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Healthy Eating in the UK

It can be a challenge to eat healthily on a budget if you do not have much time, do not know too much about which foods are nutritious and cheap, where to buy them and how to cook them.

Knowledge is power. To find out more about healthy eating you can order free information leaflets from Health First or from other reputable sources. The British Heart Foundation has good information including information about labelling which will help your clients to make the right choices.

Advising your clients to take the following small steps could make a big overall difference to their health without reducing the money in their pockets.

For most people, eating healthily means

Eating roughly one third of our food in the form of starchy foods such as bread, cereals, potatoes and yams. Bread and cereals should preferably be wholemeal, wholegrain or high fibre versions
Eating 5 or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day. A portion is roughly a handful
Eating milk and dairy products in moderate amounts and preferably lower fat versions
Eating moderate amounts of protein foods (meat, fish and alternatives such as eggs, nuts, beans and pulses)
Eating/drinking fat and sugar containing foods and drinks sparingly.

Know your local shops and markets and buy cheaply

This is where a bit of planning might be needed and getting to know your local area better will really pay off. The key is to find sources of cheap but good food as close to the route you take from home to work or school as possible.

Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham street markets are obviously a good start. These local markets are often in central locations. Stocking up on fruit and vegetables whenever you pass by them is a good idea as they are usually cheaper than supermarkets.

Buy seasonally. You can tell what is in season usually by price. Buying strawberries in the winter is always going to more expensive. If you're aware of what is in season you will get it cheaper and it usually tastes better too!

Tinned, dried and frozen food

While dried fruit can be expensive in supermarkets, it is often cheaper in shops which sell ethnic foods. In supermarkets, do not forget frozen vegetables and fruit. Frozen vegetables are still full of nutrients as long as you do not overcook them. They might be a bit more expensive than fresh vegetables but they are less likely to be wasted. Tinned vegetables and fruit can be quite cheap but try to get fruit in juice rather than syrup or vegetables with no added salt.

Tinned fish and meat can also be very nutritious. Oily fish such as tinned salmon or sardines contains healthy oils. Some tinned meats can be low fat and high in iron but it is important to check their labels as fat content can vary from product to product.

You can now buy a variety of quite cheap tinned vegetables as well as lots of different types of beans. These are are very healthy and can be added to stews and sauces. If you have time to prepare them you can buy dried beans and pulses which are even cheaper. Tinned tomatoes are a cheap and a great store cupboard item and lentils are filling, nutritious, cook quickly and can be added to most dishes.

Buy starchy foods in bulk

A healthy diet should include starchy foods for fibre and vitamins. Rice, pasta and bread are quite cheap and filling and can be very healthy especially if they are wholegrain. They are also often available on special offer. If you have a freezer you can freeze bread and use it when you need it.

Look for offers on fresh meat and fish...

... but remember other cheaper forms of protein can be equally nutritious Fresh meat and fish can be the most expensive items in our shopping basket. However it is worth remembering that a healthy diet does not need to include large amounts of meat. In fact most of us would benefit from eating slightly less and replacing it with more vegetables. We can also get protein from eggs, beans and pulses, low fat dairy foods and from tinned fish. Some of the cheapest fish around is actually very nutritious. Tinned fish like mackerel and sardines are full of oils which are good for our hearts and brains.

Look for offers on cereal or make up your own

Cereals are often on offer. Try to avoid the sugary ones. Making up your own is cheaper and can be fun. A few cornflakes, a few oats (which are very cheap), a few raisins, a banana, sunflower seeds...

Buy healthier cooking oils

Changing the type of fat you cook with is a way of making your diet healthier. Most people need to cut down on saturated fats such as butter, lard, ghee, coconut and palm oil and the fats hidden in cakes, biscuits and pastry and meat. Switching to oils will benefit your health. Some are healthier than others. Olive oil is rich in 'good' oils but is expensive so a very good but cheap alternative is rapeseed oil. You can now buy rapeseed oil in most supermarkets. Vegetable oils are also healthier than saturated fats. Remember though that you need to keep the fat down generally in your diet if you are trying to lose weight as it is high in calories.

If you have a freezer, use it

If you have a big enough freezer, you can try to cook all your left over vegetables in stews or soups and freeze it. This can be very handy for when you do not have time to cook later. You can also freeze soft fruits like berries and even bananas (peeled of course!) so you can make smoothies or have them with yoghurt.

Avoid expensive take-aways and ready-meals

Convenience meals can be expensive and have high amounts of fat, sugar or salt. This is usually to compensate for ingredients which are not so fresh. These meals can eat into your budget and are not as nutritious as foods which have been freshly canned or frozen or are fresh.

If you want to get take-outs some are healthier than others. Chicken shish kebabs with lots of salad are very healthy, baked potatoes and sandwiches (skip too much mayonnaise!) are usually good options and quite cheap. Anything deep fried, in pastry or in creamy or cheesy sauces are the least healthy so try to avoid these and opt for tomato based sauces, stews and grilled meat and fish instead.

Look at labels

Look at what you are getting for your money. If it contains lots of sugar, salt and fat you are being short-changed!

Local projects

There may be projects in your local community which help you to buy cheaper nutritious food or help you to cook more healthily. There are some food co-operatives in Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham and some healthy cooking classes. These are usually advertised locally.