What Is a Balanced Diet?

A balanced diet is one that includes a variety of foods from all of the major food groups, in appropriate amounts. These food groups are: grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, meats and beans, and oils.

Why Should I Eat a Balanced Diet?

Eating a balanced diet will meet your vitamin, mineral, and other nutrient requirements. It will also promote your overall health and well-being, helping you to look and feel your best. When combined with regular physical activity, a balanced diet can help prevent conditions such as obesity , type 2 diabetes , cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis , and certain cancers.

How to Eat a Balanced Diet

MyPyramid logo This figure shows the current United States food guide, MyPyramid. Each of the food groups is represented as a different colored vertical stripe. Grains are represented by the color orange, vegetables by green, fruits by red, oils by yellow, dairy by blue, and meats and beans by purple. The width of each stripe at the bottom of the pyramid corresponds to the proportion of your food intake that should come from that group.

The total amount of food you need to consume from each group is determined by factors such as your age, sex, and activity level. MyPyramid is meant to be used as an interactive guide (available at http://www.mypyramid.gov ). The interactive tools available on this site allow you to create a personalized eating plan and track and analyze your diet.

MyPyramid also shows a figure walking up steps. This represents daily exercise, which goes hand-in-hand with a balanced diet.

A Closer Look at the Food Groups


There are two main types of grains : whole and refined . Whole grains include whole wheat products, whole rye, brown rice, wild rice, oatmeal, barley, bulgur, and popcorn. Refined grains include products made mostly from white flour (eg, most breads, crackers, pastas, tortillas), white rice, corn flakes, grits, and couscous. Whole grains are naturally high in nutrients and fiber. Most of your grains should be whole grains. When shopping, look for the word “whole” before the grain name on the list of ingredients. Ideally, it should be first on the list.


Vegetables can be divided into five subgroups: dark green, orange, dry beans and peas, starchy, and other. Each of these groups provides different nutritional values. Vegetables in the dark green and orange groups are rich in vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting antioxidants. Vegetables in the dry beans and peas group provide considerable amounts of protein, iron, and zinc. They are also considered part of the “meats and beans” group. Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and corn, contain more carbohydrate than other vegetables and are sometimes treated as part of the grains group.


When it comes to fruit, fresh, dried, frozen, or canned (without added sugar) are all excellent choices. Fruit juice is also good, but often packs in a lot of calories and doesn’t contain all the added fiber of foods eaten in their whole form. Like vegetables, fruits are an important source of vitamins and antioxidants.


The milk group includes dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. Dairy products are an excellent source of calcium , and milk is also fortified with vitamin D , a vitamin that many of us would otherwise not get enough of. Individuals who choose not to eat dairy should be sure to include other calcium-rich or calcium-fortified foods in their diet (eg, calcium-fortified orange juice, green leafy vegetables).

Meats and Beans

The meats and beans group includes poultry, fish, beef, eggs, nuts, beans, and legumes. These foods are our main source of protein, along with other key nutrients such as iron and zinc . To limit your intake of saturated fat and cholesterol, choose lean meats and eat more fish and vegetarian sources of protein, such as beans, peas, nuts, and seeds.


The oils group includes cooking oils, salad dressings, tub-margarine, and mayonnaise. Oils provide us with beneficial fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, and are an important part of the diet. However, they are also very calorie dense, so anyone looking to cut back on their calorie intake should pay close attention to how much oil they consume. Healthful oils are found in cooking oils such as olive and canola, fish oil (found in fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and tuna), avocadoes, and nuts.

Oils should not be confused with “solid fats,” such as butter, stick margarine, lard, and shortening. These fats are high in saturated fat, trans fat, and/or cholesterol, and should be limited or avoided.

Other Foods and Beverages

Foods and beverages high in added sugar or solid fat (eg, cookies, cake, muffins, ice cream, potato chips, French fries, soda, certain juices, specialty coffee drinks) should be consumed in limited amounts. For the most part, these foods are low in nutrients and high in calories. Alcoholic beverages, if consumed, should be limited to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

Balanced Diet Eating Guide

Food CategoryDaily Amount*Key Suggestions
Grains6 ounces (1 ounce = 1 slice bread, ¼ bagel, ½ cup cooked pasta or rice, 3 cups popcorn)
  • Consume at least ½ of your grains as whole grains.
  • Whole grains include: whole wheat products, oatmeal, brown rice, barley, bulgur, popcorn.
Vegetables2.5 cups (1 cup = 1 cup raw or cooked vegetables, 2 cups raw leafy vegetables)
  • Eat a variety of different vegetables every day.
  • Eat more of the following types of vegetables:
    • Dark green (eg, broccoli, spinach, bok choy, romaine lettuce)
    • Orange (eg, carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash)
    • Dry beans and peas (eg, chickpeas, black beans, lentils, split peas, kidney beans, tofu)
Fruits2 cups (1 cup = 1 cup fresh fruit, 1 cup fruit juice, ½ cup dried fruit)
  • Eat a variety of fruit.
  • Choose fresh fruit over fruit juices.
Milk3 cups (1 cup = 1 cup milk or yogurt, 1½ ounces natural cheese)
  • Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
  • Milk alternatives include calcium-rich or -fortified foods and beverages.
Meats and Beans5.5 ounces (1 ounce = 1 ounce meat, fish, or poultry; ¼ cup cooked, dry beans; 1 egg; 1 tablespoon peanut butter; ½ ounce nuts)
  • Choose lean meats and poultry.
  • Eat more fish and vegetarian sources of protein, such as beans, peas, nuts, and seeds.
Oils6 teaspoons
  • Choose healthful oils such as those found in canola and olive oil, fish, and nuts.
Fats and Sweets<265 calories
  • Limit or avoid solid fats such butter, stick margarine, lard, and shortening.
  • Limit foods high in added sugar or solid fats.

*Based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Recommended amount varies depending on age, sex, and activity level. The MyPyramid website provides individualized amounts based on these factors. For an individualized plan (especially if you are trying to lose weight or manage a chronic condition), see a registered dietitian.

Suggestions on Eating a Balanced Diet

A balanced diet will help you meet all your nutrient needs and stay healthy. Here are some final suggestions on how to eat a balanced diet:

  • Choose whole grains over refined, processed grains whenever possible.
  • Strive to eat a rainbow of different colored fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Fill your dinner plate with half veggies, a quarter whole grains, and a quarter lean protein.
  • Avoid eating trans fats and limit intake of animal fat.
  • Choose foods prepared by steaming, grilling, broiling, baking, or poaching; limit fried foods.
  • Don’t get stuck in a rut, eat a variety of different foods from each group.
  • Drink more water and limit low-nutrient or high calorie beverages (eg, soda, diet soda, juices, whole milk).
  • Satisfy your sweet tooth with a “mini-portion” of what you are craving.
  • Use herbs and spices in place of salt during cooking.
  • Cook at home more often and eat out less. When eating out, ask for extra veggies, skip the sauces, and share large portions.
  • Consider talking to a registered dietitian about creating a personalized eating plan.