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How can I make sure my diet is balanced?

Eat the Right Number of Servings

Using the standard serving sizes as a guide, you can get an idea of the number of servings you should have from each food group each day:

  • fats, oils, and sweets group - use sparingly
  • low-fat or nonfat milk, yogurt, and cheese group - 2 to 3 servings each day
  • meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts group - 2 to 3 servings each day
  • vegetable group - 3 to 5 servings each day
  • fruit group - 2 to 4 servings each day
  • bread, cereal, rice, and pasta group - 6 to 11 servings each day

The exact number of servings you need will depend on factors such as your age, your gender, your size, and how active you are.

If you need to lose weight, the number of servings you should eat may be less. To make sure you understand what a serving is, see What counts as a serving?

One key to eating a healthy diet is to limit substances that can harm your health, such as saturated fat. Another is to make sure you continue to get all the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients you need. In other words, eating a healthy diet means more than cutting back on the so-called bad things in foods. It also means getting plenty of the healthy nutrients that your body requires.

It's important to remember, too, that some of the things that can be harmful when eaten in excess are important and useful when you eat them in smaller quantities. For instance, eating too much fat can lead to serious health problems. But you do need to eat a little fat because your body uses it to transport vitamins through your bloodstream and to carry out other functions. The key is to strike a healthy balance.

Here's an example of how you can apply balance to your meals. You know you need to limit the amount of meat you eat because meat tends to be high in saturated fat. However, you also know that meat is a good source of protein, and it's important to eat foods that contain protein. Meat also contains other important vitamins and minerals that your body needs. So if you cut back on meat or if you choose not to eat meat at all, you should eat plenty of plant sources of protein, such as rice, beans, and soy products. This helps you maintain the balance of protein that you need. Also, as you reduce your intake of meat, you can increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, and fish. They are low in fat and are great sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. See how this idea of balance works? While you may need less of some things, you may need more of others.

To help make sure you eat a nutritious, balanced diet, eat a wide range of foods from all the food groups. Most of your diet should be made of fruits and vegetables along with grain-based foods - such as breads, cereals, rice, and pasta. Use the food guide pyramid to help you plan what types of foods and how many servings of each should be in your heart-healthy diet. If you need to lose excess pounds, you may need to eat the smaller number of daily servings. This is especially true of foods high in calories, such as fats and sweets.