A healthy mix of foods and fluid


This information sheet can help you to:



The right mix of foods will make sure you get all the nutrients you need, and give your body the signals it needs to regulate how much you eat, so that you don’t feel deprived and get food cravings, or feel full and bloated.

A Healthy Mix of Foods and Fluid

This picture shows a healthy mix of foods, in five groups.



Why Each Group is Important

The biggest groups show the foods we need to have most: starchy staple foods; and fruit and vegetables.  The smallest group shows healthy oils and fats.

There are two groups in the middle that are essential in different ways: milk and dairy foods; and meat, fish eggs, nuts and seeds.

Lastly, the picture shows foods we should use just a little – very sweet and very fatty foods.

Think about each group - why it’s important and how you can fit it into the way you eat.  If you aim to have 3 meals with small snacks regularly over the day, you will have lots of ways to get all the variety of foods you need.  If you feel you are rather a faddy eater, and don’t get enough variety of foods, there is a separate leaflet to help with this.  You need to include at least 3 different foods from each group to get a reasonable variety.


Fruit and Vegetables


Why do we need them?How much do we need?

A range of essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, folic acid and potassium.  If you purge, by vomiting or using laxatives, your body loses potassium, so you need these foods to replace it


Have at least 5 servings a day.  Up to 7 servings a day is fine for most people.  A serving is at least 80 g, up to about 100g, so a fresh apple, a couple of tomatoes or 2 generous tablespoons of cooked vegetable would count as a serving.


Juice only counts as one serving, even if you have more, as it does not contain fibre.


Get as much variety of foods from this group as you can.


If you have too much of these foods, you can feel full and bloated, and find you can’t eat enough of the other foods you need. Too much of these foods can confuse natural appetite regulation, as they make your stomach feel full, but don’t raise blood glucose or fat levels, giving your brain a mixed message. If you eat very large amounts, specially brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, your skin can take on a yellow colour, as your body stores excess carotene there.


Different types of fibre, which are essential for healthy gut microflora, and lifelong gut function.


Anti-oxidants, which protect cell function and replacement.


They help regulate appetite, by making you feel full.



Ways to get Fruit and Vegetables



Fruit juice regularly with breakfast is a healthy habit to have

You can add fresh fruit or dried fruit to cereal porridge or muesli


Light Meals

A salad makes a good light meal, with cheese or meat or fish or pulses, and bread or jacket potato.

Have salad with sandwich fillings such as cheese, meat or fish.

Have plain fresh fruit, or fruit with yogurt as dessert.


Main Meals

Always include a serving of cooked vegetables with a hot meal.  You can have the vegetable on a separate plate if that is easier.

Many desserts are fruit-based, such as crumbles or flans, baked apples, and stewed fruit.

Vegetable soup or a salad make a good first course for a main meal.



Fresh fruit is a good small snack.  Dried fruit is easy to carry around as a quick snack.

For a more substantial snack, have vegetable soup with bread or crackers, or fruit with yogurt.




Starchy Staple Foods


Why do we need them?How much do we need?

These foods are powerful signals to the brain to regulate food intake.


They give the feeling of fullness after a meal, especially the ones that are high in fibre, such as wholegrain cereals, jacket potatoes and porridge.


As you digest them, they break down to produce glucose, so cause a steady rise in blood glucose.   This begins a few minutes after you start to eat, and when it is high enough, that signals to your brain to stop eating.  Gradual release of glucose into your blood continues over the next few hours and gives your brain the message that you don’t need to start eating again for a while.


Eat starchy food with every meal, and most snacks, to prevent excessive hunger.  If you let yourself get too hungry, your thoughts keep turning to food, and this can interfere with concentration and learning, and increase the risk of food craving and uncontrolled eating.


If you are very active, these are good foods to give you the extra energy you need, so have more starchy foods at meals and snacks.


Choose the starchy foods that release glucose gradually.  These are called low glycaemic index or low GI foods, such as granary or seeded bread, porridge and muesli, oatcakes, pasta, sweet potato, brown rice, high fibre cereals like shredded wheat.


Wholegrain bread, cereals and starchy vegetables provide protein; fibre to support thriving microflora in your gut; and essential vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, vitamin E, iron and zinc.


Ways to get Starchy Staple Foods



Cereal, muesli or porridge with milk or yogurt make a good breakfast dish.

Add toast, crumpets or bread rolls with spread.


Light Meals

Have bread or a jacket potato with salad.  Sandwiches or filled rolls are easy if you need to carry a meal with you, or you can buy them in many places.  Have rice, couscous or pasta salads with vegetables and fish or nuts.  Vegetable or fish sushi are good.  For a hot light meal, have beans or egg on toast.


Main Meals

Most hot meals have a starchy food as the base.  This might be potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice or pasta, or the dough base of pizza.



Use a starchy food part of at least one snack every day.  Try toast with spread; soup with a roll; cheese with oatcakes; a scone or toasted teacake.




Meat, Fish, Eggs, Nuts, Seeds and Pulses


Why do we need them?How much do we need?

This group is quite a mix of foods. They all provide protein. All body cells are made from protein, so you need to get it from food to repair and replace old cells, and build new ones.  You also need protein for making substances such as hormones and enzymes that are necessary for sending signals and for metabolic tasks such as digesting food, fighting infection and destroying old or damaged cells.


Each of the foods in this group offers a different variety of other essential vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and fibre.  Meat and eggs provide iron and zinc.  Oily fish provide essential fatty acids.  Nuts and seeds provide zinc and magnesium, and fibre.


About 1-3 servings a day is enough for most people.  Try to get a variety.


If you don’t eat meat take care to get iron from eggs, dark green vegetables, bread and cereals and dried fruit. If you don’t eat oily fish, it is difficult to get enough essential fatty acids and vitamin D, and it is sensible to take a supplement. Everyone living in the UK should take a vitamin D supplement (10 micrograms a day) during the winter months.


Ways to get Meat, Fish, Eggs, Nuts, Seeds and Pulses



You can add nuts or seeds to porridge or muesli, or yogurt.  If you enjoy a cooked breakfast sometimes, you could have baked beans or egg on toast.


Light Meals

Hummus, peanut butter, egg, meat or fish are all good in sandwiches.  Tuna or a topping with minced meat like Bolognese sauce are good with jacket potatoes.


Main Meals

Most hot meals should have a generous helping of meat or fish or beans.  They might be served plain, or with a sauce.



Packets of nuts and seeds, or fruit and nut bars, make a snack that is easy to carry around with you.

Pulse-based soup, such a lentil soup or pea soup, is a good snack.


Milk and Milk-Based Foods

Why do we need them?

How much do we need?

Milk, yogurt and cheese are the calcium-rich foods, and are also an important source of protein, vitamins and potassium.

Calcium is the substance that makes bones and teeth hard. When growth is rapid, especially the teenage years, your body responds to hormones (oestrogen in girls and testosterone in boys) by rapidly laying down calcium in bones to make them hard and strong. If your body weight is low, production of these hormones may be reduced.  Combined with lack of calcium, protein and vitamin D from food, this leaves bones at risk of serious weakness called osteoporosis.

You also need vitamin D to use the calcium – from oily fish, eggs, cheese, and yellow spreads on bread. If you are at risk of osteoporosis (if you have ever been at low weight, even for a few weeks) a vitamin D supplement will probably be helpful, especially in the winter. You need 10-25 mcg daily – but don’t have more.



If you are at low body weight, or have been at low weight in the past, you need at least 4 servings a day to get a high calcium intake.

If you are under 25 years old, you can make your bones stronger by staying at a healthy weight, and getting a high calcium intake.  If you are older than your mid-twenties, four servings a day from this group can help slow down loss of calcium from bones.

If you would like more information about calcium and bone health, look at the NHS Choices website

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Calcium.aspx. For information about

osteoporosis and eating disorders, see the National Osteoporosis Society information sheet at



If you prefer not to have cow’s milk, use soya milk with added calcium. Other types of “milk” such as rice or nut products may not be adequate, as they may not provide enough energy, or essential nutrients.

Ways to get Milk and Milk-Based Foods



Cereal or porridge with milk at breakfast is an easy way to get a regular serving of milk.  Yogurt with fruit or muesli is good.


Light MealsCheese makes a good sandwich filling, or topping for a jacket potato.  Yogurt is an easy dessert.
Main MealsYou could have a cheese dish such as macaroni with cheese or cauliflower cheese, or pizza with cheese.  Fruit with custard, or milk pudding is a good dessert.

It’s easy to get a milky coffee or hot chocolate from coffee shops.  A milky drink before bed is a good habit.

Cheese with oatcakes or with fruit makes a quick healthy snack.



 Healthy Oils and Fats
Why do we need them?How much do we need?


All our body cells have membranes made from fats, and fat is especially important for brain structure. Many substances such as hormones are also made from fats.


You need the right kind of fats and oils from foods. These come from oily fish, and also from nut and seed oils and olive oil.


Fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K) are present in the fatty elements of foods such as cheese, eggs, milk, butter and spreads, oily fish, nuts and seeds.



Choose healthy oils and spreads, and use them regularly over the day on bread, as dressings and in cooking.


Ways to get Healthy Oils and Fats


BreakfastUse an olive oil or vegetable spread on toast
Light MealsHave a dressing based on olive oil, nut or seed oil on salad.  Use an olive oil or vegetable spread for sandwiches.
Main mealsUse a healthy oil for cooking, for example for stir-frying, or to make sauce or gravy.  If you don’t like to use oil in cooking, you can drizzle olive oil or oil-based dressing on vegetables, or dip bread into olive oil.


Sweet and Fatty Foods


Why do we need them?How much do we need?


Healthy eating is not just nutrients. Foods like sweets, crisps and chocolate cake may not provide much to support physical health, and too much can be harmful, but we really need them for emotional and social health.


If you try too hard to avoid these foods, you feel deprived, and this can trigger craving and uncontrolled eating.


To take part in social eating, you need to be able to have a full variety of foods. People may feel hurt if you turn down a gift of expensive chocolate, or a cake that a family member has made with love.  If you avoid a lot of foods you may find it difficult to accept invitations to social events, so you don’t get to spend so much time with friends and family.



We all need to learn how to use these foods in a normal way, without having so much that it harms health. It’s best to have these foods when you are not very hungry, so you are less likely to overeat them. One or two servings a day is fine, maybe more some days and less on others.


You might like a dessert after a healthy main course sometimes, or crisps or chocolate as part of your light meal. Accept one slice of birthday cake, or a cookie with your milky coffee. You can learn to enjoy your food by including a little, and it will help you to feel comfortable joining with what your friends and family have.





Why do we need it?How much do we need?


Every cell in your body needs water for everything it does. Your body is losing water all the time, through your skin, and in your breath, and getting rid of waste products in urine. If you don’t replace it, you become dehydrated. If you don’t get enough fluid, you may get headaches, or moments of dizziness, for instance when you stand up quickly. Your skin may get dry and papery, and you may be prone to bladder infections.


Purging by vomiting or using laxatives makes you lose water, so can quickly make you dehydrated.

Work with your therapist to reduce it, and make sure you get extra fluid to replace what you lose.

You can drink plain water, or tea or coffee, milky drinks or fruit juice.




You need to take drinks regularly over the day. Most of us need 6-8 drinks a day, each one about 200-300 ml, a large mug.  Aim to have at least one drink with each of your three main meals, between meals and in the evening.


You need more fluid if you are very physically active, or the weather is hot, or you are unwell, or you have alcohol or a lot of caffeine (from coffee or energy drinks). If you drink alcohol, or strong coffee, have a glass of water for each drink with alcohol or caffeine.


You can overdo fluid intake. If you have too much – more than about 2½ litres a day - it can dilute the essential salts in your blood, and that may impair your heart function.



Fizzy Drinks


Fizzy drinks can cause problems. You may find you use a lot of diet fizzy drinks. This can interfere with recovering natural appetite regulation, and they are very acidic, so can damage teeth severely, especially if you use them often. If they also contain caffeine (cola and energy drinks) they may interfere with sleep, and can make anxiety worse.



Alcoholic Drinks

Many people enjoy drinking as relaxation and part of their normal social life. Alcohol is harmful to

your health if you overdo it, so if you do drink, the NHS recommendation is:


Alcohol provides calories. It also raises your metabolic rate a bit more than eating other types of food, so when you drink alcohol, your body burns more calories. For that reason, it’s best not to try to compensate for the calories by reducing the amount of food you eat.


If you are underweight, your liver is more stressed by alcohol, and you will feel the effects more, so limiting your intake is more important. If you do take alcohol, always have it with food, as this slows down the absorption into your blood, and reduces the effects on your brain and on your liver.


Your kidneys make more urine when you drink alcohol, to flush it out of your body. This can dehydrate you. When you have alcohol, make sure you have plenty of non-alcoholic fluids as well.

Alternating alcoholic drinks with water or other alcohol-free drinks helps.

Alcohol can increase the risk of food craving and uncontrolled overeating. It increases your appetite, and reduces your ability to control your behaviour. If you are working to reduce chaotic eating or binge eating, you may find it easiest to give up alcohol until you feel more in control of your eating.

If you don’t want to drink alcohol, on social occasions you might want to have fizzy water or tonic water with ice and lemon, then no-one will know just what you are drinking.  Many bars and restaurants offer a range in alcohol-free juices and mocktails.

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