Healthy eating keeps you feeling at your best for longer. It's good for your physical and mental health and can help you recover after an illness. Find out more about healthy diets, keeping your food bill in budget and where to get support to eat well.
What is a healthy diet?
Eating well is one of the foundations for a healthy lifestyle. It provides you with nourishment and energy to keep your body and mind at its best every day.
What eating well looks like for you may be different to someone else. It’s important to eat a wide variety of foods so you get all the nutrients you need. As a general rule, a healthy, balanced diet includes:
- plenty of fruits and vegetables – usually at least 5 portions a day
- starchy foods, like rice, pasta, bread and potatoes. Choose brown or wholegrain if you can
- some protein, such as meat, fish, dairy, beans and pulses
- some healthy fats, such as from oily fish, olive oil or nuts.
It's also important to stay hydrated, so a healthy diet also includes what you drink. Aim for 6-8 glasses of fluids a day. This includes water, tea, coffee, milk and low-sugar juices.
Visit NHS Live Well for more on healthy eating.
Eating well – top tips
- Eat regular meals. Most people go for three main meals.
- Use the NHS Eatwell guide to create balanced meals.
- Find healthy recipes and foods you like eating to encourage yourself to eat well. Many health charities offer recipe ideas for certain conditions, for example:
- Eat with friends or family when you can to make mealtimes more enjoyable. You could also consider joining a lunch club to eat more socially.
- Make sure you eat enough fibre and have fluids alongside. Foods rich in fibre include wholegrain bread, vegetables and dried fruits.
What to do if you've lost your appetite
Some people find their appetite changes as they get older. While this is common, not eating enough can put you at risk of becoming malnourished. This is when you don’t get the energy and nutrients you need from your diet to stay healthy.
If you’ve lost your appetite, you might not feel motivated to eat. But there are small steps you can take to still eat well. For example, you could:
- try eating ‘little and often’ by going for smaller meals and snacks, instead of three main meals. BBC Good Food has a range of recipes.
- add more high protein and energy foods to increase the calories you have. This includes things like full-fat milk, cheese, fish, meat, eggs, nuts and nut butters, beans and pulses
- try not to have drinks just before meals so you won’t feel too full to eat
- consider including milky or malted drinks, or hot chocolate
- go for softer foods if you’re having problems chewing, such as stews, mashed potato or soup
- exercise regularly to improve your appetite – see our page on Staying active in later life.
If you’re finding appetite loss is regularly affecting how you feel, you could consider getting some support. Read more on our Looking after your mental health webpage.
Visit the NHS page keeping your weight up in later life or the British Dietetic Association’s food facts on malnutrition for more information.
If you’re having trouble chewing or swallowing, talk to your dentist or GP. If you've lost weight suddenly or you're not sure why, speak to your GP or another health professional. They can check there's no underlying cause.
Healthy weight loss
It can be easy to gain weight over time without realising. But just like being underweight, becoming overweight can increase your risk of health problems too.
If you’re looking to lose weight, don’t crash diet. It’s better to make gradual changes and lose weight slowly. Small changes may include:
- using simple food swaps to make your current diet healthier. For example, having fruit instead of sugar on your breakfast cereal, or swapping from white to wholegrain bread. Many food items contain a surprising amount of sugar, such as ketchup and yoghurt. Keep an eye out for sugar content information on the packaging and look for low-sugar or sugar-free alternatives.
- increasing your physical activity. It’s good for your general health and helps to maintain your weight – see our page Staying active in later life
- using a smaller plate to eat smaller portions if you struggle with over-eating. You should also eat slowly. It takes around 20 minutes before you can tell if you’re full.
You could also speak to your GP surgery if you need help to lose weight. They can check if there are any health conditions causing you to put on weight and help you make a weight loss plan. For example, they may be able to refer you to a dietician, or to local groups, such as exercise classes or weight loss support groups.
For more advice on losing weight healthily, visit the NHS Better Health website.
If you're finding it hard to cook for yourself
If you’re finding it hard to cook or shop for food, consider asking others for some help.
For example, you could order from companies offering pre-prepared meals - search for one using the Housing care search tool. Or you may qualify for meals on wheels, which delivers hot or ready-made meals to your home, usually for a charge.
For help with shopping, you could see if volunteers from Age UK or the Royal Voluntary Service could go with you. Or check whether you can get home deliveries from your nearest supermarket or local shops.
If you’re regularly finding it hard to cook yourself, you could consider getting a care needs assessment from your local council. This looks at what your care needs are and whether you’d qualify for any help. Help might include things like visits from a care worker who could help you cook, or adapting your home to make cooking and eating easier. Special equipment – for example, easy-grip utensils and non-slip boards – is also available to help with cooking and eating. Read more on Getting Disability Equipment.
Eating well for less
You don't need to spend a lot of money to eat healthily. To keep your food costs within your budget, you could try:
- planning your meals in advance so you only buy what you need when you go shopping
- looking for coupons or offers to save money on your food bill. You could also switch to cheaper brands than you may usually buy to lower your costs. If you’re tempted by a multi-buy offer, check the price per 100g to make sure you’re getting a good deal
- cooking from scratch rather than relying on ready meals, if you’re able to. This is often a healthier option as well as being less expensive
- eating more vegetarian meals if you don’t already do so – meat and fish can often be the most expensive ingredient, so eating them less often could save you some money
- using frozen and tinned fruits and vegetables to get your 5 a day. These provide the same amount of nutrients at a fraction of the cost, and can last longer too
- finding budget-friendly healthy recipes – there are lots online, or you can check your local library for cook books.
For more tips, read the British Dietetic Association’s Eat well, spend less Food Fact sheet.
Find out more about healthy eating on NHS Eat well or the British Dietetic Association's food fact pages.