We’ve heard that eating a balanced diet is the key to good health and preventing illness and disease, but what does a balanced diet actually look like? Dieticians recommend that in order to eat a healthier diet, we need to eat a variety of foods in the right proportions and ensure that the foods we eat are providing us with the right nutrients.
Know your food groups
In order to have a balanced diet, the NHS guidelines recommend that we should be eating:
- At least five portions of fruit and veggies every day
- Meals based around high fiber starchy foods, such as potatoes, rice, pasta and bread
- Some form of dairy or dairy alternative, like soya or plant-based milks
- A portion of protein each day, such as meat, eggs, fish, pulses or beans
- Unsaturated oils and spreads, in small amounts, instead of saturated fats
We should also be drinking plenty of fluids – ideally between 6-8 glasses a day as a minimum – and reducing our intake of salty, sugary and high-fat foods.
In order to ensure we’re getting a wide range of nutrients that the body needs, we should be choosing a variety of foods – and the more whole foods that haven’t been processed, the more nutrients we’ll get. However, it’s important to note that people with dietary conditions need to seek advice from their GP and that the NHS’ guide doesn’t apply to children under 2 as their dietary needs are different.
It may be that you need to seek the services of a local gastroenterologist who can assist you in finding the cause of any stomach upsets you might be having or to get more in-depth recommendations for what to include in your diet to avoid complications down the line. You can get a referral from your GP in this instance.
Fruit and veg
Fruit and vegetables are high in vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin A, B vitamins and Vitamin C, as well as fibre, so they should make up over a third of your daily diet.
There are certain nutrients that can be difficult to get from fruit and vegetables alone, such as D2 and D3, but in these instances you can take vitamin D supplements to support your health.
Your 5 portions of fruit and veg should be the minimum, but they can be from fresh, frozen, canned, juiced or dried. A portion is 80g of fresh, canned or frozen fruit and vegetables, or 30g of dried fruit.
Carbohydrates and protein
Starchy foods should account for around a third of your diet, so your meals should be based around these foods. Opting for whole grain versions of bread and pasta will provide you with more fibre and nutrients. Protein is required to help the body grow and repair itself, and it can come from a variety of sources, such as meat, fish, eggs and legumes.
Dairy and dairy alternatives
Milk and dairy foods, such as yoghurt and cheese, are not only a good source of calcium but also protein. However, they can be high in fat and sugar, so choose low fat and lower sugar options if you can, such as semi-skimmed milk. For people avoiding dairy, such as those following a vegan diet, choose dairy alternatives like soya drinks which have been fortified with calcium.
Oils and spreads
Contrary to the media, we do need some fat in our diet to stay healthy – however, many people eat too much saturated fat which is the unhealthy kind. Instead choose unsaturated fats and natural fats, such as from avocados and nuts.