What to eat for a balanced diet?

A healthy, balanced diet will usually include the following nutrients:

  • vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
  • carbohydrates, including starches and fiber
  • protein
  • healthy fats

A balanced diet will include a variety of foods from the following groups:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • grains
  • dairy
  • protein foods

Examples of protein foods include meat, eggs, fish, beans, nuts, and legumes.

People who follow a vegan diet will focus entirely on plant-based foods. They won’t eat meat, fish, or dairy, but their diet will include other items that provide similar nutrients.

Tofu and beans, for example, are plant-based sources of protein. Some people are intolerant of dairy but can still build a balanced diet by choosing a variety of nutrient-rich replacements.

Foods to avoid

Foods to avoid or limit on a healthy diet include:

  • highly processed foods
  • refined grains
  • added sugar and salt
  • red and processed meat
  • alcohol
  • trans fats

What’s healthy for one person may not be suitable for another.

Whole wheat flour can be a healthy ingredient for many people but isn’t suitable for those with a gluten intolerance, for example.

Learn about 50 super healthy foods.

Fruits

Fruits are nutritious, they make a tasty snack or dessert, and they can satisfy a sweet tooth.

Local fruits that are in season are fresher and provide more nutrients than imported fruits.

Fruits are high in sugar, but this sugar is natural. Unlike candies and many sweet desserts, fruits also provide fiber and other nutrients. This means they’re less likely to cause a sugar spike and they’ll boost the body’s supply of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

If you have diabetes, your doctor or dietitian can advise you on which fruits to choose, how much to eat, and when.

Learn about 11 low-sugar fruits.

Vegetables

Vegetables are a key source of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Eat a variety of vegetables with different colors for a full range of nutrients.

Dark, leafy greens are an excellent source of many nutrients. They include:

  • spinach
  • kale
  • green beans
  • broccoli
  • collard greens
  • Swiss chard

Local, seasonal vegetables are often reasonable in price and easy to prepare. Use them in the following ways:

  • as a side dish
  • roasted in a tray with a splash of olive oil
  • as the base in soups, stews, and pasta dishes
  • as a salad
  • in purées
  • in juices and smoothies

Grains

Refined white flour is featured in many breads and baked goods, but it has limited nutritional value. This is because much of the goodness is in the hull of the grain, or outer shell, which manufacturers remove during processing.

Whole grain products include the entire grain, including the hull. They provide additional vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Many people also find that whole grains add flavor and texture to a dish.

Try switching from white breads, pastas, and rice to whole grain options.

Proteins

Meats and beans are primary sources of protein, which is essential for wound healing and muscle maintenance and development, among other functions.

Animal protein

Healthy animal-based options include:

  • red meats, such as beef and mutton
  • poultry, such as chicken and turkey
  • fish, including salmon, sardines, and other oily fish

Processed meats and red meats may increase the risk of cancer and other diseases, according to some researchTrusted Source.

Some processed meats also contain a lot of added preservatives and salt. Fresh, unprocessed meat is the best option.

Plant-based protein

Nuts, beans, and soy products are good sources of protein, fiber, and other nutrients.

Examples include:

  • lentils
  • beans
  • peas
  • almonds
  • sunflower seeds
  • walnuts

Tofu, tempeh, and other soy-based products are excellent sources of protein and are healthy alternatives to meat.

Dairy

Dairy products provide essential nutrients, including:

  • protein
  • calcium
  • vitamin D

They also contain fat. If you’re seeking to limit your fat intake, reduced fat options might be best. Your doctor can help you decide.

For those following a vegan diet, many dairy-free milks and other dairy alternatives are now available, made from:

  • flax seed
  • almonds and cashews
  • soy
  • oats
  • coconut

These are often fortified with calcium and other nutrients, making them excellent alternatives to dairy from cows. Some have added sugar, so read the label carefully when choosing.

Fats and oils

Fat is essential for energy and cell health, but too much fat can increase calories above what the body needs and may lead to weight gain.

In the past, guidelines have recommended avoiding saturated fats, due to concerns that they would raise cholesterol levels.

More recent researchTrusted Source suggests that partially replacing with unsaturated fats lowers cardiovascular disease risk and that some saturated fat should remain in the diet — about 10 percent or less of calories.

Trans fats, however, should still be avoided.

Recommendations on fats can sometimes be hard to follow, but one scientist Trusted Source has proposed the following guideline:

  • Fats to love: vegetable oils and fish oils
  • Fats to limit: butter, cheese, and heavy cream
  • Fats to lose: trans fats, used in many processed and premade foods, such as donuts

Most experts consider olive oil to be a healthy fat, and especially extra virgin olive oil, which is the least processed type.

Deep fried foods are often high in calories but low in nutritional value, so you should eat them sparingly.

Shop for olive oil.

SUMMARY

A balanced diet contains foods from the following groups: fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, and protein.