You should eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. They contain important vitamins and minerals that help prevent disease as well as fibre which can lower cholesterol, keep the bowel healthy and help digestion.
Fruit and vegetables are low in fat, so they’re great for bulking out meals and making you feel full without adding too many calories.
It’s easy to get your five a day if you spread your portions through the day. Try:
adding chopped bananas to your cereal or toast at breakfast
enjoying a piece of fruit as a mid-morning snack
including a bowl of salad or vegetable soup with your lunch
snacking on a bowl of raw carrots, peppers and cucumbers mid-afternoon
adding a portion of veg to your evening meal.
What is a portion?
1 apple, banana, pear, orange or other similar sized fruit
2 plums or similar sized fruit
Half a grapefruit or avocado
1 slice of large fruit like melon or pineapple
3 heaped tablespoons of vegetables
3 heaped tablespoons of fruit salad or stewed fruit
A dessert bowl of salad
Other foods and drinks count as one portion, but you can only count them once each day:
3 heaped tablespoons of beans or pulses
1 heaped tablespoon of dried fruit like raisins or apricots
150ml of fruit juice or smoothie.
Fruit juice and smoothies contain a lot of sugar, so limit them to just 150ml a day – that’s around the same as a small glass. Dried fruit is also high in sugar so it’s best not to eat it in-between meals to help prevent tooth decay.
Good to know
Fresh, frozen, tinned or dried fruit and vegetables all count towards your five a day. Check the labels and choose low sugar and salt options.
Starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice and pasta should make up around a third of what you eat. They’re a good source of energy and essential fibre, calcium, iron and vitamins. Gram for gram, starchy foods contain less than half the calories of fat. Try not to add extra fat to starchy food by adding butter, oil, spreads, cheese or jam – that’s just adding more calories.
Wholegrain foods usually have more fibre and nutrients. They take longer to digest so they can help you feel full for longer. Good examples of wholegrains are brown rice, wholewheat pasta, whole oats, wholegrain breakfast cereals and wholemeal bread, pitta and chapatti. You can also buy higher fibre foods made with a combination of wholegrain and white flour, like 50/50 bread.
It’s a good idea to base each meal around starchy foods. Try:
starting your day with a wholegrain breakfast cereal
having a sandwich made with wholemeal bread for lunch
including potatoes, pasta or rice with your evening meal.
Dairy and dairy alternatives are good sources of protein and vitamins. They also contain calcium, which helps keep our bones healthy and strong. Semi-skimmed, skimmed, and 1% fat milk all contain less fat than full-fat milk, but still give you protein, vitamins and calcium.
Dairy-free milk alternatives include soya milk and nut milks – if you chose dairy-free milk then go for unsweetened varieties which have been fortified with calcium.
Some dairy products like cheese and yoghurts can be high in salt, sugar or fat (especially saturated fat), so always check the label.
Good to know
Try using a strong flavoured cheese, like mature cheddar – the strong flavour means you can use less without sacrificing taste, and so reduce fat. Try grating cheese too – a little goes a long way so you’ll use less.
Pulses are things like beans, peas and lentils. They’re a good source of fibre, vitamins and minerals and are naturally very low in fat. They count towards your five a day but only as one portion, no matter how much you eat.
Pulses are great for bulking out things like soups, casseroles and meat sauces. They add extra flavour and texture and mean you can use less meat. This reduces the amount of fat you’re eating and also means your money will go further too, as pulses are usually cheaper than meat.
Other vegetable protein
Other vegetable-based sources of protein include tofu, bean curd and mycoprotein (like Quorn and textured vegetable protein). They are full of protein, low in fat and can be used in place of meat in most recipes.
Fish is a great source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Oil-rich fish like salmon and mackerel contain omega 3 fatty acids which keep our hearts healthy and are a good source of vitamins A and D. Aim to eat at least two portions of fish every week, one of which should be oil-rich (one portion is around 140g). Choose from fresh, frozen or tinned fish.
White fish includes fish like haddock, plaice, coley, cod, skate and hake. It’s low in fat, contains important vitamins and minerals and a great alternative to meat. Choose fresh, frozen or tinned white fish, but remember smoked fish or fish tinned in brine can be high in salt so always check the label before you buy.
Shark, swordfish and marlin
Adults shouldn’t eat more than one portion of swordfish, shark or marlin per week. Children, pregnant women and women who are trying to get pregnant shouldn’t eat swordfish as it contains more mercury than other fish.
Good to know
It’s best to steam, bake or grill fish. Fried fish, especially battered fish, has more fat. An occasional portion of fish and chips is fine, but only once in a while.
Eggs are a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals. They’re a good choice as part of a healthy balanced diet and there’s no recommended limit on the number of eggs you can eat in a week. Eggs are great for making healthy, quick dishes. Try to avoid adding too much fat to eggs when cooking – poaching, scrambling or boiling is best. If you do fry eggs, don’t add too much oil to the pan and choose healthier unsaturated oils like vegetable, rapeseed or olive oil. Our food safety pages have more information about cooking eggs.
Quiches and flans contain eggs but can be high in fat and salt so eat them less often.
Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals. It’s one of the main sources of vitamin B12, an important vitamin which is only found in food from animals like meat and milk. It’s important to know how to cook and handle meat safely.
Red and processed meat
Red meat includes beef, lamb, venison and pork, all of which can form part of a healthy diet. Processed meat is meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. Processed meat includes things like sausages, bacon, burgers, ham, salami, other cured meats and pâté.
Eating too much red and processed meat can increase the risk of bowel cancer. Aim to eat no more than 70g of red and processed meat a day – that’s around two slices of roast meat or two sausages. Try to cut back if you eat more than 90g (around 3 slices of roast meat) of red and processed meat a day.
Some types of meat are higher in fat, especially saturated fat. Eating lots of saturated fat can increase blood cholesterol levels which increases the risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Always try to choose lean cuts of meat with less visible white fat.
Good to know
Here are some tips to help you cut the amount of fat in your meat dishes.
Swap some of the meat for beans, peas and lentils – this will help your meal go further
Grill meat rather than frying it
If you’re roasting meat, place it on a metal rack above the roasting tin so the fat can run out
Add as little fat as possible before or during cooking
Substitute some of the meat in your recipe for vegetable sources of protein.
Oils and spreads
Some fat in our diet is essential but most of us eat too much. Plant-based oils like vegetable, rapeseed and olive oil are rich in unsaturated fat, so they can help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. Lower fat unsaturated spreads are a good alternative to butter.
Good to know
Some fats are healthier than others but all fats have a lot of calories – limit them in your diet to help stay at a healthy weight.
Food and drink high in fat, salt and sugars
Food and drink high in fat, salt or sugar include chocolate, cakes, biscuits, savoury snacks and full-sugar soft drinks. In Scotland, half of the sugar we eat and around 20% of the calories and fat we consume comes from this kind of food. High fat, salt and sugar food and drink tends to have lots of calories and with little nutritional value and we don’t need it as part of a healthy balanced diet.
If you do want to include this kind of food in your diet, do it less often and in small amounts.
In Scotland, most of us eat too much sugar – in fact, we need to reduce the amount of sugar we eat by two-thirds. Too much sugar increases the risk of tooth decay and obesity.
It is easy to forget about what we drink, but healthy drinks are an important part of a balanced diet.
We all need to drink 6 – 8 glasses of fluid every day. That might seem like a lot – and it certainly shows us that the kinds of fluids we drink has a big impact on our overall health. Choose healthy drinks like water, milk, tea and coffee (with no added sugar) and sugar-free drinks.
Water is a great choice because it has no calories or sugars that damage teeth. If you find water too plain, there are lots of ways to make it more interesting. Try sparkling water, adding a slice of orange, lime or even cucumber, or adding a little bit of sugar-free squash. Sugary drinks shouldn’t be included in our daily diet, but they account for a large proportion of the daily sugar intake of children and adults in Scotland, which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. Always check the label and look out for hidden sugar in drinks.
Too much alcohol can damage health. Alcohol contains lots of calories too, so it can make you put on weight. Men and women should limit alcohol to 14 units per week – NHS Choices has more information about alcohol guidelines.
Tea, coffee and some soft drinks contain caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant and which makes us feel more alert. Caffeine can also make your body lose more water than normal by making you pass more urine. If you're pregnant, follow the specific advice about caffeine.
It is fine to drink tea and coffee but try not to add sugar or sugary syrups – they can damage teeth and add calories to your diet.
We get dehydrated when we don’t drink enough fluid. One of the first signs of dehydration is feeling thirsty but you may notice other signs:
darker urine than usual or not passing much urine when you go to the toilet
feeling confused or irritable, or finding it hard to concentrate.
Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about any of these symptoms.