Balanced Diet

Basic five food groups:

Foods are divided into five different groups on the basis of similarity of nutrient they provide. For example, milk, yogurt, cheese group of food provide calcium and protein while fruit group is good source of vitamins especially vitamin C. according to United States department of Agriculture (USDA), food are classified into following five food groups.

  1. Fruits
  2. Vegetables
  3. Grains
  4. Protein food
  5. Dairy

Serving size of food in different food groups:

1. Fruits: Any fruit or 100% fruit juice accounts as part of fruit group. Fruit may be fresh, canned, frozen or dried and may be whole, cut-up or pureed. Depending upon age, sex and level of physical activity, 1- 2 cups of fruits are required daily for a healthy body. 1 cup of fruit = 1 cup of 100 % fruit juice = ½ cup of fruits

2. Vegetables: Any vegetable or 100% vegetable juice accounts as member of vegetable group. Vegetable may be raw, cooked, frozen, dried, canned or mashed. Depending on physiology of body and physical activity, daily requirement of vegetable is 1 to 2 and ½ cups. 1 cup of vegetable = 1 cup of 100 % vegetable juice or equivalent

3. Grains: Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas and grits are examples of grain products. Daily requirement of grain is 1 and ½ ounce to 4 ounce equivalent. 1 ounce (28) of grain = 1 slice of bread = 1 cup of ready to eat cereal = ½ cup of cooked rice

4. Protein food: All food made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans, peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts and seed are part of protein food group. Daily requirement of protein food is 6 ounces. 1 ounce of protein food = 1 ounce of meat, poultry, fish = ¼ cup of cooked beans = 1 egg = 1 tablespoon peanut butter.

5. Dairy: All fluid milk product and many food made from milk are considered part of this food group. Most dairy group should be fat free or low fat. 2 – 3 cups of dairy food is required daily for healthy body. 1 cup = 1 cup of milk, yoghurt, soymilk = 1 and ½ ounce of natural cheese = 2 ounce of processed cheese.


Balance diet:

A diet that contain proper proportion of carbohydrate, fat, protein, vitamins, mineral and water necessary to maintain good health, is a balanced diet. We can refer to food pyramid or basic five food groups to plan our balanced diet. Different people with different physical activity and gender and different age of their life require different meal plan. Thus, planning a balanced diet is custom tailored rather than a panacea.


Food pyramid:

It is a pyramid to guide consumption of basic food groups for daily requirement of healthy body.  Different countries have different food guide pyramid according to necessity of their population. One of the popular food guide pyramid that makes use of basic five food groups is shown below.

Fig: Irish food pyramid, dietary guideline in Europe (EUFIC)

Nepal government have also developed its own food guide pyramid with the help of World Food Program (WFP).

Fig: Food Guide Pyramid, Government of Nepal

Benefits of avoiding fast / junk food:

1. Nitrates/ Nitrates: processed meat products contain nitrates and nitrates to preserve red color of meat and prevent microbial growth. However, studies shows that increased occurrence of cancer those who consume meat.

2. Fat: most processed food contains a lot of fat. This is generally saturated fat which can increase cholesterol in blood.

3. Sugar: processed foods are also high in sugar which can make them high in calories.

4. Vitamins: processed foods are not known for their healthfulness and many lack vitamins and other essential nutrients.

Menu planning for balanced diet:

Before we plan a menu, we need to know about reference intake (RI) or recommended dietary allowance of nutrients. Men and women have different dietary allowance (RDA) which is summarized below.


NutrientsMen women
Energy (Kcal)25002000
Protein (g)5550
Carbohydrate (g)300260
Sugar (g)12090
Fat (g)9570
Saturates (g)3020
Salt (g)66

Different dietary guidelines have menu planning which includes different number of portion size of different food groups in a day. Understanding a portion size is very important to design a well-balanced menu for a day. Below are the easy reference to understand how much one portion size is.

Food Portion size
Carbohydrate (cereals, rice, pasta, potato) Your clinched fist
Protein ( meat, poultry, fish, tofu)Palm of your hand
Cheese (snack part of meal)Two of your thumbs
Nut / seed (snack part of meal)One of your cupped hand
Butter spreadTip of your thumb
Savories (popcorn, chips)Two of your cupped hand
Bakes (brownies and cake)Two of your finger


Menu of the day:

Breakfast: adding protein to your breakfast is a great way for good metabolism. A well balanced breakfast may include highly nutritious diet like protein, carbohydrate, and vitamins and minerals. This can be achieved by including following set of food in your breakfast.

1. Cereal products: bread, cereals, muffins

2. Protein: nuts and milk, cheese, egg

3. Vitamin: fresh fruits and 100% fruit juice

4. Refreshment: tea and coffee

Lunch: Lunch is the major part of our meal plan which contributes energy for the rest part of the day. Thus, lunch should be rich in calorie and not to forget our fruits and vegetables. Generally, Rice, wheat, maize, potatoes makes the staple diet in many parts of the world. Meat, fish, eggs and dairy are protein rich source in developed countries while legumes and lentils are source of protein in developing and underdeveloped countries. Seasonal vegetables and glass of potable drinking water is  a must.

Mid-afternoon snacks: seasonal fresh fruits, beverages (hot and cold) like yogurt, smoothie, milkshake, fruit juice, tea, coffee and light cereal bars can work as good afternoon snacks.

Dinner: fiber rich food is best recommended in the evening as they are low in calorie and improves gut health. Little bit of essential fat and protein which our body can use overnight is suggested. This include

1. Oily fish like salmon, trout, mackerel

2. Nuts, seeds and their oil

3. Vegetable soup, chicken soup

4. Colorful variety of salad or vegetables



About Author

Name : Pratiksha Shrestha

Ms. Shrestha holds masters degree in food engineering and bioprocess technology from Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) Thailand. She is currently working for Government of Nepal at Department of Food Technology and Quality Control (DFTQC), Kathmandu. She is also a teaching faculty in College of Applied food and Dairy Technology (CAFODAT) affiliated to Purbanchal university, Nepal.