What is a healthy diet and what is a balanced diet?
Nutrition and what to eat can be a very confusing topic for many people. There are so many conflicting messages around what we should be eating, which food groups are good and which food groups are bad. There is so much information, that many people give up on their healthy lifestyle as they are so confused about what they should actually be eating.
At the end of the day, a healthy and balanced diet doesn’t have to be complicated. There are very few nutrients that we categorise as good or bad and you don’t need to be eating all of the fancy, expensive superfoods. The nutrients found in the foods we eat all work together, with our individual food choice not mattering as much as our overall dietary pattern.
So what is a balanced diet?
A balanced diet is about including all food groups in moderation. It is not about what is good and what is bad. It is about an eating pattern that works for you, one that you find enjoyment in and one that provides your body with all the nutrients that it requires. It is not about counting calories or worrying about certain macronutrients, because at the end of the day if you are including all the food groups in your diet, in the appropriate amounts you should be getting enough of the nutrients that you require.
It is important to eat in a way that you enjoy and that doesn’t lead to restrictive behaviour. A healthy and balanced diet is one that is filled with whole nutrient-dense foods 80% of the time and the other 20% of the time you are able to include the not so nutrient-dense foods e.g. two pieces of chocolate each night.
By taking this approach you are less likely to feel restricted and binge on your favourite foods when you have them in your house. You are more likely to eat with control and until you are satisfied as you begin viewing all food the same, not as something you are missing out on.
What to include in a healthy and balanced diet?
Each day we want to be consuming adequate servings of the five food groups:
- Vegetables and legumes/ beans
- Grain (cereal) foods, aim for mostly wholegrain and higher fibre varieties
- Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds and legumes/ beans
- Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/ or alternatives, mostly reduced fat.
Each of these food groups should make up the majority of your diet as they contain many different nutrients which are important for the overall functioning of our bodies.
We should be using butters and oils in small amounts as well as our discretionary foods only sometimes and in small amounts. This doesn’t mean we cannot have these foods, they just shouldn’t be making up the majority of our diet.
How many serves of each food group should we be consuming daily?
Vegetables and legumes/ beans
- Men: 6 serves per day
- Women: 5 serves per day
- Men and women: 2 serves per day
Grain (cereal) foods, aim for mostly wholegrain and higher fibre varieties
- Men and women: 6 serves per day
Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds and legumes/ beans
- Men: 3 serves per day
- Women: 2.5 serves per day
Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/ or alternatives, mostly reduced fat
- Men and women: 2.5 serves per day
Additional servings of the 5 food groups or discretionary items
- Men: 0-3 serves
- Women: 0-2.5 serves
Unsaturated spread, oil, nuts and seeds
- Men: 4 serves per day (28-40g)
- Women: 2 serves per day (14-20g)
*According to the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating and based on the average adult aged 19-50 years old (those outside of this range have different requirements and can be found here)
How to create a balanced meal
When creating our main meals there are a few key elements we want to try and include. These elements will help to ensure that we are eating a balanced meal and providing our bodies with the nutrients it requires.
When filling our dinner plate, the structure below is what we want to be aiming for:
¼ of our plate should be filled with a lean protein source
- Legumes/ lentils
¼ of our plate should be filled with a carbohydrate source, wholegrain, higher fibre if possible
- Potato/ sweet potato
½ of our plate should be filled with vegetables
- Salad vegetables
- Steamed/ boiled vegetables
Try to also include a source of healthy fats in each meal
- Olive oil
- Oily fish e.g. salmon
Tips for taking a balanced approach to your eating:
Instead of trying to include trendy superfoods, switch your focus to including whole-foods and nutrient-dense foods into your diet. For example, swap butter for avocado, this way you are reducing your intake of saturated fats and increasing your intake of unsaturated fatty acids and fibre.
Focus on including a lean source of protein, a whole grain carbohydrate source, a source of healthy fats and vegetables into each of your meals.
Instead of restricting certain food groups, consume everything in moderation to prevent you from feeling like you are missing out. You can still have your favourite chocolate, or ice cream, or chips in moderation.
At the end of the day, we should be enjoying our food and eating in a balanced and sustainable way.
If you are unsure of what you should be eating, need assistance with your diet, or would like to learn how to take a more balanced approach, book an appointment with our dietitian today!
Laura Goodridge, Dietitian & Nutritionist at Total Balance Healthcare.
This blog post is an educational tool only. It is not a replacement for medical advice from a registered and qualified doctor or health professional.
Any other questions not answered here? Get in touch with us!
Phone: 03 97738085