What is a Balanced Diet?
Eating a balanced diet means choosing a wide variety of foods and drinks from all the food groups. It also means eating certain things in moderation, namely saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, refined sugar, salt and alcohol. The goal is to take in nutrients you need for health at the recommended levels.
Where to Begin
Two examples of a balanced eating pattern are the USDA Food Guide at MyPyramid.gov and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH Diet).
Both eating patterns emphasize fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as low or no-fat dairy products, and lean animal proteins. Fish is recommended at least two times per week, beans, nuts and seeds are encouraged, and unsaturated fats are always the fats of choice – like olive oil.
What About Calories?
Your balanced diet must be planned at your own calorie level, and portion size is key. You want to get the most nutrients for the calories by choosing food with a high-nutrient density. Nutrient-dense foods provide substantial amounts of vitamins and minerals and relatively few calories, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meat and fish, and whole grains and beans. Low-nutrient dense foods have few vitamins but lots of calories, such as candy bars, soda, donuts and onion rings.