Guide for a Balanced Diet

Topic Overview

Here is a brief guide for making healthy food choices using the USDA's food guide. Healthy choices from each of the food groups, in appropriate amounts, will help you have a balanced diet. For a personalized food and activity tracker, see the interactive website: www.ChooseMyPlate.gov.

  • Vegetables. Eat plenty of these. They contain little if any fat and lots of nutrients that help protect against heart disease. Adults should eat 2 to 3 cups of vegetables every day.
  • Fruits. Eat plenty of these. They also contain very little fat but lots of nutrients. They make a sweet ending to a meal. Adults should eat 1½ to 2 cups of fruit every day.
  • Grains. Make half of the grains you eat every day whole-grain. Choose whole-grain breads, cold and cooked cereals and grains, pasta (without creamy sauces), hard rolls, or low-fat or fat-free crackers. Limit foods that have added fats and sugars, such as croissants, pastries, granola, store-bought muffins, snack crackers, and chips. Adults should eat 5 to 8 ounces of grains (half of those should be whole grains). A slice of bread is 1 ounce, for example.
  • Protein foods. Most adults need 5 to 6½ ounces each day. A 3-ounce serving of meat is the size and thickness of a deck of cards. For many people, cutting back on meat has the biggest impact on how much fat they eat. Choose fish and lean poultry more often and red meat and fried meats less often. Meat alternatives like dried beans, tofu, and nuts are also good protein sources.
  • Dairy. Choose low-fat or fat-free products from this food group. Most adults need 3 cups of milk and milk products a day. If you have problems digesting milk, try eating cheese or yogurt instead, since these foods are low in lactose.

Limit fats and oils, including those used in cooking. When you do use fats, choose oils that are liquid at room temperature (unsaturated fats), such as canola oil and olive oil. Avoid hydrogenated oils (trans fat) and foods that contain them. Choose margarines that have no trans fat and come in a soft tub or squeeze bottle.

Limit sweets and high-fat snacks. Most of these foods are high in fat and sugar and should be limited to occasional use. Choose fruit instead of sweets as often as you can.

References

Other Works Consulted

  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, 7th ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Also available online: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2010.asp.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Last Revised January 25, 2013

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