Eggs are good for you. Eggs are bad for you. Carbs are out. Carbs are back. One day coconut oil is touted as a cure-all, the next it’s vilified. If your head is spinning from all the mixed messages surrounding healthy eating floating around online, you’re certainly not alone.
Thankfully, healthy eating doesn’t have to be complicated – or restrictive. In this article, we cut through the noise to talk about what following a healthy, well-balanced diet actually means, and we show you how to build a balanced diet that works for you.
What is a healthy, balanced diet?
Eating a balanced diet simply means eating a variety of nutritious foods in certain quantities from different food groups. Each food group provides different nutrients and benefits, so eating a balanced diet that includes foods from each food group is essential.
Here are the five different food groups that you should keep in mind:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes, bread, rice, and pasta
- Proteins such as beans, pulses, eggs, fish, and meat
- Dairy and fortified dairy alternatives
- Oils and spreads
When you eat a balanced diet, you provide your body with the nutrients, in the form of calories, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, that it needs to function correctly.
Why does eating a balanced diet matter?
Following a healthy, balanced diet is important because it delivers the micronutrients and macronutrients your body needs to stay healthy, without going over the recommended daily calorie intake – this is especially important for maintaining a healthy weight.
Because we need a certain number of calories and nutrients to maintain good health, getting the balance wrong can harm our health.
By maintaining a healthy, balanced diet, your body will be fuelled as best as possible to fight off illnesses, such as colds, and will have a steady supply of energy every day. A balanced diet can also protect your body against the effects of ageing, reduce your risk of developing certain long-term (chronic) diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, and help you maintain a healthy weight.
What does a balanced diet look like?
The first step to crafting a balanced diet that works for you is to know what foods are good for you.
The Eatwell guide developed from evidence-based nutrition advice shows how much of what you eat overall should come from each food group to achieve a healthy, balanced diet.
A balanced diet should include a variety of foods from the following food groups:
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense foods packed in various vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytonutrients. That’s why fruits and vegetables should make up over one-third of the food you eat every day.
Over the day, try to eat five or more portions of different coloured fruits and vegetables. These can be fresh, frozen or canned since they all count towards your daily goal.
Starchy foods should make up over one-third of the food you eat every day – that’s around three to four servings.
Try to eat healthful whole grain versions, such as quinoa, oats, brown rice, buckwheat and barley, over refined versions (white flour, white rice and white bread). Whole grains are naturally rich in B vitamins, vitamin E, healthy fats, minerals and fibre, which helps prevent constipation.
Aim for two to three servings each day of protein-rich foods, such as beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds, fish, eggs and meats. These foods all contain amino acids, the building blocks needed to support the growth and maintenance of your muscles.
Try to include more plant-based proteins in your diet, as this will help you make the most of the vitamins, minerals and fibre that they also additionally offer.
Dairy and fortified dairy alternatives
Dairy and fortified alternatives, like soy and almond milk, not only contain protein but are also a good source of calcium and vitamin D, which help to keep your bones strong. Aim for two to three servings each day and opt for lower-fat versions, such as semi-skimmed milk or plant-based options free from saturated fats.
Oils and spreads
Fats are essential for energy and cell health, so we do need some fats in our diet – but only in small amounts.
Reducing your intake of saturated fats found in processed meats, desserts and fried foods, will help you maintain your health without consuming too many calories.
Healthier fats known as unsaturated fatty acids are anti-inflammatory in nature and can help protect your heart health. Unsaturated fatty acids are the best choice of dietary fat. These fats can be found in extra virgin olive oil, vegetable, and sunflower oils.
A balanced diet also means cutting down on foods that are high in saturated fats, salt and sugar. You can still enjoy a treat now and again (there’s no need to eliminate treats completely), but it’s best to eat these foods less often and in moderation.
The numan take
A healthy balanced eating pattern is a cornerstone of health. Eating a balanced diet provides you with the energy and nutrients your body needs to stay healthy.
You should enjoy a variety of healthful foods from all food groups, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, dairy or dairy alternatives, and protein.
As a general rule of thumb, the closer a food is to its natural state, the better it is for you.