Toggle mobile menu visibility

What is healthy eating: the Eatwell Guide

On this page
There are no headings on this page to navigate to.


We recommend a healthy, balanced approach to eating that follows the Eatwell Guide.

The Eatwell Guide uses the five main food groups as its basis and shows you how much you should eat from each group. These food groups are:

  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Starchy foods (carbohydrates) such as pasta, potatoes, rice and bread
  • Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins
  • Dairy and alternatives
  • Oils and spreads

Public Health England and the NHS support this programme.

If you'd like to see how healthy your diet is, try our diet assessment.

Is the Eatwell Guide suitable for me?

The Eatwell Guide applies to most adults.

It doesn't matter whether you're a healthy weight or overweight, eat meat or are vegetarian. It also applies no matter what your ethnic origin.

It doesn't apply to babies under the age of two.

Specialised diets

Many specialised diet plans are available for people with pre-existing medical conditions. The advice may be different from that of the Eatwell Guide.

If you have a medical condition which needs a specialist diet, ask your healthcare provider for advice.

Diets promising fast weight loss

There are 'diets' available which promise fast weight loss results. But many are short term and not sustainable.

Our advice, based on the Eatwell Guide, is to make small healthy changes to your lifestyle you can keep up over time. This means the new habits and choices you make become a new way of life.

An overview of the guide's recommendations

We're going to take a closer look at each food group in detail. But these are the main recommendations from the Eatwell Guide:

  • Have at least five portions from a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
  • Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, or other starchy foods (carbohydrates). Choose wholegrain versions where you can.
  • Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya or oat drinks). Choose low-fat and low-sugar options.
  • Eat some beans, pulses, eggs, meat and other proteins. If you eat fish, this should include two portions of fish every week. One of these should be an oily fish such as mackerel or salmon.
  • Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and eat in small amounts
  • Drink six to eight cups or glasses of fluid a day if having foods and drinks high in fat, salt, or sugar. You could also have these foods and drinks less often and in small amounts.  

If you want to find out more about the Eatwell Guide, go to The Eatwell Guide at GOV.UK

You can also find out more about Eatwell from the NHS. 

Fruit and vegetables

You should eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables each day. You should also try to make sure about a third of what you eat every day is fruit and vegetables.

Most people know we should be eating more fruit and veg, but many of us aren't eating enough. You can get some ideas on how to eat more from Following the Eatwell Guide at home.

Portion sizes

Here are some examples of portion sizes:

  • 1 apple, banana, pear, orange or similar-sized fruit
  • 3 heaped tablespoons of vegetables
  • A bowl of salad
  • A heaped tablespoon of dried fruit (you should save this for mealtimes rather than a snack)
  • A small (150ml) glass of fruit juice or smoothie: this counts as a maximum of one portion a day

You can also use your hands to measure portions - find out the portions for fruit and veg.

Starchy foods (carbohydrates)

Starchy food is an important part of a healthy diet and should make up just over a third of the food we eat. 

Some people think starchy food is fattening. But gram for gram it contains less than half the calories of fat.

Why you should pick wholegrain options

Wholegrain food contains more fibre than white or refined starchy food and often other nutrients too. When looking for wholegrain foods, look for those with less added fat, sugar and salt.

We digest wholegrain food more slowly, so it can help us feel full for longer. Wholegrain food includes:

  • Wholemeal and wholegrain bread
  • Chapati
  • Wholewheat pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Wholegrain breakfast cereals and whole oats (such as porridge)

For ideas on how to ensure you're eating enough of these foods, go to Following the Eatwell Guide at home.

Fish, meat, eggs, beans, pulses and other proteins

These are good sources of proteins, vitamins and nutrients, so it's important to eat foods from this group. For ideas on how to ensure you're eating enough protein-based foods see Following the Eatwell Guide at home.


Aim for at least two portions (2 x 140g) of fish a week, including a portion of oily fish.

Most people should be eating more fish. But oily fish, crab and some types of white fish do have recommended limits. For more information see the guidance from NHS Live Well.

If you want to know more about buying sustainably-sourced fish, go to the Marine Stewardship Council.

Meat and processed meat

If you eat more than 90g of red or processed meat per day, try to cut down to no more than 70g per day. This is roughly the size of a clenched fist. See our guide to portion sizes.

The term processed meat includes sausages, bacon, cured meats and reformed meat and fish products such as chicken nuggets or fish fingers.

Milk, dairy and alternatives

If you consume milk and dairy products, choose lower-fat and lower-sugar alternatives. If you don't have milk or dairy, then choose unsweetened, calcium-fortified alternatives.

Milk and products such as cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais (plus alternatives) are good sources of protein and vitamins. They're also an important source of calcium, which helps to keep our bones strong.

Some dairy food can be high in fat and saturated fat, but there are plenty of lower-fat options to choose from.

If you're pregnant, it's particularly important to eat dairy or alternatives that are high in calcium. This is essential for you and your baby's development. For more information see the NHS guidance on having a healthy diet through pregnancy.

Oils and spreads

The majority of oils and spreads are made up of fats. Some fat is essential in our diet. But generally we eat too much of this food group and should try to cut down on saturated fats in particular.

You should choose unsaturated oils and use in small amounts. Unsaturated fats are healthier fats that are usually from plant sources and come as oils. Examples are vegetable oil, rapeseed oil and olive oil.

Swapping to unsaturated fats will help to reduce cholesterol in the blood. So it's important to get most of our fat from unsaturated oils.

Choosing lower fat spreads, as opposed to butter, is a good way to reduce your saturated fat intake. Remember that all types of fat are high in energy and you should limit them in your diet.

Fats, sugars and salts

You should eat foods from this group less often and in small amounts. 


A small amount of fat in your diet is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. It can help your body to absorb certain vitamins.

There are different types of fat - saturated and unsaturated. As part of a healthy diet, you should try to cut down on foods and drinks that are high in saturated fats. You should replace some of them with unsaturated fats. 

Saturated fats

Too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol (a harmful fatty substance) in our blood. The blood carries cholesterol as:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL)
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) 

Eating too much saturated fat can raise "bad" LDL cholesterol in your blood. This increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. 

"Good" HDL cholesterol has a positive effect. It takes cholesterol from parts of the body where there's too much of it to the liver, where it's disposed of. 

On average, men should have no more than 30g of saturated fat a day. On average, women should have no more than 20g of saturated fat a day. This is about 11% of your daily calorie intake.

Most saturated fats come from animal sources, including meat and dairy products. A smaller amount comes from plants, such as palm oil and coconut oil.

Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats can help to lower your cholesterol. They are also known as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.  

Monounsaturated fats 

Monounsaturated fats help protect your heart. They maintain levels of "good" HDL cholesterol in your blood while reducing levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol.

Monounsaturated fats are in olive oil, avocados and nuts such as almonds and peanuts. 

Polyunsaturated fats 

Polyunsaturated fats can also help lower the level of "bad" LDL cholesterol in your blood. The two main types of polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 and omega-6. 

Your body can't make these, so it's important to include them in your diet. Omega-6 fats are mainly found in vegetable oils. Omega-3 fats are mainly found in oily fish (kippers, salmon, mackerel). 

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) has a guide on the different types of fats.


Eating too much sugar can make you gain weight and is a main driver of tooth decay. 

Most adults and children in the UK eat too much "free sugars". You'll find these in biscuits, cakes, flavoured yoghurts, breakfast cereals, fizzy drinks, etc.

Adults should have no more than 30g of free sugars a day, (roughly 7 sugar cubes). This is about 5% of your daily calorie intake. A can of cola can have as much as 9 cubes of sugar.


A diet high in salt (or sodium) can cause raised blood pressure. This increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. 

Adults should aim to be eating less than 6gms of salt per day - this is about 1 teaspoon. High salt foods include:

  • Processed meats (such as ham and bacon)
  • Olives
  • Preserved and pickled foods
  • Soy sauce
  • Stock cubes and gravy
  • Cheese  

Vitamins and minerals

You may have heard a few names of vitamins and minerals and wondered what they do and why they're so important.

The following is an overview of the main types of vitamins and minerals you should aim to have in your diet.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is important for your health because it:

  • Helps with wound healing
  • Keeps your skin, bones and blood vessels healthy
  • Protects cells and keeps them healthy

You can't store Vitamin C in your body, so you need it in your diet every day. Some good sources of vitamin C include:

  • Citrus fruit, such as oranges and orange juice
  • Peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Blackcurrants
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Potatoes


Iron is also very important for your health. Iron helps make red blood cells and transport oxygen around your body. Some good sources of iron include:

  • Liver (but avoid this during pregnancy)
  • Red meat
  • Beans, such as red kidney beans, edamame beans and chickpeas
  • Nuts
  • Dried fruit - such as dried apricots
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Soy bean flour


Calcium is important for your health too because it helps with:

  • Building bones and keeping teeth healthy
  • Regulating muscle contractions, including your heartbeat
  • Making sure blood clots normally

Some good sources of calcium include:

  • Milk, cheese and other dairy foods
  • Green leafy vegetables - such as curly kale and okra but not spinach. Spinach does contain high levels of calcium but the body cannot digest it all.
  • Soya drinks with added calcium
  • Bread and anything made with fortified flour
  • Fish where you eat the bones - such as sardines and pilchards


Potassium is another essential mineral that we need in our diet because it helps:

  • Nerves and muscles work properly
  • Heart functioning
  • Move nutrients into cells and move waste products out of cells

You'll find potassium in most types of food. Some good sources of dietary potassium include:

  • Bananas
  • Some vegetables - such as broccoli, parsnips and brussels sprouts
  • Beans and pulses
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fish
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Turkey

If you eat a healthy, balanced diet and follow the Eatwell Guide advice, you should get all your vitamin and mineral requirements from your food.

The NHS Vitamins and minerals guide has more information, including recommended amounts.

Vegetarian and vegan diets

Choosing to eat a vegan or vegetarian diet is becoming more popular. For some people who are not familiar with either diet, the differences between these two diets can be a little confusing.

Here we outline the key differences in these diets based on information taken from the NHS Eatwell webpages.

What is a vegetarian diet?

Vegetarian diets don't include any red meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or crustacea (such as crab or lobster), or animal by-products (such as gelatine).

Vegetarian diets consist of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables, dairy products and eggs.

For more information, including recipes and tips, see the NHS Eatwell page on Vegetarian diets.

What is a vegan diet?

A vegan diet contains only plants (such as vegetables, grains, nuts and fruits) and foods made from plants.

Vegans do not eat foods that come from animals, including dairy products and eggs.

For more information, including recipes and tips, see the NHS Eatwell page on Vegan diets.

What are the health benefits of a plant-based diet?

Vegetarian and vegan diets can be very healthy. Scientific research has found evidence to suggest that plant-based diets may offer several health benefits. These include:

  • Lower cholesterol
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower blood sugar levels
  • Minimising the risk of chronic kidney disease
  • Lower risk of obesity

Following a plant based diet does not guarantee good health. It's still possible for vegetarians and vegans to lead unhealthy lifestyles, or to eat a diet of processed "junk" food.

If you choose to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet you still need to make sure you eat a balanced diet. You can do this by following guidance from the Eatwell Guide:

  • Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
  • Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates (choose wholegrain where possible)
  • Include some low-fat, low-sugar dairy or dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks and yoghurts
  • Eat some beans, pulses, eggs (vegetarian only) and other proteins
  • Choose unsaturated oils and spreads, and eat them in small amounts
  • Drink plenty of fluids - the government recommends six to eight cups or glasses a day

If you choose to follow either a vegetarian or vegan diet, it's important to make sure you're getting enough vitamins and minerals from your food. Most importantly these are:

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Protein
  • Omega-3
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B12

For more information about these vitamins and minerals and why they're important, visit the NHS Eatwell page.

What's next

Now take a look at the benefits of healthy eating.