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So much has been written about eating healthy meals and having a better diet that sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin. Many fad diets promise instant results in return for following complicated rules, but in reality, having a healthy, balanced diet mostly means knowing some simple principles and sticking to them.

To help you get started, we’ve put together a list of practical ways to start eating healthy meals here.

5 tips for eating healthy meals this month

1. Balance your plate

A healthy diet is a bit more than just “start eating healthy foods and cut out the bad foods”; it’s balance that’s really key. Each food group, be it starchy foods, fruit and vegetables, protein, dairy, or even fats, has something to offer – we just need to get the ratio right. Take a look at  a balanced diet chart to see what this breakdown looks like, and adjust your meals accordingly.

2. Watch your portion sizes

It’s so easy to just clear your plate rather than finishing when you’re full! Knowing the recommended portion sizes can help here.

When it comes to eating healthy, the tips on portion sizes do change a bit according to your lifestyle. The NHS advises that how much you need to eat depends on how active you are – so if you are doing a lot of exercise, more food is needed by your body for fuel, but if you are relatively inactive, not so much is required. They have a helpful guide with information about appropriate portions for the different food groups here.

3. Swap your fats

While fat has a part to play in a balanced diet, the types of fat that feature in your diet matter as well.

Sounds a bit strange – isn’t fat just fat? But there’s a reason saturated fat is often called the “bad” fat: if cholesterol levels are elevated, replacing these fats in the diet with “good” unsaturated fats can help to lower cholesterol in the blood*. Foods high in saturated fat include fatty meat, full fat dairy products, and baked goods like cakes and biscuits. Unsaturated fatty foods include oily fish, vegetable oils (and products made using them, like spreads), nuts and seeds, and avocadoes.

4. Eat 5 fruit and vegetable portions a day

Most of us know by now that eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day is a key step in getting a balanced diet. Few of us are aware of the specifics – what actually counts as a serving?

First of all, it’s not just fresh fruit and veg that count. Frozen, dried, and tinned versions are also fine. Learning how to start eating healthy amounts of these foods is also important: 80g is the overall rule of thumb for fresh and frozen foods, but for dried fruit it’s 30g, and for fruit juice (which counts, but can be high in sugar) you should only be drinking 150ml a day.

5. Foods with added plant sterols can help to lower cholesterol levels**

If you’re wondering “how can I start eating healthy meals and lower cholesterol along the way?”, tip three above can help. Another effective way to get a desirable cholesterol level is to try foods with added plant sterols, like those in the ProActiv range*. Eating between 1.5 and 2.4 grams of plant sterols each day as part of a balanced diet can lower cholesterol levels by 7-10% in two to three weeks. Add this to the tips above, and you’re already well on your way towards a cholesterol lowering diet.

As you can see, you can start eating healthy with just a few simple changes to your diet. You don’t have to go it alone, either – sign up to our ProActiv newsletter here for more tips on healthy eating, cholesterol, and keeping active every month.

* Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats in the diet has been shown to lower blood cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. There are many risk factors for coronary heart disease and it is important to take care of all of them to reduce the overall risk of it.