You’ve probably heard that variety and balance are two key features of healthy eating. The recommendation to eat a ‘variety’ of healthy foods may be easy to understand, but the term ‘balance’ is more vague. Read on to learn about what this term really means when it comes to healthy eating.
A good place to start is to learn how foods and drinks are categorized into four main food groups.
In Canada, we call these food groups:
Many countries are now using a plate model to help people see what a balanced meal looks like on a plate. Here’s a picture of Canada’s Eat Well Plate.
In the Eat Well Plate you can see that vegetables and fruit take up half of the plate, while smaller amounts of food from the other groups are recommended. Even though the four food groups are shown in unequal amounts, this is a nutritionally balanced way of eating.
In addition to the four food groups the Eat Well Plate shows that balanced eating includes small amounts of oils like canola, olive, sesame, peanut and soybean oil. Water is the recommended beverage for calorie-free hydration. For more information on the amounts of food recommended from each food group check out Canada’s Food Guide. For a personalized version of Canada’s Food Guide check out My Food Guide.
Eating a ‘balanced diet’ means eating foods from each of the food groups throughout the day in the proportions recommended in Canada’s Food Guide.
Keep these tips in mind when planning balanced meals and snacks:
- Meals: Aim for three meals per day and choose foods from three to four of the food groups at each meal.
- Snacks: If you’re hungry between meals aim to choose foods from at least two of the food groups for your snack. Limit snacks to no more than three per day.
Eating balanced meals most of the time will result in a pattern of eating that will meet your nutrient and energy needs while reducing your risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer.
You might have noticed that the four food groups do not include sugary drinks like pop or energy drinks, or foods like cookies, chips, candies and chocolates. Because these types of foods and drinks are often high in calories, sodium, sugar or fat (and low in nutrients) they are considered foods to limit. Check out these ideas for healthy alternatives that count towards your recommended number of servings in Canada’s Food Guide.
Eating nutritionally balanced meals gets easier with practice and planning. When you are trying to balance out your meals and snacks you might find that increasing the amount and proportion of vegetables and fruit in your diet to be a particular challenge. Check out the Half Your Plate website for recipes, meal ideas and great tips to help you along the way.
How do you balance your food and drink choices?
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