healthy foods that make up a balanced diet

What is a balanced diet?

A balanced diet is easily achievable when you break your intake into the five main food groups.

What are the five main food groups?

Fruit and vegetables; starchy carbohydrates; beans, pulses, eggs, fish and meat; dairy and its alternatives; and oils and spreads make up the five main food groups in the Eatwell Guide1. Introduced by Public Health England, the guide is split into segments to show how much you should eat from each food group. For example, you should eat at least five fruits and vegetables a day2 and moderate levels of meat, fish or pulses.

What makes a balanced diet?

Spreading these food groups across your day and week is the quickest way to balance your intake. The reason a balanced diet is so crucial is that it feeds our bodies with the right level of nutrients, vitamins and minerals it needs to function3. Eat too much of one food group, and you’ll be lacking in another.

Where do most nutrients come from?

Nutrients come from all manner of natural foods, whether it’s the Omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish, or vitamin K from leafy vegetables. We’ve broken down a few macronutrients below.

Vitamins

Vitamins are essential to our body’s daily processes and immune system. Specific foods are higher in specific vitamins (for instance, oranges are loaded with vitamin C)4, whereas lean meats (try supplements or plant-based protein if you’re vegan or vegetarian) are full of vitamin B125. Generally, a diet that takes in lots of fruits and vegetables daily will be high in vitamins.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are there to give our bodies more energy and to support digestion6. The Eatwell Guide recommends basing each meal on carbohydrates. If you can, opt for complex carbs like quinoa over simple carbs like white bread, which are less healthy.

Protein

Protein is key to muscle repair and even healthy skin, which makes it a vital macronutrient7. Meat and fish are high in protein, but these foods can also be high in fat if not lean. Using the Eatwell guide, it’s best to eat moderate amounts of protein. If you don’t eat meat or fish, you can still get protein from plant sources.

Fats

Not all fat is bad. Healthy fats, such as those found in avocados, can help to build new cells and even reduce the risk of diabetes8. However, like everything on this list, fat shouldn’t be consumed to excess. In addition, keep an eye on how much saturated fat you’re eating from fatty junk foods. Keep a treat as a treat. The other two resources our bodies rely on are water (6-8 glasses a day) and minerals9, which can be obtained from various foods across the five food groups.

Going forward

Use the Eatwell Guide to benchmark your portions and remember that most food packages now show the average recommended daily allowances (RDA) for fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt.

As for how much to eat, health experts advise 2000 calories a day for women and 2500 for men10. Going above this could make you overweight, so watch what you eat and check out our food and drink store for more inspiration, here.

Last updated: 4 May 2020

Sources
  1. https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/healthydiet/healthybalanceddiet.html
  2. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/5-a-day-what-counts/
  3. https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/healthydiet/healthybalanceddiet.html
  4. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-c-foods#section17
  5. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-b12-foods
  6. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326132
  7. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326132
  8. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326132
  9. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326132
  10. https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/food-and-diet/what-should-my-daily-intake-of-calories-be/
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