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Food guide pyramid
Food guide pyramid

Healthy diet
Healthy diet

Fish in diet
Fish in diet


A balanced diet means getting the right types and amounts of foods and drinks to supply nutrition and energy for maintaining body cells, tissues, and organs, and for supporting normal growth and development.

Alternative Names:

Well-balanced diet


A well-balanced diet provides enough energy and nutrition for optimal growth and development.

Food Sources:

Milk group (milk and milk products)

  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Yogurt

Meat and beans group

  • Legumes (beans and peas)
  • Meat (chicken, fish, beef, pork, lamb)
  • Nuts and seeds

Fruit group

  • Apples
  • Berries
  • Grapes
  • Peaches

Vegetable group

  • Cauliflower
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Squash

Grain group (breads and cereals)

  • Enriched breads
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Whole-grain breads


  • Light salad dressing
  • Low-fat mayonnaise
  • Vegetable oil

Side Effects:

An unbalanced diet can cause problems with maintenance of:

  • Body tissues
  • Brain and nervous system function
  • Growth and development

It can also cause problems with bone and muscle systems.


The term "balanced" simply means that a diet meets your nutritional needs while not providing too much of any nutrients. To achieve a balanced diet, you must eat a variety of foods from each of the food groups.

There are several guidelines available to help you plan your balanced diet. They include:

General Guidelines

  • Do not skip breakfast.
  • Eat at least three meals each day.
  • Eat foods from each of the food groups at every meal.

The most important step to eating a balanced diet is to educate yourself about what your body needs, and to read the nutrition label and ingredients of all the food you eat.

New dietary guidelines from the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) recommend fewer calories and smarter food choices.

Some of the key recommendations:

  • Follow a balanced diet that is low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, salt, and alcohol, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Eating Plan.
  • Balance your calorie intake with exercise. Slowly decrease the amount of calories you take in while increasing exercise to prevent gradual weight gain over time. Exercise regularly and reduce activities in which you sit (such as watching TV).
  • Eat 2 cups (4 servings) of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables (5 servings) per day for an average 2,000-calorie per day diet.
  • Eat 3 or more ounces of whole-grain products per day.
  • Consume 3 cups per day of fat-free or low-fat milk or milk products.
  • Get fewer than 10% of calories from saturated fatty acids.
  • Avoid trans fatty acids.
  • Limit cholesterol intake to less than 300 mg/day.
  • Make total fat intake no more than 20 - 35% of calories. Choose "good" fats such as fish, nuts, and vegetable oils containing polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids. Lean, low-fat, or fat-free meats, poultry, dry beans, and milk or milk products are preferable. Total fat intake can approach 35% if most of the fats are "good" fats.
  • Stay away from added sugars.
  • Consume fewer than 2,300 mg (approximately one teaspoon of salt) of sodium daily, and limit added salt when you prepare food.
  • Do not consume more than 1 alcoholic drink per day for women, 2 per day for men. Certain people should not drink any alcohol.


Dietary Guidelines for Americans - 2005. Washington, DC. US Dept of Health and Human Services and US Dept of Agriculture; 2005.

Review Date: 2/27/2008
Reviewed By: Patrika Tsai, MD, MPH, Assistant Clinical Professor, Pediatric GI, Hepatology and Nutrition, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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