What is a balanced diet?

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Healthy eating means getting a wide variety of the right foods into your diet. Easy. So why is all the information about healthy eating so confusing? What is a balanced diet, really? The Mix goes back to the basics of maintaining good health explaining the meaning of a balanced diet.

Balanced diet definition

So, what is meant by a balanced diet? A balanced diet means getting a bit of each of these five food groups:

  • Carbohydrates (sugars and starchy food), for energy. Found in potatoes, rice and pasta.
  • Proteins, for building muscle. Found in meat, fish and lentils.
  • Fats, for energy and making cell walls, etc. Found in cheese, fatty meats, biscuits, pies.
  • Fibre, to keep the gut healthy. Found in wholegrain foods, beans, lentils, oats, fruits and vegetables.
  • Vitamins and minerals, for a wide range of functions. There’s a lot to be found in fresh fruit and vegetables, although vitamin D can really only be produced in healthy amounts from exposure to sunlight, unless you take it in pill form.

Vitamin D is the odd one out on this list, because if you want to get it all from food you’d have to eat a huge amount of fish like salmon, herrings and sardines. In fact, the NHS now recommends that for those of us living in the northern hemisphere everyone (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the autumn and winter, since it’s difficult for people to get enough vitamin D from food alone.

How to eat a balanced diet

1) Eat carbs

Eat regular meals based on carbohydrates in the form of unrefined starchy foods. This means potatoes in their skins, rice, bread and pasta.

2) Eat wholemeal

Wholemeal carbs are the best as they are thought to contain more vitamins and release their energy more steadily, as well as containing fibre.

3) Don’t eat too much sugar (a little bit is fine – life would be miserable without chocolate)

Sugar is ’empty calories’ because it contains only energy without other nutrients (the same goes for alcohol). Save chocolate and sweets for treats, as refined sugary food can cause tooth decay and fluctuations in blood glucose levels.

4) Make sure you include sources of protein (but not too much)

Protein is only needed in moderate amounts – eat a fist-sized portion at every meal. Go for lean meats, poultry, eggs, fish, beans, lower-fat cheeses, semi-skimmed milk, yoghurts, or soya products.

5) Eat fish

Not everyone likes fish, but it’s packed full of protein and is rich in vitamins and minerals, especially omega-3. Try to have two portions of fish a week.

6) Eat fat! (in small amounts)

Fats are essential to health in small amounts. You need roughly equal amounts of saturated fat (e.g. butter), monounsaturates (e.g. olive oil) and polyunsaturates (e.g. sunflower oil).

7) Get your vitamins by eating loads of fruit and veg

Vitamins and minerals are best obtained from eating a wide variety of foods. The ones in tablets (and added to fortified cereals) are often not in the same natural forms that are found in food, and may not be absorbed as effectively. Try to eat at least five portions of different kinds of fruit or veg every day to stay in top condition.

Supporting a balanced diet

As well as eating a balanced diet, it’s important to consider a few extra things in order to maintain a healthy body and mind:

8) Drink water

An important aspect of a healthy diet is making sure you drink plenty of water, to flush out waste products.

9) Don’t skip meals

Eat breakfast and don’t skip meals. You’ll be more alert and your metabolism will be better. Some evidence suggests having breakfast helps people to control their weight.

10) Exercise

Combine a balanced diet with regular moderate exercise to feel and look your best. Don’t know where to start? See our article on how to get fit.

Weight loss with a balanced diet

When it comes to weight loss, exercise helps, but most effective diets are based around not going over a certain number of calories everyday, perhaps with a cheat day thrown in once a week so it doesn’t get too monotonous. Don’t believe the hype about quick or fad diets that work fast, they’re usually lacking in the essential nutrients a healthy body and mind needs. Remember, even if you’re counting the calories, that doesn’t mean you should abandon trying to eat a healthy balanced diet!

For more help with healthy living, take a look at the rest of our fitness and diet articles here.

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By Ally Thomas

Updated on 22-Sep-2022

Picture of a plate of food by Shutterstock.