How to Eat a Balanced Diet

A well-balanced diet provides all the important nutrients needed for optimal health. For hundreds of years, research has shown the relationship between a balanced diet and overall health and wellness.

A variety of nutritious foods, to provide all your essential vitamins and minerals, and eating them in a healthy amount are the cornerstones to every balanced diet.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently presented the MyPlate icon to help guide people on how to incorporate a healthy balanced diet into their life. MyPlate visually divides food into four major food groups with appropriate proportions for each food group. It is a useful icon to visually plan each one of your meals around.

Vegetable Group
Roughly half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables at every meal or a little over 30 percent of your plate should consist of vegetables. Most adults need about 3 cups from the vegetable group per day. One cup of vegetables or two cups of leafy green vegetables count as one cup of vegetables.

It is important to vary your vegetables and not eat the same few vegetables regularly. The colors in different vegetables represent nutrients so the greater the array of colors you are eating the greater the range of nutrients you are receiving.

Fruit Group
Fruits should make up 15 to 20 percent of your plate. Most adults need about 2 cups of fruit per day. One large piece of fruit or 1/2 cup dried fruit count as 1 cup of fruit.

Fresh, dried, frozen, or canned fruit (without added sugar) are all excellent choices from the fruit group. Fruit juice is often packed with a lot of excess calories and sugar without much fiber of the food.

Grain Group
Grains should make up roughly 25 to 30 percent of your plate. At least half, if not all, of the grains you eat daily should be whole grain.

Whole grains are naturally high in nutrients and fiber. Whole wheat, whole rye, brown rice, bulgur, air-popped popcorn, and oatmeal are all examples of whole grain products. When shopping, look for the word “whole” before the grain name on the list in the ingredient. Ideally, it should always be first on the list.

Protein Group
Roughly 15 to 20 percent of your plate should consist of a protein. Most adults need about 5 to 6 ounce equivalents of protein per day. One ounce of cooked meat, one egg, or 1/4 cup cooked beans, soy, or tofu count as a one ounce equivalent of protein.

Choose lean meats and opt for more fish and legume sources of protein to limit your intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.

Dairy/Calcium Group
The dairy or calcium group is also included in the MyPlate icon. Calcium, found in dairy products, and vitamin D, fortified in most dairy products, is vital for proper bone health and development. Dark green leafy vegetables and fortified soymilk are also excellent sources of calcium.

Other Foods and Beverages
Foods and beverages high in added sugar or fat, such as cookies, cakes, ice cream, juices, and coffee drinks) should be consumed in limited amounts. The majority of these food provide a high amount of calories for a low to no nutrients.

Exact amount of each food group are determined by numerous factors such as your age, sex, and activity level. Check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture MyPlate website to find out more information about your balanced plate.

Consider talking with a registered dietitian to analyze your diet and ensure you are meeting your current nutrient needs. A registered dietitian can also help create a personalized balanced eating plan for your lifestyle.

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