Healthy eating habits: 6 ways to nourish your body and mind

15 February 2023

We are what we eat, or so they say.

So, making sure your diet contains the nutrients your body needs to function well is one of the easiest ways to improve your health.

And as the positive effects of eating healthier also include better sleep, more energy, and improved mood, it's a boon for your overall wellbeing too. It's commonly thought that getting your five a day of fruit and vegetables is a good place to start.

But current NHS advice is actually to eat at least seven portions of fruit and vegetables every day, with vegetables making up the majority (six veg to one fruit).

A balanced diet isn't just about eating more vegetables, though. Here are six more easy ways to start eating better and feeling healthier.

Did you know?

More than a quarter of adults in England were obese in 20211 and one in ten four to five-year-olds weighed in as obese in 2021/2.2

1. Increase your fibre intake

Starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, and cereals should make up just over a third of the food you eat.

Choosing higher fibre options like brown rice or skin-on potatoes is generally better for your health and can also help you to feel fuller for longer.

Associated fats such as butter (on bread or potatoes) should however only be eaten in moderation - especially if you're watching your weight.

Know your numbers

Around 55% of adults aged 16 and over had 5 or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day ('5 a day') in 2017/18.3

2. Stay hydrated

Drinking more water can help you to avoid overeating and snacking between meals. It can also boost your metabolism, allowing you to burn calories more effectively.

According to one study, adults who upped their water intake by just 1% consumed fewer calories while reducing their overall intake of sugar, cholesterol, sodium, and saturated fat.

That's one reason the government recommends drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water - or another low-fat fluid such as tea, coffee, and skimmed or semi-skimmed milk - every day.

You should, however, try to avoid sugary soft and fizzy drinks, as they're high in calories and bad for your teeth.

Government recommendations also include keeping your alcohol intake down to a maximum of 14 units a week, which is around six glasses of wine or pints of normal-strength beer.

Did you know?

Alcohol is the leading cause of ill-health, disability, and death among 15 to 49-year-olds living in England.4

3. Fill up on fish

As a rule, we Brits tend to eat more meat than fish. But according to government guidelines, we should be eating at least two portions of fish, which is a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, each week - including one portion of oily fish such as salmon, sardines, trout, or mackerel (but not cod, haddock, or plaice).

This is because oily fish are high in omega-3 fats, which can help to prevent heart disease.

Know your numbers

According to a 2020 survey, 18% of 18 to 24-year-olds felt a healthy diet was an important part of their lives.5

4. Cut down on salt and sugar

Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure, thus increasing your likelihood of developing heart disease or having a stroke.

That's worrying when you consider that many foods - think breakfast cereals, soups, and sauces - already have high levels of added salt.

Regularly consuming foods and drinks that are high in sugar is also bad news as it increases your risk of tooth decay and becoming overweight or obese.

Free sugars, the type added to biscuits and cakes, are the most dangerous.

That's why it's better to eat a piece of fruit than drink a juice; because the sugar found naturally in fruit is released when it is juiced or blended, turning it into "free sugar".

Checking food labels can help you to cut both your salt and your sugar intake.

More than 1.5g of salt per 100g means the food is high in salt; more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g means the food is high in sugar.

Fact or fiction: Oranges are the best source of vitamin C

Fiction. Foods containing higher levels of vitamin C include broccoli, cauliflower, red cabbage, and kiwi fruits.6

5. Watch out for saturated fats

There are two main types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fat, found in butter, cakes, sausages, hard cheese, and pies, is the one you want to avoid because too much of it can increase cholesterol thereby heightening your risk of heart disease.

Guidelines suggest that men should have no more than 30g, and women no more than 20g, of saturated fat per day.

So, to improve your diet, aim to choose foods that contain unsaturated rather than saturated fats. Examples include vegetable oils and spreads, oily fish, and avocados.

That said, however, all types of fat are high in energy, so ideally even these should only be consumed in small amounts.

Did you know?

Close to three quarters of people aged 45-74 in England are overweight or obese.7

6. Get help online

There are lots of apps available to help you change your approach to eating and start making healthier choices.

Used by millions of people around the world, Noom is one of the best known and is packed with motivational tips and "rewards". NHS-backed Second Nature, meanwhile, uses cognitive behavioural therapy to change your attitude to food, and gives you a personalised three-month plan, complete with advice from a dietitian or nutritionist.

Other options include free calorie-counting app MyFitnessPal, as well as more comprehensive lifestyle apps such as Centr, with which you get a full schedule of workouts, meditation sessions, and meal plans in return for a monthly subscription (after the free trial period).