a bottle of alcopop (275ml, 4%) contains 170 calories and 1.1 units of alcohol
- a single measure of spirits (25ml, 40%) contains 61 calories and 1 unit of alcohol
You should limit the amount you drink to no more than 14 units spread evenly throughout the week.
More about alcohol
Foods high in fat, salt or sugar
Foods and drinks that are high in fat, salt or sugar and low in nutritional value are known as 'discretionary foods'. These aren't required for a healthy balanced diet.
- chocolate and sweets
- cakes, biscuits and pastries
- sugary drinks
- savoury snacks
These types of foods can be enjoyed occasionally in small portions as part of a healthy diet, however, most people eat too much of these too often. This can lead to an increased risk of obesity, high blood pressure and tooth decay.
Many pre-packaged foods have food labels on the front of the pack which shows the nutrition information per serving.
Food labels can help you:
- choose between foods
- pick foods that are lower in energy, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt
Where colour coded labels are used, you can tell at a glance if they're high, medium or low in a particular nutrient. For a healthier choice, aim to pick products with more greens and ambers and fewer reds.
More about food labelling
16 March 2023
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