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Eating a healthy, balanced diet and moderating the amount of alcohol you drink can help reduce your risk of developing conditions like heart disease or stroke.
Learning how to live a healthier lifestyle often starts with the food you eat and the drinks you enjoy. While it may seem like a simple aspect of your life to change, it can be quite challenging and requires a lot of patience and self-discipline. However, with the right help and the right attitude, you can take small steps to big changes.
By eating the right foods and limiting your alcohol intake, you can reduce your risk of developing serious health conditions. Healthy eating is also good for your immune system, helping to improve your overall health. It gives you more energy, and can help you maintain a healthy weight – or lose weight if you need to.
Eating healthily doesn’t have to mean cutting out all the things you enjoy. Instead, make sure you enjoy everything in moderation and make sure your diet is as balanced as possible.
Include a wide variety of foods in your diet to give your body all the essential nutrients it needs. A balanced diet should be high in fruit, vegetables, fibre, nuts, whole grains and pulses, and low in saturated fat, salt and sugar.
The Eatwell Guide is a quick and easy way to see if you’re eating the right amount of each food group.
Download Eatwell Guide
Like many things, salt and sugar are good in moderation but many of the foods that we enjoy in our everyday life, especially convenience foods and snacks, contain far more than the recommended daily amount of each.
You should aim to have no more than 6 grams of salt per day (that’s around 1 teaspoon) and 30 grams of free sugars per day, or 7 teaspoons.
With this in mind, try to get into the habit of preparing your own foods from scratch where possible. Try using spices and herbs to add flavour to your meals instead of salt. You can also reduce the sugars in your tea or coffee and opt for low or zero sugar options when choosing drinks or snacks.
We all know that you’re supposed to eat five fruit and vegetables a day, but what does that really mean?
A “portion” is around 80 grams, which is equal to: one banana, two plums, a handful of broccoli florets, a carrot, a handful of strawberries, a cereal-bowl size serving of salad or two tablespoons of peas. This includes fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruits and vegetables.
Try to make sure you include a variety of different fruits and vegetables in your diet. Why not eat the rainbow – you can get a good mix of nutrients and minerals by eating fruit and veg of different colours.
Fruit juices and smoothies should be limited to 150ml a day – the sugar in these drinks is digested faster and can cause tooth decay.
Learning which fats are good and not-so-good for you can help you to understand your diet and improve your approach to meal planning
Cutting out foods entirely is extremely difficult and rarely advised but keep saturated fats (such as butter, biscuits, chocolate, bacon and cheese) as occasional treats and focus on introducing omega-3 fats instead. These can be found in oily fish like mackerel and salmon, nuts, seeds and plant-based oils such as flaxseed, soybean and rapeseed oil.
To reduce the amount of fat in your diet you can try:
Incorporating more fibre into your diet is great for digestion and heart health – it can help to lower cholesterol. The best, most accessible sources of fibre are found in plant-based foods. This includes vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils, oats and grains.
Some of your favourite meals can be made more fibrous by substituting regular bread, rice or pasta for the wholemeal or ‘brown’ version – it’s an easy swap and you won’t even notice a difference in taste!
It can be really difficult to eat more healthily, but a few small swaps can make a big difference to your diet. Try to eat as well as you can, but don’t worry if there are days when this isn’t possible. Instead, try to create better habits and make sure your cupboards are stocked with healthy food to help you make good choices. This will make healthy eating a long-term, sustainable goal and eating healthily will soon become part of your everyday routine.
Set yourself small, achievable goals to help you reach your target. For example, don’t try to cut out chocolate, takeaways, alcohol, fizzy drinks and pies all at once. Take it slowly and reduce each one at a pace that works for you.
When snacking, try to avoid things like biscuits, chocolate and crisps. Instead opt for fruits and vegetables, nuts or unsalted popcorn. These can be paired with healthy accompaniments such as homemade humous or flaxseeds to boost flavours and textures.
Always eat a balanced breakfast to set you up for the day. This will keep you feeling full, so you won’t be tempted to snack throughout the morning.
It can be difficult to do this alone, so why not ask a friend or family member to join you on your journey to healthy eating? Having someone to talk to and get support from can be really helpful.
In addition to eating well, it is also important to keep your body well hydrated.
Try to drink 6-8 glasses of non-alcoholic fluid a day. Water is best, but low-fat milk, sugar-free drinks, herbal or fruit teas and decaffeinated tea or coffee also count towards your total.
If you’re out and about during the day, try to take a refillable water bottle with you so you can top it up. Or if you’re at home, refill your water glass once an hour until you’ve reached your target of 6-8 glasses.
Too much alcohol is bad for your health and can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and other serious health conditions.
Alcohol is also high in ‘empty calories’. These provide you with energy but none of the vitamins, minerals or nutrients you need to fuel your body.
To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. If you do drink as much as 14 units a week, spread them out over 3 or more days.
One unit is the same as:
For advice on how to reduce your alcohol intake visit the Drinkaware website or phone Drinkline for free on 0300 123 1110.
Healthy Eating and Drinking
You can make sure people with chest, heart or stroke in conditions Scotland get the support they need after returning home from hospital.
If you – or someone you know – needs help right now, we’re here for you.
Read our Essential Guides for more information.
Download our booklet Healthy Eating to find out more about the topics discussed on this page.
View this page
Download our booklet Alcohol to find out more about the topics discussed on this page.
Download our Healthy Weight Guide to find out more about the topics discussed on this page.
Speak to our Advice Line nurses on freephone 0808 801 0899 for free, confidential advice and support.
Visit our Services page find out more about the support that’s available to help you live well.