A healthy balanced diet

healthy balanced diet

Combining several different food types

The term "balanced diet" has become one of those health mantras that you constantly hear, but which no one ever really stops to explain. What it really means is a diet that includes a combination of several different food types. These food types include grains and pulses, fresh fruit and veg, meat, dairy products, and fats and oils.

But how much of these different foods should you have? Instead of thinking of roughly equal measures of everything, there should be a lot of some foods and just a little of others. For example, some fats or oils are important in the diet for various reasons, from absorption of fat-soluble vitamins to providing us with energy. But you only need a small amount of fats and oils compared to a food type such as fruit and vegetables, of which you should have at least 5 servings a day.

Many use the idea of a food pyramid to look at these proportions

Foods at the top of the pyramid - fats, oils and sweets - should be included sparingly, while those in the middle (such as protein-rich foods, and dairy foods) are needed in moderate amounts. Take care that these protein sources don't bring a lot of fat with them, so trim fat off meat, skin off chicken. Think about how foods are cooked too - meat fried or in breadcrumbs adds extra fat to the equation. Milk and dairy produce form a section in this part of the pyramid - 2-3 servings a day are needed.

Fresh fruit and vegetables take a major slice of the pyramid. Low in fat, calories and salt, they are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Most of us simply don't eat enough to meet the recommendation of 3 to 5 servings of vegetables and 2-4 of fruit. If a minimum of 5 servings of fruit and veg seems a tall order, see '5 A Day' for some great ideas and information.

The base of the pyramid represents great heaps of grains. These carbohydrate-rich foods, such as bread, pasta, cereal and rice, provide long term energy and should be the basis of our diet - aim for 6-11 servings a day.

As a good introduction to nutrition, we recommend you read Nutrition for Dummies.

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