What It Is
A balanced diet is one that has:
- Many types of foods
- Foods from all the major food groups: grains, fruits, veggies, protein, and dairy
- The right amounts of these foods
How It May Help
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:
How to Eat This Way
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:
- Enjoy food, but eat less.
- Half of your plate should be filled with veggies or fruits.
- Half of the grains you eat should be whole grains.
- Choose fat-free or low-fat (1%) options when you eat dairy.
- Eat foods that are low in salt.
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
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.
A Closer Look at the Food Groups
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
- Half of your daily grains should be whole grains
- Whole grains include: 100% whole wheat products, whole rye, brown rice, wild rice, oatmeal, barley, bulgur, and popcorn
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
- Eat a variety of veggies every day
- Dark green veggies such as like broccoli, spinach, bok choy, or romaine lettuce
- Orange veggies such as carrots, sweet potatoes, or butternut squash
- Dry beans and peas such as chickpeas, black beans, lentils, split peas, kidney beans, or tofu
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
- Eat a variety of fruit.
- Choose fresh fruit over fruit juices.
- Choose fruits without added sugar.
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
- Dairy products include milk, yogurt, and cheese
- Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
- Milk alternatives include calcium-rich or calcium-fortified foods and drinks, like green leafy vegetables or orange juice
Proteins Balanced Eating Guide
Daily Amount: 5.1 ounces
- Choose lean meats and poultry.
- Eat more fish and vegetarian sources of protein to limit your intake of saturated fats.
- Eat a variety of protein each day. Think about eating beans, peas, nuts, or seeds.
Other Foods and Drinks
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
- Limit or do not eat solid and processed oils and fats, such as stick margarine, lard, hydrogenated oil, and shortening.
- Limit foods high in added sugar or processed fats.
- Be aware that some coffee drinks have high amounts of sugar and fat.
- Use substitutions. Snack on almonds instead of a candy bar.
Alcoholic drinks should be limited to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
Here are some final tips:
- Fill your plate with half veggies, a quarter whole grains, and a quarter lean protein.
- Choose whole grains over refined, processed grains.
- Eat different colored fruits and veggies every day.
- Drink more water and limit low-nutrient or high-calorie drinks like soda, diet soda, juices, and whole milk.
- Use herbs and spices in place of salt when cooking.
- Do not eat trans fat foods. Limit animal fat.
- Choose foods that are made by steaming, grilling, broiling, baking, or poaching; limit fried foods.
- Do not get stuck in a rut. Eat different foods from each group.
- Satisfy a sweet tooth with a small portion of what you are craving.
- Cook at home more often and eat out less. When eating out, ask for extra veggies, skip the sauces, and share large meals.
- Think about seeing a registered dietitian to make a plan.
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
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