The importance of a balanced diet.

You often hear how imperative it is to eat a healthy, balanced diet – but what exactly does a ‘balanced diet’ mean and just how important is it? What are the current recommendations for servings from each food group?

With so many different diets and eating plans espousing various claims; mountains of (often conflicting) information on what we should be eating and a plethora of opinions, it’s easy to get confused by what is one of the most simple things we do – eat. But it doesn’t need to be so complicated. Let’s get back to basics.

Getting the balance right in a balanced diet

It’s easy to think you’re eating well when in reality you may be eating too much meat, or not enough fruits or vegetables. You may struggle to get enough servings of grains or dairy in your day. Another trap is simply getting stuck in a rut and eating the same thing on repeat without realising you’re not getting your recommended serves.

Eating a well-balanced diet across all of the food groups means that you’re nourishing your body with a broad cross section of nutrients essential for the maintenance and functioning of a healthy body. These nutrients also help reduce our risk of serious health problems such as some cancers, heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

In order to get enough of these various nutrients, we need to eat a variety of foods from across the five food groups and be eating the recommended servings of each to achieve an ideal balance. You may think you know the recommended servings, however there are variances based on gender, age and for pregnant or breastfeeding women to be aware of, so it’s worth revisiting.

The five food groups are:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables & legumes/beans
  • Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, legumes/beans
  • Grains, cereal foods, mostly wholegrain
  • Milk, yogurt, cheese and or alternatives

Below are the current Australian guidelines for recommended servings from each of the food groups from the Eat for Health government website:

Recommended average daily number of serves from each of the five food groups* Additional serves for taller or more active men and women
Vegetables & legumes/beans Fruit Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain Lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives (mostly reduced fat) Approx. number of additional serves from the five food groups or discretionary choices
19-50 6 2 6 3 2 ½ 0-3
51-70 5 ½ 2 6 2 ½ 2 ½ 0-2 ½
70+ 5 2 4 ½ 2 ½ 3 ½ 0-2 ½
19-50 5 2 6 2 ½ 2 ½ 0-2 ½
51-70 5 2 4 2 4 0-2 ½
70+ 5 2 3 2 4 0-2
Pregnant 5 2 8 ½ 3 ½ 2 ½ 0-2 ½
Lactating 7 ½ 2 9 2 ½ 2 ½ 0-2 ½

* Includes an allowance for unsaturated spreads or oils, nuts or seeds (4 serves [28-40g] per day for men less than 70 years of age; 2 serves [14-20g] per day for women and older men.)

For recommended serving information for children, toddlers and adolescents click here:

Serving sizes of balanced diet

How much is a standard single serving and what does that look like?

  • Fruit – approximately 150 grams or 1 medium apple, pear or orange
  • Vegetables & legumes/beans – approximately 75 grams or for example, ½ a cup of cooked broccoli, ½ a cup of cooked lentils or 1 medium tomato
  • Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, legumes/beans – roughly 500 – 600 kilojoules or 2 large eggs, 1 cup of cooked chickpeas, 65 grams of cooked beef or 80 grams of cooked chicken
  • Grains, cereal foods – roughly 500 kilojoules, which is 1 slice of bread, ½ a cup of cooked pasta, a ¼ cup of muesli or 1 crumpet for example
  • Milk, yogurt, cheese and or alternatives – approximately 500 – 600 kilojoules or for example, 40 grams of hard cheese, 200 grams of yogurt or 1 cup of milk

Are you getting your recommended servings?

Here’s an example of a well-balanced diet menu for a woman aged 19-50 of average height day’s , healthy weight and light activity to help get you started:

Meal / Food Weight / portion size Food group and number of serves
Wholegrain breakfast cereal, with reduced
fat milk
60g cereal
1 cup (250ml) reduced fat milk
2 grain serves
1 milk/yoghurt/cheese serve
Reduced fat yoghurt 100g yoghurt ½ milk/yoghurt/cheese serve
Morning break
Coffee with milk 200ml (small coffee) ¼ milk/yoghurt/cheese serve
Sandwich with salad and chicken 2 slices bread
40g chicken
1 teaspoon margarine
1 cup salad vegetables
2 grain serves
½ meat and/or alternatives serve
5g unsaturated spread (½ serve)
1 vegetable serve
Apple 1 medium 1 fruit serve
Afternoon break
Unsalted nuts 30g 1 meat and/or alternatives serve
Coffee with milk 200ml (small coffee) ¼ milk/yoghurt/cheese serve
Evening meal
Pasta with beef mince and red kidney beans, tomato and green salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing 1 cup of cooked pasta
65g cooked mince
¼ cup kidney beans
1½ medium tomato
½ onion
2 cups green leafy salad
2 teaspoon unsaturated oil
2 grain serves
1 meat and/or alternative serve
1½ vegetable serve
½ vegetable serve
2 vegetable serves
14g unsaturated oil (2 serves)
Evening snack
Plums and reduced fat yoghurt 1 cup stewed plums
100g yoghurt
1 fruit serve
½ milk/yogurt/cheese serve

Take the time to take a closer look at what you’re actually eating and ensure you’re getting what you need for a healthy body and a healthy life. There’s a wealth of helpful information available online if you’re looking for ideas.  Get inspired and create your new, balanced diet eating plan today!