A balance of food

Different foods help your body in different ways and it is important to eat a mixture of foods to get the widest range of nutrients. To keep your body growing and working properly, you should make sure you include the following food groups:

  • Fruit and vegetables – these should make up just over one-third of your food per day. Aim to eat at least five portions to give you a mix of essential vitamins and minerals and fibre. These can be fresh, tinned, frozen or dried. One portion is 80g – one medium-sided apple or banana, 3 tablespoons of vegetables, 150ml fruit juice or 30g dried fruit all count as one portion. NB only one glass of juice or handful of dried fruit counts towards your 5-a-day.
  • Starchy carbohydrates (including potatoes, pasta, rice, bread) – these should also make up just over one-third of your food every day to give you energy. Choose whole grain and higher fibre varieties that will keep you feeling fuller for longer.
  • Dairy products (such as cheese, milk, yoghurt) – make sure you include these in your diet to keep your bones, teeth and hair healthy
  • Protein-rich foods (beans, lentils, eggs, meat, poultry and fish, tofu, bean curd) – foods rich in protein are essential for cell function and healthy muscles. Try to eat two portions of fish each week (but limit your intake of some fish; this website tells you more) and try to eat no more than 70g red or processed meat (sausages, ham, bacon) in any one day.

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It is particularly important that you make sure you eat foods high in these essential minerals:

  • Iron (found in enriched breakfast cereals, wholemeal bread, red or darker meats, oily fish, beans, dried fruit such as figs and apricots, broccoli and dark-green leafy veg, such as spinach) – you can lose iron during your periods which can make you feel tired so try to eat plenty of these foods. The iron found in plant foods is much harder for the body to absorb, so it’s a good idea to eat foods rich in Vitamin C at the same time or have a Vitamin-C rich drink, such as orange juice, at the same time. Read more about iron in your diet here.
  • Calcium (found in milk, cheese, yogurt, fromage frais, sardines, pilchards, scampi, oranges, broccoli, spring greens) – calcium is essential for strong bones. The stronger your bones are when you are young, the longer they stay strong when you get older and this reduces your risk of developing osteoporosis in later life.
  • Zinc (found in fish, shellfish, lean red meat, seeds, nuts, beans and wholegrains) –  zinc supports your immune system to protect you against illness, keeps your skin healthy and helps to maintain good eyesight. It is needed for more jobs in our body than any other mineral.

Cut down on…

  • Snacks – these are often very high in fat, salt and sugar and don’t do you much good. If you feel like a snack at home try to avoid crisps, chocolate and sweets. Instead have fruit, a handful of nuts or a piece of cheese, or if you are hungrier, some toast or a bowl of cereal. Keep a supply of healthier snacks that you can take with you when you go out – cereal bars, buns, fruit. Don’t worry about the occasional chocolate bar or packet of crisps, but don’t eat them every day.
  • Fizzy and soft drinks – these contain lots of ’empty’ calories, do not do your body any good and they are bad for your teeth. A regular can (330ml) of cola, for example, contains around 9 tablespoons of sugar and a similar-sized bottle of ginger beer can contain around 13. See our page on what to drink instead.