What Is A Balanced Diet and Why Is It Important?

Eating a balanced diet is vital for maintaining good health and keeping your body to function properly.

What is a balanced diet?

A balanced diet means eating a variety of foods from all the food groups daily, in the recommended amounts. There are five main food groups that provide all the essential nutrients your body needs to function properly and stay healthy. These include:

  • Grains, including bread, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, quinoa, barley, oats.
  • Proteins foods, including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, and legumes (such as dried peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas).
  • Vegetables & legumes, including green leafy vegetables (such as cabbage, spinach and broccoli), red, orange coloured vegetables (such as carrot, sweet potato, and pumpkin).
  • Fruits, including apples, bananas, berries, grapes, melons and oranges.
  • Dairy products, including milk, cheese, butter and yogurt.

Why is a well-balanced diet so important?

A healthy balanced diet may help to reduce your risk of serious diseases, such as cancer, heart diseases, diabetes, and stroke.

If you become sick, eating a healthy balanced diet may help you to recover more quickly. Also, if you are overweight or obese, eating a healthy diet can help you lose weight and maintain a healthy weight.

How much of each food group should you consume in a day?

The Australian dietary guidelines recommend the following number of serving from each of the five food groups per day.

The dietary patterns in the table below provide the nutrients and energy needed by adults and children of average height with sedentary to moderate activity levels.

 Grains*Protein foods*Vegetables & legumes*Fruits*Milk & dairy products*
Toddlers **
1-241
2-3
½
1-1 ½
Boys
2-341
2 ½
1
1 ½
4-841 ½
4 ½
1 ½
2
9-1152 ½
5
2
2 ½
12-1362 ½
5 ½
2
3 ½
14-1872 ½
5 ½
2
3 ½
Girls
2-341
2 ½
1
1 ½
4-841 ½
4 ½
1 ½
1 ½
9-1142 ½
5
2
3
12-1352 ½
5
2
3 ½
14-1872 ½
5
2
3 ½
Men
19-5063
6
2
2 ½
51-7062 ½
5 ½
2
2 ½
70+4 ½2 ½
5
2
3 ½
Women
19-5062 ½
5
2
2 ½
51-7042
5
2
4
70+32
5
2
4
Pregnant8 ½3 ½
5
2
2 ½
Breastfeeding9
2 ½
5 ½
2
4
*Includes an allowance for unsaturated spreads or oils, nuts or seeds (½ serve [4.5g] per day for children 2-3 years of age; 1 serve [7-10g] per day for children 3-12 years of age; 1 ½ serves [11-15g] per day for children 12-13 years; 2 serves [14-20g] per day for adolescents 14-18 years of age; 4 serves [28-40g] per day for men less than 70 years of age; 2 serves [14-20g] per day for women, older men and for pregnant and breastfeeding girls.)

**An allowance for unsaturated spreads or oils or nut/seed paste of 1 serve (7–10g) per day is included. Whole nuts and seeds are not recommended for children of this age because of the potential choking risk.

Recommended serving size for each of the food group

1. Grains

Grains provide many nutrients that are vital for the health and maintenance of our bodies. They contain carbohydrate, fiber, several B vitamins (folate, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin), and minerals like iron, magnesium, and selenium.

Whole grains in particular are the healthiest choices as they are higher in fibre, B vitamins and minerals such as magnesium and iron compared to their more refined counterparts. Examples of these include wholemeal bread, brown rice and oats.

One serving of grain foods is 500kJ or equal to:

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta, noodles, quinoa, porridge
  • 2/3 cup wheat cereal flakes
  • 1/4 cup muesli
  • 3 crispbreads

2. Protein foods

This food group provides excellent source of protein, iron and some other vitamins and minerals. They are primarily responsible for building and repairing muscles, digesting nutrients, and improving immunity.

Opt for fish, poultry, and legumes as healthier options for your diet. When eating meat, choose lean meat over fatty cuts and remove visible fat before eating to reduce saturated fat.

Note that legumes are included in this group because they provide many of the same nutrients as lean meat, fish, poultry and eggs.

One serving of this food group is 500–600kJ or equal to:

  • 100g cooked fish
  • 80g cooked poultry
  • 65g cooked lean beef, lamb, or goat
  • Two large eggs
  • 30g nuts or peanut butter or seed paste
  • One cup cooked dried beans, lentils or chickpeas

3. Vegetables and legumes

Vegetables and legumes are low in fat and high in fiber. They also contain vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, iron and magnesium.

These can help reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke. Because veggies are low in calories and high in fibre, they can aid in losing weight as well.

Aim to include at least two different colors of vegetables. When cooking vegetables, do not over-boil. Steaming, stir-frying, or lightly boiling are best to retain the nutrients.

One serving of vegetables is 75g (100–350kJ) or equal to:

  • 1 cup of green leafy or raw salad vegetables
  • 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables
  • 1/2 medium potato

4. Fruit

Fruits are great sources of vitamin C, dietary fibre, folate, and many phytonutrients. They can support your immune system and prevent diseases.

Choose whole fruits or sliced fruits rather than fruit juices, since they contain the most fiber; if eating canned fruit, choose fruit canned in juice (rather than fruit canned in syrup).

One serving of fruit is 150g (about 350kJ) or equal to:

  • 1 medium piece such as apple, banana, orange or pear
  • 2 small kiwi, plums, or similar sized fruit
  • Half a grapefruit or avocado
  • A dessert bowl of salad
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) fruit juice

5. Dairy products

Dairy products are the good sources of calcium and protein. They also provide riboflavin, vitamin B12, vitamin D, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. This food group helps promote strong bones and healthy teeth.

As the fat content of dairy foods can vary, make sure that you go for lower-fat options, such as skimmed milk, low-fat cheese and low-fat yoghurt.

One serving of dairy products is 500–600kJ or equal to:

  • 1 glass (250ml) milk
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) evaporated milk
  • 200g low fat yogurt
  • 1/2 cup (120g) ricotta cheese
  • 2 slices (40g) of hard cheese, such as cheddar

Kilojoules explained

Almost everything we eat and drink gives our bodies energy. The energy we get from food and drink is measured in kilojoules (kJ). This is the metric term for calorie. Kilojoules and calories represent the same thing. One calorie is about four kilojoules. You can easily convert from calories to kilojoules or vice versa here.

Tips for healthy eating

Follow these steps to help you eat healthy:

  • Eat a variety of foods from each of the five food groups.
  • Eat the recommended amount of food for your age and sex.
  • Read food labels to compare the saturated fat, trans fat, fiber, and other nutrient contents of various foods. The Nutrition Facts table and the Percent Daily Value can help you make better choices.
  • Limit the intake of foods and drinks that are high in calories, fat, sugar, and sodium.
  • Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and help the body to get rid of waste products and toxins in the urine.

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