Eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important part of maintaining good health, and can help you feel your best.
A diet based on starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, rice and pasta; with plenty of fruit and vegetables; some protein-rich foods such as beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins; some milk and dairy foods or dairy alternatives; and not too much fat, salt or sugar, will give you all the nutrients you need.
When it comes to a healthy diet, balance is the key to getting it right. This means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, and consuming the right amount of food and drink to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
Study in Index
- 1 Balance Diet: The food groups
Balance Diet: The food groups
The best way to eat for health is to choose a variety of foods from each of the 5 food groups every day:
- vegetables and legumes (beans)
- grains and cereals
- legumes (beans) tofu, nuts, seeds
- milk, cheese yoghurt or alternatives.
Each food group has important nutrients.
The amount of each food you need will vary during your life, depending on factors such as how active you are and whether or not you are growing, pregnant, breastfeeding and more.
Fruit and vegetables: are you getting your 5 a day?
Fruit and vegetables are a vital source of vitamins and minerals and should make up just over a third of the food we eat each day. It’s advised that we eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day.
There’s evidence that people who eat at least five portions a day have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
Eating five portions is not as hard as it sounds. Just one apple, banana, pear or similar-sized fruit is one portion (80g). A slice of pineapple or melon is one portion. Three heaped tablespoons of vegetables is another portion.
Having a sliced banana with your morning cereal is a quick way to get one portion. Swap your mid-morning biscuit for a tangerine, and add a side salad to your lunch. Have a portion of vegetables with dinner, and snack on fresh fruit with natural plain yoghurt in the evening to reach your five a day.
Grains and cereal foods
Grain foods include rolled oats, brown rice, wholemeal and wholegrain breads, cracked wheat, barley, buckwheat and breakfast cereals like muesli.
Wholegrains have protein, dietary fibre, minerals and vitamins. In processed grains, some of these nutrients are lost.
Starchy foods in your diet
Starchy foods should make up just over one third of everything we eat. This means we should base our meals on these foods.
Potatoes with the skins on are a great source of fibre and vitamins. For example, when having boiled potatoes or a jacket potato, eat the skin too.
Try to choose wholegrain or wholemeal varieties of starchy foods, such as brown rice, wholewheat pasta and brown, wholemeal or higher fibre white bread. They contain more fibre, and usually more vitamins and minerals than white varieties.
Legumes (beans), nuts and seeds
These foods provide protein, minerals and vitamins. Legumes, nuts and seeds also have dietary fibre. It’s good to choose a variety of foods from this group.
- 2 to 3 year-olds, 1 serve a day
- 4 to 8 year-olds, 1½ serves a day
- women and children over 9, 2½ serves a day
- men aged 19 to 50, 3 serves a day
1up legumes, or 170g tofu, or 30g nuts, seeds or pastes (peanut butter or tahini).
Milk and dairy foods: go for lower-fat varieties
Milk and dairy foods such as cheese and yoghurt are good sources of protein. They also contain calcium, which helps keep your bones healthy.
To enjoy the health benefits of dairy without eating too much fat, use semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk, as well as lower-fat hard cheeses or cottage cheese, and lower-fat, lower-sugar yoghurt.
Unsweetened, calcium-fortified dairy alternatives like soya milks, soya yoghurts and soya cheeses also count as part of this food group and can make good alternatives to dairy products.
Oils and spreads
Some fat in the diet is essential, but should be limited to small amounts. It’s important to get most of our fat from unsaturated oils and spreads. Swapping to unsaturated fats can help to lower cholesterol.
Eat less saturated fat and sugar
Too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases your risk of developing heart disease, while regularly consuming foods and drinks high in sugar increases your risk of obesity and tooth decay.
Foods that are not included in the food groups are called ‘discretionary choices’ or ‘extras’. Some of it could be called junk food.
You can eat small amounts of unsaturated oils and spreads. These may be from olives, soybeans, corn, canola, sunflower, safflower, sesame or grapeseeds.
Other ‘discretionary choices’ are not needed in a healthy diet. This includes:
- ice cream
- ice blocks
- soft drinks
- cordials, sports, fruit and energy drinks
- lollies and chocolates
- processed meats
- potato crisps
- savoury snack foods
- commercial burgers
- hot chips
- fried foods
These foods and drinks often provide excess energy, saturated fat, sugar or salt. They are often described as ‘energy-rich but nutrient-poor’.