Healthy eating

Teacher's reference notes on healthy eating.

A healthy balanced diet

  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of developing diet related diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes and some types of cancer.
  • The amount of energy (calories) you need from food and drink depends on a number of factors, including age, gender, body weight and composition, and physical activity. On average a woman needs around 2000kcals and a man around 2500kcals. Young children need less energy, while some adolescent boys, for example, may need more.
  • The Scottish Dietary Goals underpin and set the direction for dietary improvement in Scotland. To achieve our goals it is important that dietary intakes are rebalanced to contain more fruit and vegetables, starchy carbohydrates, fibre, oil rich fish, fewer calories and less fat and salt and sugar.
  • The Eatwell Guide is a pictorial representation of what a healthy balanced diet should look like over the course of a day or more. It applies to most people regardless of weight, dietary restriction/ preferences or ethnic origin. The Eatwell Guide does not apply to children under the age of 2 years because they have different nutritional needs. Between the ages of 2 and 5, children should gradually move to eating the same foods as the rest of the family. Anyone with special dietary requirements or medical needs might want to check with a registered dietitian on how to adapt the Eatwell Guide to meet their individual needs.

Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy foods

  • Starchy foods are a really important part of a healthy diet and should make up just over a third of the food we eat. Choose higher fibre, wholegrain varieties when you can by purchasing whole wheat pasta, brown rice, or simply leaving the skins on potatoes.
  • Base your meals around starchy carbohydrate foods. Start the day with a wholegrain breakfast cereal that is lower in salt and sugars, have a sandwich for lunch and round off the day with potatoes, pasta or rice as a base for your evening meal.
  • Some people think that starchy food is fattening, but gram for gram it contains less than half the calories of fat. You just need to watch the fats you add when you’re cooking and serving this sort of food, because that’s what increases the calorie content.
  • Wholegrain food contains more fibre than white or refined starchy food, and often more of other nutrients. We also digest wholegrain food more slowly so it can help us feel full for longer.

Fruit and vegetables

  • Lots of people know we should be eating more fruit and vegetables, but most of us still aren’t eating enough.
  • Fruit and vegetables should make up just over a third of the food we eat each day.
  • Aim to eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and veg each day; choose from fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or juiced.
  • A portion of around 80g counts as one of your 5 a day. The following are some examples of a portion:
    • 1 apple, banana, pear, orange or other similar-size fruit
    • 3 heaped tablespoons of vegetables
    • A dessert bowl of salad
    • 30 g of dried fruit counts as a maximum of one portion per day.
    • A small glass (150 ml) of fruit juice or smoothie counts as a maximum of one portion per day.

Dairy and alternatives

  • Try to include some milk and dairy food (or dairy alternatives), such as cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais.
  • These are good sources of protein and vitamins, and they’re also an important source of calcium which helps to keep our bones strong.
  • Some dairy food can be high in fat, saturated fat and sugar but there are plenty of lower fat and sugar options to choose from.

Beans, pulses fish, eggs, meat and other proteins

  • As well as being great sources of protein, these types of food are rich in vitamins and mineral so it is important to eat some food from this group.
  • Aim for at least two portions (2 x 140g) of fish a week, including one portion of oil rich fish.
  • Some types of meat are high in fat, particularly saturated fat. So when you’re buying meat, remember that the type of cut or meat product you choose, and how you cook it can make a big difference.
  • To cut down on fat choose lean cuts of meat and go for leaner mince, cut the fat off meat and the skin off of chicken, try to grill meat and fish instead of frying and have a boiled or poached egg instead of fried.
  • If you eat more than 90g of red or processed meat per day, try to cut down to no more than 70g per day.
  • The term processed meat includes sausages, bacon, cured meats and reformed meat products.
  • Beans, peas and lentils (which are all types of pulses) are good alternatives to meat because they’re naturally very low in fat, and they’re high in fibre, protein, and vitamins and minerals.
  • Pulses (or legumes as they are sometimes called) are edible seeds that grow in pods and include foods like lentils, chickpeas, beans and peas.
  • Other vegetable based sources of protein include tofu, bean curd and mycoprotein, all of which are widely available in most retailers.

Oils and spreads

  • Although some fat in the diet is essential, generally we are eating too much and need to reduce our consumption.
  • Unsaturated fats are healthier fats that are usually from plant sources and in liquid form such as oil, for example vegetable oil, rapeseed oil and olive oil. Swapping to unsaturated fats will help to reduce cholesterol in the blood, therefore it is 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 should be limited in the diet.

Foods high in fat, salt and sugar

  • This includes products such as chocolate, cakes, biscuits, full sugar soft drinks, butter and ice cream.
  • These foods are not needed in the diet and so, if included, should only be done infrequently and in small amount.
  • Foods and drinks high in fat and sugar contain lots of energy, particularly when you have large servings. Check the label and avoid foods which are high in fat, salt and sugar.


  • Aim to drink 6 – 8 glasses of fluid every day. Water, lower fat milk and sugar free drinks including tea and coffee all count.
  • Fruit juice and smoothies also count towards your fluid consumption however they are a source of free sugars and so you should limit consumption to no more than a combined total of 150 ml per day.
  • Sugary drinks are one of the main contributors to excess sugar consumption amongst children and adults in the UK. Swap sugary soft drinks for diet, sugar free or no added sugar varieties to reduce sugar intake in a simple step.

Saturated fat

  • Cutting down on saturated fat can lower your blood cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease. Most people eat too much saturated fat.
  • The average man should have no more than 30 g of saturated fat each day, while the average women should have no more than 20g per day.
  • One of the easiest ways to cut down on saturated fat is to compare the labels on similar products and choose the one lower in saturated fat, including fatty cuts of meat, sausages, pies, butter, cream, cheese, pastries, cakes and biscuits.
  • You don’t need to stop eating these foods altogether, but eating too much of these can mean that you consume more than the recommended amount of saturated fat.


  • Free sugars are any sugar added to food or drink products by the manufacturer, cook or consumer including those naturally found in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juice.
  • Eating foods that are high in free sugars means that it is easy to eat more calories than you need. This can lead to weight gain and obesity as well as increasing your risk of other health conditions.
  • Consuming sugary drinks should also be limited as this has been linked to an increased risk of developing type II diabetes. It is recommended that free sugars should not exceed 5% of the total energy (calories) we get from food and drinks every day. This means that the maximum amount of free sugars for an adult is 30g which is about seven sugar cubes. .
  • Too much free sugar causes tooth decay particularly if eaten between meals.
  • Check nutrition labelling to help you pick the foods and drinks with less added sugar, or go for the lower-sugar or sugar free version.
  • Sugary drinks have no place in a child’s daily diet but account for a surprisingly large proportion of the daily sugar intake of both children and adults. We should aim to swap sugary drinks for water, lower fat milk or sugar free drinks including tea and coffee. Be sure to check the label for added sugar.  (To find out more, go to Sugar for a more detailed description.) 


  • Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure which increases your risk of developing heart disease or stroke.
  • Adults should eat no more than 6g of salt per day and children should have even less.
  • 6g of salt is about a teaspoon full but remember most of the salt we eat is already in everyday foods.
  • Try replacing salt with pepper, herbs and spices to add flavour to your favourite dishes.
  • Checking the label and choosing foods that are lower in salt is one of the best ways to cut down.

Additional consumer information

  • Food labels are an excellent way of making healthier choices, and many manufacturers now use colour coded front of pack labelling. These labels provide easy to understand information about the levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt within a product. (To find out more, go to food labelling for a more detailed description.)
  • Take a look at the label as the ingredients list always starts with the one which has been used the most in the product.