What is a balanced diet?

Eating a healthy balanced diet is an important part of maintaining good health

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.

The World Health Organisation defines health as “complete physical, mental, and social well-being”, which is something we all strive for.

So, what is a balanced diet exactly and how do you know you’re eating the correct mix of foods? Eating well means eating a wide range of foods from the different food groups in the right amounts. By doing so, you can achieve a healthy, balanced diet.

The Eatwell Guide

To achieve a balanced, healthy diet you need to eat a variety of different foods. The Eatwell Guide provides a useful guideline to help you select the right proportions of foods. As you can see, there are separate sections for fruit and vegetables, starchy carbohydrates, dairy, proteins (such as meat, fish and beans), and oils.

The Eatwell Guide has been based on studies by scientists and experts, like dietitians. The guide is regularly updated to reflect new findings about diet – the last update was in 2018. 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 help educate consumers on what a healthy diet is for adults and uses the Eatwell Guide to demonstrate what it looks like.

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.

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. 

Ordinary food is good enough

No fuss, no fads - ordinary food is good enough. If you’re confused by all the mixed messages about diet, don’t worry. Choose a common sense approach to food and enjoy a healthy, balanced diet without missing out on key food groups or nutrients.

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. We know the importance of a balanced diet, as well as the value of eating more sustainably.

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 (Waste and Resources Action Programme) shows 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 gases.

Cutting food waste

To cut down on your food waste, try to buy and correctly store only what you need. Plus avoid throwing items away if you have cooked too much – enjoy them as leftovers instead.
Look for products with certified standards stickers on too, so you know they have been responsibly sourced. AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) has a plethora of delicious recipes, like colourful stir-fries, which provide inspiration on how to use leftovers such as meat – combining it with a rainbow of vegetables for a balanced and nutritious meal.
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The average household wastes nearly a third (30%) of the food it buys*.

* Source – WWF

Expert opinion

Everyone should aim for a healthy balanced diet as described in the UK government’s easy to understand, online, visual ‘Eatwell Guide’. This shows the recommended proportions of fruit, veg, wholegrain starchy carbohydrates, beans, pulses, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy and meat, as well as comments about other dietary elements.
Gill Jenkins

Gill Jenkins

GP