A balanced diet is one that has:
You will get all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that your body needs when you eat this way. It will also support your total health and well-being. It will help you to look and feel your best.
When added to regular physical activity, a balanced diet can help prevent health problems like:
Balancing each meal with the right food groups and the right amount of food is the way to start. At first, you will need to plan each meal. When you are more at ease with food groups and meal sizes, it will be easier to make balanced meals. Some key tips are:
Choose My Plate is a US website that can help you find foods by their food group. It can also show how much of each food to have in a meal.
The amounts of each food group and calories you will need vary based on your age, sex, and activity level.
There are two types of grains: refined and whole. Refined grains are grain products that do not have elements of the whole grain because of the way they are processed. Enriched grains are processed grains that have things like vitamins, folic acid, and iron added back in.
Whole grains are in their natural form with the entire grain seed. This includes the bran, germ, and endosperm. Whole grains come in many forms. You may see labels with the words cracked, crushed, or flaked. Many grains are also a source of fiber.
Grains Balanced Eating Guide
Daily amount: Six ounces
Labels are not always what they seem. Learn to read them. For example, whole wheat bread is not the same as whole grain bread. Whole grain should be the first item on the list. Ideally, food should have only a few ingredients. The more a product has, the more processed and less natural it is.
Veggies can be split into five subgroups: dark green, orange, dried beans and peas, starchy, and other. Each of these groups provides different nutritional values. Veggies in the dark green and orange groups are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Veggies in the dry beans and peas group provide high amounts of protein, iron, and zinc. They are also part of the protein group.
Starchy veggies, such as potatoes and corn, have more carbs than other veggies. They are sometimes treated as part of the grains group. If you are keeping track of what you are eating, count them in one group, not both.
Veggies Balanced Eating Guide
Daily amount: 2.5 cups
When it comes to fruit, fresh, dried, frozen, or canned are all great choices. Fruit juice packs in a lot of calories and does not have all the added fiber of foods eaten in their whole form. Like veggies, fruits are a good source of vitamins and antioxidants.
Fruits Balanced Eating Guide
Daily Amount: Two cups
Dairy products are a good source of calcium. Milk is also fortified with vitamin D, a vitamin that many of us don't get enough of. People who choose not to eat dairy should be sure to eat other calcium-rich or calcium-fortified foods in their diet. You may also think about taking supplements of calcium and vitamin D.
Dairy Balanced Eating Guide
Daily Amount: Three cups
The protein group includes poultry, fish, beef, eggs, nuts, beans, and legumes. These foods are our main source of protein, along with other key nutrients such as iron and zinc.
Proteins Balanced Eating Guide
Daily Amount: 5.1 ounces
Foods and drinks that are high in added sugar or solid fat should be limited. These foods are cookies, cake, ice cream, soda, muffins, French fries, and potato chips. For the most part, they are low in nutrients and high in calories.
Other Foods and Drinks Eating Guide
Daily amount: Less than 265 calories
Alcoholic drinks should be limited to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
Here are some final tips:
Go slowly. You do not have to make a lot of changes all at once. Try simple daily changes. Before you know it, you will be eating right every day.
Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion—United States Department of Agriculture
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Dietitians of Canada
Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Available at: https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf. Accessed February 3, 2021.
What is MyPlate? ChooseMyPlate—United States Department of Agriculture website. Available at: https://www.myplate.gov/eat-healthy/what-is-myplate. Accessed February 4, 2021.
Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN Last Updated: 2/4/2021