A balanced diet is one that includes the Recommended Dietary Allowances, also called RDAs, for all the essential nutrients. These include proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. A balanced diet supports normal growth and development. It also contributes to good health and quality of life.
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All foods, when chosen wisely, can be part of a balanced diet. For example, some fat is needed in the diet to support life. But too much fat can increase the risk of heart disease. A balanced diet provides an adequate amount of calories, protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. A balanced diet avoids an excess of calories, saturated fats, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar.
In October 2000, the American Heart Association, or AHA, issued new dietary guidelines for the general population to help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. The revised guidelines focus on food, overall eating pattern, and achieving or maintaining a healthy weight.
Achieve an overall healthy eating pattern.
Choose an overall balanced diet with foods from all major food groups,
emphasizing fruits, vegetables, and grains.
Consume a variety of fruits and vegetables. Choose 5 or more servings per day.
Consume a variety of grain products, including whole grains. Choose 6 or more
servings per day.
Include fat-free and low-fat dairy products, fish, legumes, skinless poultry, and lean meats.
Eat at least 2 servings of fish per week.
Achieve a healthy body weight.
Avoid excess intake of calories.
Maintain a level of physical activity that achieves fitness and balances energy
expenditure with calorie intake. For weight reduction, calories burned should
exceed calories consumed.
Limit foods that are high in calories or low in nutritional quality, including
those with a high amount of added sugar.
Achieve a desirable cholesterol level.
Limit foods with a high content of saturated fat and cholesterol. Substitute grains
and unsaturated fat from vegetables, fish, legumes, and nuts.
Limit cholesterol to 300 milligrams (mg) a day.
Limit trans fatty acids. Trans fatty acids are found in foods containing partially
hydrogenated vegetable oils. These include packaged cookies, crackers, and other baked
goods. Commercially prepared fried foods and some margarines are also high in trans fats.
Achieve a desirable blood pressure level.
Limit salt intake to less than 6 grams or 2,400 mg of sodium per day.
Maintain a healthy weight and emphasize vegetables, fruits, and dairy products low in fat when planning meals.
If you drink, limit alcohol consumption to no more than 1 drink per day for women
and 2 drinks per day for men.
The food guide pyramid provides a quick reference for choosing a balanced diet on a daily basis.