Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Balanced Diet

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What It Is ^

A balanced diet is one that has:

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:

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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 ^

Grains

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 a 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

Veggies can be split into five subgroups: dark green, orange, dry 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

Fruits

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

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

Protein

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

  • 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.

Tips ^

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.

RESOURCES:

Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion—United States Department of Agriculture
http://www.cnpp.usda.gov

Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
http://www.eatright.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Dietitians of Canada
http://www.dietitians.ca

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010. United States Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/DietaryGuidelines2010.pdf. Accessed October 1, 2018.

What is MyPlate? ChooseMyPlate—United States Department of Agriculture website. Available at: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlate. Updated July 19, 2018. Accessed October 1, 2018.

Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN  Last Updated: 10/1/2018