What is a healthy, sustainable, balanced diet?
by Dr Mabel Blades PhD, BSc (Hons), RD, D.M.S., M.Phil., MIFST., M.B.A., R.S.H. – Registered dietitian and member of the British Dietetic Association
A healthy balanced diet is an important part of maintaining good health. The World Health Organisation defines health as “complete physical, mental, and social well-being”, which is something we all strive for.
Eating well means eating a wide range of foods from the different food groups in the right amounts to achieve a healthy, balanced diet.
The Eatwell Guide
The Eatwell Guide shows how to select the right proportions of foods and has been based on studies by scientists and experts like dietitians. The guide is regularly updated to reflect new findings about diet and the last update was in 2018.
Previously in the UK, we had an Eatwell Plate, complete with knife and fork, which some people found confusing as they thought it represented a meal, but the aim is to try to get the balance right over a day or even a week.
The Eatwell Guide clearly illustrates the range of foods to eat, as well as the proportions, and is suitable for most individuals from the age of five years.
The British government has worked with scientists and dietitians for decades to try to educate consumers on what a healthy diet is for adults and uses the Eatwell Guide to demonstrate what it looks like.
The Eatwell Guide Crown Copyright. Public Health England in association with the Welsh government, Food Standards Scotland and the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland.
The Eatwell Guide recommends that over a third of our diet should be fruit and vegetables, and about another third should be made up of starchy carbohydrates, like potatoes, bread, rice and pasta. Try to choose higher fibre options such as whole grain varieties, like wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta and brown rice or potatoes in their skins. The other food group segments of the Eatwell Guide include dairy products (or unsweetened calcium-fortified dairy alternatives), and protein foods like beans, pulses, fish, eggs and lean meat, with a small section for unsaturated oils such as rapeseed or olive oil, and spreads made from them.
The key to having a healthy, balanced diet is to eat a variety of foods from the Eatwell Guide in the right proportions to help us get the wide range of nutrients that our bodies need. Foods high in saturated fat, salt and free sugars are not needed as part of a healthy diet, so if chosen, these should be eaten less often and in small amounts.
The joy of eating healthily to preserve the planet
Sustainable is a word that is used a lot these days and is all about maximising the use of resources and not wasting them.
Looking at a sustainable diet? The British Nutrition Foundation provides this definition of sustainability: "the capacity for everyone to live well within the Earth’s ecological limits".
While the British Dietetic Association says, “We need to consume more sustainable diets that have a lower environmental impact”.
While these are all global issues, we can all do our bit to help. WRAP show annual food waste is a staggering 9.5 million tonnes which has to be disposed of, as well as creating 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses.
Cutting food waste
The WWF says the average household wastes nearly a third (30%) of the food it buys. It is so easy to help by not wasting foods, buying and correctly storing what you need plus not throwing items away if you have cooked too much.
Look for products with certified standards stickers on too, so you know they have been responsibly sourced.
Finally, eating a healthy and sustainable diet can help you to avoid health issues like obesity while saving the planet.
PLEASE NOTE: It is recommended that anyone with any special dietary requirements or medical needs should consult with a registered dietitian on how to adapt the Eatwell Guide to meet their individual needs.
There are a lot of mixed messages in the media around food and nutrition meaning it’s easy to get confused. That’s why we’ve started the We Eat Balanced campaign, to provide an evidence-based antidote to the misinformation.
We know that the food choices we make are integral to our health and wellbeing, and a balanced diet is one that offers variety, nourishment and enjoyment whilst remaining in harmony with the environment.
Here in the UK we have a balanced approach to farming, and we want to shine a light on that too. Our farmers are united in their ambition to bring high quality, naturally nutrient rich produce to people, and are continuously driving towards a carbon neutral food industry with high welfare standards at its heart.