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Nutrition: know your basics

In a world where the advice on what is healthy seems to change almost daily, deciding what to eat can get confusing. From lean protein to enjoying your five a day, read our top tips for maintaining great nutrition, no matter your dietary choices

Intro to nutrition basics

Fresh fruit

Getting your five a day

From fruit and veg to beans and pulses, how to pack in more vitamins, minerals, fibre and plant nutrients

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Salad wraps, pittas and rolls

Wholegrains and carbohydrates

An important source of energy, carbohydrates are a rich source of fibre, B vitamins, iron, and folate

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Salmon and greens

Protein and fish

A great source of lean protein, fish provides the body with heart-healthy omega 3 fats, vitamins and minerals

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Blueberry yoghurts topped with seeds

Dairy and more

Packed with calcium and iodine, dairy and non-dairy alternatives provide essential nutrients for every day

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This much-maligned mineral is, in moderations, essential to our body’s functioning

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Gummy sweets


This simple carbohydrate has been in the press a lot recently for its disease-related impact

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Yoghurts with fresh fruit and nut toppings

Gut health

Improve and maintain a healthy gut with food packed full of live cultures and fibre

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Fat and saturated fat

The facts on fat have changed and we now understand the importance of this macro nutrient

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Fresh fruit

Getting your five a day

The famous five should naturally make up around one third of your daily diet, ideally in three portions of vegetables and two of fruit – veg tends to be more nutrient-dense and lower in sugar than fruit, although both are rich in a variety of vitamins, minerals, fibre and plant nutrients (also known as phytonutrients).

Do all kinds of fruit and vegetable count?
Yes, whether they are fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or pureed. Here are some top tips for getting your five a day:

  • Beans and pulses, such as kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils, all count – they’re also rich in fibre and protein so can help to keep you feeling full.

  • Fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies count as a maximum of one portion a day (one portion = 150ml), no matter how much you drink, as they are naturally lower in fibre and higher in sugar and acid.

  • Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, yams and cassava, do not count.

What counts as a portion?
One five-a-day-worthy portion of fruit or veg is around 80g. This equates to roughly: a whole, medium-sized fruit e.g. banana, orange, nectarine; a handful of berries; half an avocado, one average slice of melon, two slices of mango; three heaped tablespoons of chopped vegetables or cooked pulses; one heaped tablespoon of dried fruit. More details here


Wholegrains and carbohydrates

Bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and grains are important sources of energy in our diets. They provide complex and simple carbohydrates that our bodies need for energy, providing a rich source of fibre, B vitamins, iron, and folate.

Choosing wholegrain options gives you more goodness – more fibre, more vitamins, minerals and protective plant chemicals. Wholegrains contain 75% more nutrients than milled versions.

How much?
Wholegrain, starchy foods should make up around a third of our diet so they ideally need to be included in every meal. Did you know... starchy foods are often viewed as fattening but carbohydrates actually provide fewer calories per gram than fat?

Fibre providers
Starchy foods, particularly wholegrain versions, are great sources of fibre, which is important for a healthy digestive system. There are two types of fibre:

  • Insoluble fibre – this can’t be broken down by our digestive system so helps to add bulk and keep the digestive system healthy. It’s commonly found in wholegrains, brown or wild rice and brown pasta.

  • Soluble fibre – is partly broken down by our bodies and can help lower cholesterol. It's found in oats, beans and pulses.

Unfortunately, most of us only include around half of the recommended fibre in our diets. We should be aiming for around 30g a day so we’ve put together some handy tips to easily add more:

  • Include one of the starchy foods listed in each meal.

  • Choose Eat Well options from the grocery and bakery aisle – these will provide a source of wholegrain.

  • All M&S bread, even white, is now a source of fibre to help you boost your intake.

Salmon and greens

Protein and fish

Fish is a great source of lean protein and heart-healthy omega 3 fats, which are key to growth and development. It’s also low in saturated fat yet rich in a range of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, D, B, selenium and calcium.

How much?
Aim to include a minimum of two portions (120g each) of fish a week into your diet, one of which should be an oily fish. White fish includes cod, haddock, plaice, pollock and hake; oily fish includes salmon, trout, sardines, fresh tuna, mackerel and kippers.

The importance of omega 3
Oily fish is a rich source of heart-healthy long-chain omega 3 fats, which are needed for brain and visual development. Research has shown diets rich in fish and omega 3 help lower the risk of heart disease.

Plant sources of omega 3, such as linseeds, chia seeds and plant oils, provide short-chain omega 3, which do not have the same health benefits of those found in oily fish. Instead our bodies have to convert these omega 3s into the long-chain versions and our bodies are pretty inefficient at doing so.

Lochmuir salmon
Did you know that all of our Lochmuir salmon are fed an omega 3-rich diet? Every fillet provides you with your entire week’s omega 3 intake (3g). Look out for our Eat Well sunflower and omega 3 messages on our packaging to boost your fish and omega 3 intake.

Meat, fish, eggs, beans and pulses are great sources of protein, which are needed for our growth and development. Protein is made up of amino acids, some of which our bodies can’t make so need to be provided by the diet. Choosing lean sources help to boost the protein in your diet yet manage your intake of saturated fats and including a variety helps to provide your body with all the amino acids it needs.

Animal protein sources are often the richest, however good plant protein sources include soya, tofu, pulses and nuts. Remember to include a variety of different protein sources.

What about red meat?
Red meat is a rich source of protein as well as iron and zinc, two minerals which are often low in our diets. A healthy diet can include red meat as a rich source of these nutrients but you should try to have no more than 70g a day (cooked weight) and balance your diet with other sources of protein as well. Processed meat, such as cured or smoked meat, can be enjoyed on occasion in smaller quantities.


Dairy foods are an important source of protein, calcium and iodine as well as riboflavin and vitamin B12. Try to choose lower fat options such as semi-skimmed milk and low-fat yoghurt and enjoy cheese on occasion as it is often higher in salt.

If you are avoiding dairy in your diet, choose a dairy alternative that has been enriched with calcium and iodine to provide alternative sources of these important nutrients. All of our milk-substitute drinks and yoghurts, e.g. soya, oat or rice drinks are enriched with these calcium and B vitamins.

Yoghurt with mango, blueberries and seeds
Crisps with rosemary


Our bodies need salt to function but too much can increase blood pressure and in turn increase the risk of heart disease or stroke. Most people in the UK are eating too much salt, whether from the balance of foods in their diet or from adding it to their cooking.
How much? Adults should have no more than 6g of salt a day and children should have even less.

How to reduce your salt intake

  • Use herbs and spices such as chilli, garlic and vinegar to add flavour to your meal.

  • Choose foods that are lower in salt. Check the front of the packet and aim to only buy those with green or amber salt labels.

  • Foods which are higher in salt e.g. crisps, hard cheese, cured meat, soy sauce should be enjoyed on occasion and in smaller quantities.

  • Look out for the Eat Well logo across our stores to balance your diet.


Sugars are simple carbohydrates which our body breaks down to provide an instant source of energy. Diets high in sugar can increase the risk of tooth decay and the number of calories in our diet which can lead to weight gain. Diets high in sugary drinks have been associated with an increased risk of weight gain and type 2 diabetes, so try to choose versions with no added sugar where possible.

Sugars can be added to foods, commonly in the form of cane sugar, honey, syrups and nectars, and are naturally present in some foods such as milk, milk products, fruits and vegetables. Both naturally present and added sugars are processed in the same way by our bodies and provide the same number of calories per gram.

Foods high in added sugar include: sweets, chocolate, cake, biscuits, fizzy drinks and desserts.

Foods naturally high in sugar include fruit juices, fruit smoothies, honey and syrups.

How much?
The amount of sugar in our diets has been falling but it’s still too high, particularly for children and teenagers. Government advice recommends reducing the amount of 'free sugars' in our diet which includes foods with added sugars as well as fruit juices and smoothies which are naturally high in sugar. Sugars naturally present in dairy products and whole fruit and veg do not count. Try to stick to the below free sugar recommendations:

Children 4-6yrs: less than 19g/day.

Children 7-10yrs: less than 24g/day.

Adults and children 11+: less than 30g/day.

How to reduce your sugar intake
Nutritional labelling on food and drinks can only label total sugar – this includes added sugars and naturally occurring sugars. You can help to reduce the amount of free sugars in your diet by following the below recommendations:

  • Enjoy foods typically high in added sugars as a treat and in small amounts e.g. sweets, cakes, biscuits and chocolate.

  • Choose no added-sugar soft drinks rather than the full sugar versions.

  • Remember fruit juices and smoothies are naturally high in fruit sugars so mix these with water and enjoy no more than 150ml a day.

Dried fruits are also naturally high in sugar and can stick to your teeth, potentially impacting your dental health. Enjoy these foods as part of a meal rather than on their own. One portion of dried fruit is about 30g.

At M&S, we focus on reducing calories as opposed to focusing on one specific nutrient. Our activity on reducing calories, saturated fat, salt and added sugar as well as boosting fibre and other positive nutrients and removing artificial colours and trans-fat is on the premise that we won’t compromise on the quality or safety of our food offer. From 2018 to 2019, we have reduced total calories per pack by 12%, total Saturated Fat per pack has reduced by 14% and total sugar per pack has reduced by 13%. The specific category data is attached. We believe the future needs in this area is reformulation around portion size whether that be clarity on size, resealable packaging or smaller versions of indulgent foods. Click here for details on our internal M&S data.

Yoghurts topped with fresh fruit and nuts

Gut health

The human body is home to a thriving community of 100 trillion bacteria, most of which live in our large intestine and in totality is known as our gut microbiome. Our gut microbiome is completely unique to us and plays an important role in all systems of the body, including digestion.

There are several different foods linked to improved gut health including foods containing live cultures such as yoghurts and fermented foods like kimchi and kombucha.

Fibre is a key nutrient associated with improving and maintaining a healthy gut. Did you know the recommended daily intake of fibre is 30g, but most of us only achieve 18g? Choosing wholegrain food and increasing your fruit and vegetable intake can all contribute to your fibre intake.

Look out for products in the Eat Well range to find foods developed to be good for digestive health.

Fat and saturated fat

Our bodies need a small amount of fat from our diets to provide essential fats such as omega 3 and to help us absorb vitamins. However, fats provide 9kcal per gram (twice that of carbohydrates and protein) so foods high in fat can be high in calories, making it easy to consume more calories than you need. Not only is the amount of fat in our diet important but the type of fat is crucial too. There are two main types of fat: saturated fat and unsaturated fat.

Unsaturated fats
Sometimes called good fats as diets high in these have been found to be beneficial to health, foods high in unsaturated fats include olive/rapeseed/sunflower oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, fish and oily fish. Swapping foods high in saturated fats for foods higher in unsaturated fats can help to lower cholesterol and support a healthy heart.

Saturated fats
Foods high in saturated fat are easy to spot as they usually remain solid at room temperature, for example coconut oil, lard, butter, cheese, fatty cuts of meat as well as cream, cakes and pastries. Too much saturated fat increases our cholesterol which can increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease. Most of us eat too much saturated fat so try to include no more than 20g a day.

How to reduce your saturated fat intake

  • Choose lean cuts of meat, trim off any visible fat, remove skin and drain cooked mince.

  • Grill, bake, poach or steam rather than frying or roasting as you won’t be adding any extra fat.

  • Use rapeseed or olive oils for cooking and dressings instead of butter, lard or coconut oil.

  • Include more fish and naturally lean meats such as turkey, venison or chicken in your diet.

  • Choose low-fat dairy options such as semi-skimmed milk and low-fat yoghurt.

  • Swap cream and sourced cream in recipes for low-fat yoghurt or fromage frais.

  • Enjoy foods typically high in saturated fat in smaller portions and as a treat.

  • Choose foods which are mostly labelled green or amber for saturated fat.

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