It sounds obvious and straightforward but, for many in Sussex, eating healthily to keep well is not being done.

There are several reasons for this, including lack of time and financial constraints. But there is plenty now being done to help people change their eating habits cheaply and effectively to improve their lifestyle.

Siobhan Ryan reports According to health experts and nutritionists we should all eat five servings of fruit and vegetables every day.

This, along with a healthy balance of essential nutrients and other foodstuffs, provides a good defence against illness.

But how easy is it to persuade busy, full-time workers it is a good idea to prepare freshly-cooked meals with vegetables after a long day at the office?

Louise South is the person who has been given the often difficult job of encouraging people to change their minds about fruit and vegetables.

She is the co-ordinator of an East Sussex, Brighton and Hove Health Authority project to try and get the message across that while take-aways may taste great, people should make more effort.

Louise's team takes several approaches to helping people eat healthier foods.

The main aim has been to make quality fruit and vegetables available at low cost and close to people's homes.

Several co-operatives have been set up in the county so fruit and vegetables can be grown and ordered collectively.

Mobile vans are then used to take produce direct to people's homes.

This is especially useful for older people or those without their own transport who do not relish having to carry heavy items on the bus or train.

Louise says she does not expect everyone to suddenly change their eating habits and plunge into a new regime but is asking them to consider taking the first step.

She says: "It is about achieving a balance. If you've never thought about eating fruit, it is great stuff if you just have a banana or another piece of fruit at breakfast.

"We don't want people to think they have to force healthy food down all the time.

There is nothing wrong with processed meals but, if you have them day in and day out, without balancing them with fresh food, they can become a problem.

"It is simply a matter of getting started and seeing how you like it.

If one person can begin to feel the benefits, that makes the effort worthwhile."

Part of the campaign has been to try and build up people's cooking skills to take away the temptation of turning to ready-meals.

Schools and colleges have been involved with this: students at a Hastings college were urged to take partin a five-day cookery challenge aimed at creating healthy meals at a low cost.

The campaign also accepts the five servings a day can come from frozen and tinned produce if necessary.

But members admit even if the food was easy to get and cheap, some people would still never buy it. Louise says: "The best we can do is raise awareness of what it is all about and let people decide for themselves."

Healthy eating is not just about keeping slim or feeling fit it can also help protect the body against disease.

Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer-killer in the UK and studies have shown diet is an important factor.

There is a marked difference in growth rates of the disease between Westernised countries and developing nations and this is believed to be due to differences in diet.

Specialists believe eating meals which are low in fibre and high in fat may encourage the cancer to develop.

Health experts also point to links between eating well and the prevention of heart disease and osteoporosis.

Brighton nutritionist Ellen Mathers says many people are unaware of the power of diet and nutrients in keeping them healthy.

She says: "Nutrition has an extremely significant part to play in keeping people healthy.

People should have plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and drink plenty of water."

Zinc is important, and zinc lozenges are available. Echinacea is a herbal remedy which also helps support the immune system and garlic is another useful health component for cooking.

A basic protection against colds and flu is vitamin C with the best recommended fruits being kiwis and blackcurrants.

Green vegetables such as cabbage and broccoli are also recommended.

1/3 MORE details are available from the health authority health promotion team on 01273 485300.