The food you eat can make a big difference to your wellbeing – eating a healthy diet means you’re more likely to keep your body healthy. Otherwise, you risk various disorders including obesity, diabetes or cancer.
Obesity is being so overweight that it presents a serious threat to your health. It’s cause by too many calories, and not enough physical activity. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing heart disease, some cancers, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and osteoarthritis. Currently, over half of women and about two-thirds of men in Scotland are either overweight or obese.
How to discover whether you’re overweight
If you’re worried about your weight, you can calculate your BMI (body mass index) using a BMI calculator.
How to achieve a healthy weight
You’ll be able to keep your weight healthy by following a healthy diet and staying physically active. Don’t use crash diets, but make small, permanent changes to the food you eat.
Illnesses related to diet
A poor diet – too much fat, not enough fibre and fruit and vegetables, or drinking too much alcohol – can cause a number of illnesses.
Cancer is a disease that affects the cells of our bodies. We can help lower our risk of developing cancer by eating healthily.
Red meat and bowel cancer
Red meat (beef, lamb and pork) and processed meats such as burgers, sausages and bacon have been linked with an increased risk of developing bowel (colorectal) cancer. Red meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, so it’s okay to have a little in your diet. You can find out more in our section on a healthy diet.
Alcohol and cancer
Reducing the amount of alcohol you drink can help you prevent cancer. NHS advice is 3-4 units of alcohol a day for men, and 2-3 units for women.
One unit is the amount of pure alcohol in a 25ml measure of spirits, a third of a pint of beer, or half a 175ml glass of red wine.
Body weight and cancer
Keeping your weight healthy can lessen your risk of cancer. And being active can help with that. Find out more in our tips on healthy eating.
Diabetes develops when the body can't use glucose properly. As a result, people with diabetes can have abnormally high levels of glucose in their blood, if the condition isn't controlled.
Types of diabetes
There are two types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 is more likely to be diagnosed in younger people, but it can develop at any age. It develops when cells in the pancreas that produce insulin are destroyed. This type of diabetes is treated with injections of insulin, a hormone that regulates the blood.
Type 2 diabetes is usually diagnosed in older people – the older you are the greater the risk. However, it is increasingly being found in younger people and sometimes in children. This type of diabetes can be treated with diet and exercise alone, although people with Type 2 diabetes often need medication and they sometimes need insulin too.
Effects on health
For both types of diabetes, it's extremely important to control blood sugar levels and blood pressure, to prevent any long-term complications. Poorly controlled diabetes can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, blindness and nerve problems leading to amputation.
What should people with diabetes eat?
Like everyone else, people with diabetes should try to maintain a healthy weight and eat a diet that is:
- low in fat (particularly saturated fat)
- low in sugar
- low in salt
- high in fruit and vegetables (at least five portions a day)
- high in starchy carbohydrate foods, such as bread, chapatti, rice, pasta and yams (these should form the base of meals) – choose wholegrain varieties when you can.
There are no foods that people with diabetes should never eat. And there is no need to cut out all sugar. But, like everyone, people with diabetes should try to eat only small amounts of foods that are high in sugar or fat, or both. If you have diabetes you can eat cakes and biscuits sparingly, as part of a healthy diet.
More information on diabetes and maintaining a healthy diet can be found on diabetes.org
If you are diabetic, your doctor or diabetes nurse can advise you on food and managing your blood sugar.
Your body needs iron for many reasons, such as helping blood carry oxygen around your body. So low iron levels can cause illness.
How low iron can affect your health
If iron levels are low, the amount of haemoglobin in our red blood cells, as well as the number of red blood cells, is reduced. This is called anaemia, and can cause tiredness, difficulty concentrating and a shortened attention span. And as all your body’s tissues and cells need oxygen to function properly, they won’t work as well if your iron – which helps blood take oxygen around your body – is low.
So making sure you eat enough iron-rich foods can prevent iron deficiency. On average, adult men need 8.7mg of iron a day. For women the figure is 14.8mg. You can see how much iron is in various foods in the table below:
|Food||Serving size||Iron supplied|
|2 thick slices of lean roast beef||90g||2.3mg|
|3 tablespoons of baked beans||120g||1.7mg|
|A boiled egg||50g||1mg|
|Wholemeal bread (1 average slice)||36g||1mg|
|Sardines canned in oil (average sandwich filling)||50g||1.5mg|
|An average bowl of fortified breakfast cereal||45g||3mg|
|2 dried figs||40g||1.7mg|
|Dark roast turkey meat (average serving)||120g||1.7mg|
|A tablespoonful of sesame seeds||12g||1.2mg|
|Spring greens boiled||90g||1.3mg|
|An average glass of red wine||125g||1.1mg|