A healthy Mediterranean diet can help reduce your risk of developing coronary heart disease and stop you gaining weight, reducing your risk of diabetes and high blood pressure.
Eating the right amount of the right foods means you get the right amount of energy and nutrients you need to keep your body healthy. Habits developed over the years may contribute to long-term health problems in later life. It’s not just fried breakfasts or regular takeaway meals that are unhealthy for us - any mildly unhealthy food habits are bad for us if we enjoy them frequent enough, like chocolate or sugary drinks. But habits can be changed.
Everyone should aim for a varied, well-balanced diet. The best way to make sure you get a bit of everything you need is to eat a variety of foods from different food groups every day, like:
- plenty of fruit and vegetables
- choose wholegrain varieties of starchy foods like bread, rice, potatoes and pasta
- some milk and dairy products (lower-fat options if possible)
- some meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein
- only a small amount of foods and drinks high in fats and/or sugar, particularly processed foods like cakes, biscuits and pastry
- choose options that are lower in fat, salt and sugar whenever you can
What is your "five a day" of fruit and vegetables?
Fruit and vegetables are a good source of essential vitamins and minerals. They contain lots of special nutrients called antioxidants that help protect the cells in your body from damage and illness.
As a rough guide, fruit and vegetables should make up about a third of everything you eat each day, or at least five portions a day (for example, two portions of fruit and three portions of vegetables).
Some examples of one portion:
- a banana
- two plums
- a couple of broccoli florets
- one carrot
- a handful of strawberries
- two tablespoons of peas
- fruit juice
- beans and pulses
All dried, canned and frozen fruit and vegetables count towards your daily portions.
Potatoes don't count, as they're carbohydrates.
Eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day may seem a lot at first. Try to get into the habit of eating some fruit and/or vegetables with each meal.
Eating healthily doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your favourite foods - it’s all about getting the balance right. Eating healthily can also help to control your weight.
This "eatwell plate" can help you consider the portions of different food groups that are recommended for a healthy eating lifestyle.
More about the eatwell guide
Too much salt (sodium) in the diet can contribute to high blood pressure which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Reducing a high salt intake can help to lower your blood pressure.
Useful small ways to begin to reduce your salt intake include:
- trying other spices
- reducing your intake by removing salt from table
- not adding to cooking are all
Most of the salt we eat is already in everyday foods.
You can lower your salt intake by checking the labels to compare products, and choosing the option lower in salt.
You should aim to have no more than 6g salt per day, and children under 11 should have less than this.
Read more from Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland from their leaflet on Salt (PDF) and from the Food Standards Agency.
Fats and cholestorol
To help look after your heart health, make sure you choose the right type of fats.
Saturated fat - too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which can increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease. A useful way to remember the difference is to remember saturated fat is usually solid when cold, like butter, lard, and fat on meat.
Unsaturated fats - these can be monounsaturated fats (like olive oil, rapeseed oil, almonds, unsalted cashews and avocado) or polyunsaturated fats (like walnuts, sunflower seeds and oily fish). Both are a healthier choice.
Triglycerides - these are a fatty substance that your body needs. Their main function is to store energy for your body to use. Like cholesterol, triglycerides are produced in your body and are linked to carbohydrate and alcohol intakes.
Cholesterol - cholesterol is produced naturally within your body, mainly in your liver. Cholesterol is often described as "good" or "bad".
LDL-C (low-density lipoprotein cholesterol) is known as "bad cholesterol". It carries cholesterol from your liver to the tissues around your body. The recommended LDL level is below 3.0mmol/l.
HDL-C (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol) is known as "good cholesterol" because it carries surplus cholesterol from the tissues back to your liver to be recycled or excreted. The recommended HDL level is above 1.0mmol/l (for men) and above 1.2mmol/l (for women). It’s useful to "know your number", so ask your doctor or health professional what your number is.
Non-HDL cholesterol (Total-C minus HDL-C) is increasingly used as a measurement, as it gives a better assessment of the risk of heart disease than measuring only LDL. Your non-HDL cholesterol level is found by subtracting your HDL cholesterol from your total cholesterol.