What is a Balanced Diet ?

Definition of a Balanced Diet:

A balanced diet is food intake that includes all of the dietary needs of the organism in the correct proportions.

In the case of a balanced human adult diet, this is sometimes specified as approx.

  • 1/7 fat
  • 1/7 protein
  • 5/7 carbohydrate

However, such short summaries are, at best, generalizations.

Even normal healthy people i.e. those who don't have medical conditions that affect their dietary requirements or impose restrictions e.g. food allergies or intolerances, need different amounts at proportions of food types at different ages and stages of life e.g. as a baby, growing child, adult, when pregnant and in later life. There are many different types of fats and proteins available from different types of foods. So, for example, protein does not necessarily mean foods that include meat or fish.

What is the difference between an adequate diet and a balanced diet ?

  • An 'adequate diet' includes sufficient energy for the person's needs. The energy in the diet can be in any form, e.g. as carbohydrate, protein, fat, etc..
  • A 'balanced diet' not only includes sufficient energy for the person's needs but all of the person's dietary requirements in the correct proportions.

Which food groups must be included in a balanced diet ?

These are sometimes listed as the '7 main parts of a balanced diet', 'seven components of a balanced diet' or similar.

More notes about the essential parts of a balanced diet:



Carbohydrates are broken-down by the digestive system into energy in the form of glucose (which can be absorbed into the blood).

Note that if the body is supplied with too much ingested energy in the form of food the excess may be laid down as fat around the body - as the body's 'energy store' or 'reserve' in case it is needed later.

The body needs and uses energy for the following:

There are several types of carbohydrates including monosaccharides and disaccharides (types of sugar), oligosaccharides, and some polysaccharides (specifically starches - as opposed to non-starch polysaccharides which are forms of dietary fibre). Carbohydrates collectively are found in a wide range of foods including wheat and grains, pasta, potatoes, rice, fruits and all sources of sugars - including refined sugars in processed foods.



Proteins are often described as 'building blocks' essential for growth (especially in the case of infants, children and body-builders) and for maintenance and repair of body tissues. After processing via the digestive system, the components of proteins are used in body tissues.

Proteins are broken-down by the digestive system into amino acids (which can be absorbed into the blood). This is sometimes stated in the opposite way, i.e. in terms of proteins 'containing' amino acids. There are different types of proteins found in a wide range of animal and non-animal food sources e.g. meat, fish, eggs, pulses and beans. A balanced diet includes all of the essential amino acids, which are so-called because they are needed but cannot be synthesized by the human body.

The quality of proteins (foods containing one or more forms of protein) are expressed in various ways:


Fats (= Lipids)

Some fats (also known as 'lipids') are essential for a healthy balanced diet. They are broken-down by the digestive system into fatty acids and glycerol. These compounds are then used in cell membranes and as parts to form steroid hormones.

In terms of their chemistry, lipids are highly reduced organic compounds, hence they can be oxidized to release energy. As explained on the page about metabolic rate, energy is measured in calories; 'high energy' = 'high calorie' and if and when a person ingests more energy in food than he or she uses in bodily activities the excess energy is stored as fat in the body's tissues.

There are many different fat molecules but in general fats can be divided into two main groups:

  • Saturated fats and cholesterol - typically derived from animal products such as meats
  • Unsaturated fats - typically from plant sources such as soya


Dietary Fibre

Dietary Fibre (roughage) is important for a balanced diet. It consists mainly of cellulose from plant cell walls and is part of many plant-based food sources, including fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains and pulses. The main functions of dietary fibre concern the health of the large intestine, incl. helping to form soft bulky faeces, thereby easing defecation and reducing the probability of constipation.



Water is an essential part of the human diet. It is necessary for the body in which it is used as a solvent, a transport medium, a substrate in hydrolytic reactions and for lubrication.

Although humans need water every day it is not necessary consumed in the form of drinking water itself but as the major part of many drinks and some liquid or partially foods such as soups, sauces, dressings and ice-desserts.



There are many different vitamins. Although all vitamins are organic compounds, they have no common chemical structure or functions. Vitamins are specific chemicals needed by the body in relatively small amounts. Collectively they fulfil a wide range of functions including enabling the body to make efficient use of other parts of a balanced diet, e.g. vitamin D facilitates absorption of calcium and phosphorous.

There are two important groups, or types, of vitamins:

  • Water-soluble Vitamins e.g. C and the B vitamins - in many fruits and vegetables
  • Fat-soluble Vitamins e.g. A, D and E - in fatty foods e.g. many diary products



Unlike vitamins (which are organic compounds), minerals are chemical elements.

There are two important groups, or types, of minerals:

  • Macro Minerals - found in typical adult human bodies in quantities > 5g ; > 100mg needed daily
  • Micro Minerals - found in typical adult human bodies in quantities < 5g ; 1-100mg needed daily

Roles of specific minerals: Individual minerals have specific purposes.

Examples include calcium in bones and teeth, and sodium in glucose uptake

Role of minerals (in general / collectively):

Minerals help to maintain ideal concentrations of tiny amounts of chemicals (called solutes) dissolved in the water present in the tissues of the body (strictly, that "water" is a solution of those particles in the water) so that the solution moves around and through the body's tissues in the most beneficial way for the overall health of the organism, i.e. person.

Minerals are usually ingested as part of some of the main food types, e.g. calcium (Ca) in dairy foods, and iron (Fe) in read meats. However, some people take supplements of certain minerals e.g. in tablet form - especially if following a restricted diet, or sometimes due to certain medical conditions.

See also carbohydrates, types of sugar, dietary fibre, fatty acids, fats, proteins
and dietary needs for different life stages.

In the News:

No significant benefit from routine use of antibiotics for malnourished children - 8 Feb '16

AMA endorses 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines (USA) - 8 Jan '16

Eating peanut during infancy can prevent development of peanut allergy - 24 Feb '15

Food products free of colourings associated with hyperactivity (UK) - 2 Apr '14

Humanitarian supplies reach remote areas of South Sudan - 28 Mar '14

Goats' milk formula not the answer for infants allergic to cows' milk - 27 Mar '14

Updated FDA rules for infant formula to maintain quality standards - 6 Feb '14

Mediterranean diet linked with lower risk of heart disease - 4 Feb '14

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This is not medical, First Aid or other advice and is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment. Consult an expert in person. Care has been taken when compiling this page but accuracy cannot be guaranteed. This material is copyright.

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