Variety of food types against a light blue background to highlight a balanced diet

What Is A Balanced Diet?

Medically reviewed on Aug 7, 2023 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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When you think of a balanced diet, you might imagine the food pyramid you were shown in school. But depending on your overall health, where you live, your lifestyle, and numerous other factors, what’s inside that pyramid could look different.

To that end, you may find it easier to conceptualize balance by looking at what isn’t considered health-supporting, like intaking lots of added sugars or highly processed foods. Although you don’t necessarily need to eliminate these foods from your diet completely, it’s typically best to eat them on limited occasions, in small amounts.

Regardless of how you look at it or what your exact needs are, establishing a balanced diet is important for overall health and well-being. So, let’s explore what a balanced diet may entail for you and how to achieve it for optimal health.

Balanced Diet Basics

Let’s answer the question once and for all: “what is a balanced diet?” Generally speaking, a balanced diet provides your body with all the essential nutrients it needs to function and includes three critical macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. [1] The recommended ratio according the the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is [1]:

  • Carbohydrates – 45% to 65% of calories
  • Fats – 20% to 35% of calories
  • Proteins – 10% to 25% of calories

Your body needs each of these macronutrients to build the foundations for physical and psychological health. However, some people need different amounts for each category. For instance, if you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, your healthcare provider may recommend you try a low-carbohydrate diet. This can help stabilize your blood glucose levels. [2]

Determining what balance means in your diet may take some trial and error. It can also take some practice to establish proper eating habits. Learning your body’s unique nutritional or metabolic needs may be an excellent starting place for designing a diet that works for you.

Why Dietary Balance Matters

Different foods serve different purposes. For that reason, it's important to be mindful of your eating habits to create a healthy diet full of vitamin and nutrient dense foods. Developing a healthy diet and food mindset is one of the most fundamental elements of human health. Doing so can support [3]:

  • A longer life
  • A higher quality of life
  • Your physical well-being and defense against health conditions
  • Your health goals, like wholesome nutrition and weight loss or weight
  • maintenance
  • Your mental and emotional well-being [4]

People who maintain a healthy, balanced diet tend to be more capable of achieving more optimal physical and emotional health than people who don’t provide their bodies with proper nutrition. An imbalanced diet has been linked to a:

  • Higher risk of becoming overweight or obese
  • Higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Higher risk of developing certain cancers
  • Higher risk of heart disease
  • Higher risk of stroke
  • Higher risk of lower cognitive ability

Although it’s not necessary to eat a perfectly balanced diet at every meal (unless your healthcare provider prescribes a strict diet for a health condition), making proper nutrition a cornerstone of your eating habits can help you prevent serious health consequences and lay the foundation for better health overall.

Tips for Maintaining A Balanced Diet

While balance may look different for each individual’s specific health needs and goals, some basic principles for maintaining a balanced diet can include [5]:

  • Choosing nutrient-dense foods – A diet rich in whole foods is the best way to meet your nutritional needs and avoid eating too many highly processed foods. Fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are considered some of the optimal options for most people as they provide essential nutrients without additives and preservatives found in processed food.
  • Portioning your plate – Many health experts recommend devoting ½ of your plate to fruits or vegetables. It’s best to use more vegetables than fruit since fruits contain more sugar. Meanwhile, ¼ of your plate should contain whole grains and healthy fats while the remaining ¼ should contain protein. [6] If you’re on a special diet, like a low-carbohydrate diet, your healthcare provider may recommend different portion sizes and proportions to accommodate your health needs.
  • Being mindful of how you cook – While a certain amount of unsaturated fat is supportive of health (particularly brain health), too much of certain types of fat can be damaging. [7] Cooking methods that use a lot of oil, like frying, are alright in moderation, but it’s best to use roasting, boiling, or other methods to limit your consumption of unhealthy fats and/or use more unsaturated fats for your cooking methods that require more oil. [6]
  • Avoiding crash-dieting – When you’re looking to achieve improved well-being, it can be tempting to try fad or extreme diets to help jump-start your efforts. However, building balance pertains as much to your food mindset as it does to the actual food you eat.8 Easing into a diet transition will ensure you avoid adding stress to your body as it adjusts. [8]

Determining a sustainable, nourishing diet plan is a unique journey for every person. It may require learning your body’s food sensitivities, identifying your health and weight goals, and learning to manage health concerns with the care and guidance of a healthcare provider.

Remember, no matter what factors you’re taking into account, dedication, patience, and a positive mindset can help you find your unique version of a balanced, nourishing plate.

Find The Diet That Works for You With Everlywell

Achieving a balanced diet isn’t about perfection. It’s about navigating the daily fluctuations of appetite, health, and nutritional needs while maintaining a sustainable outlook on food and your long-term nutritional health goals.

With the Everlywell online weight management program, you can achieve your goals for well-being with the support of telehealth experts in weight loss. You’ll get access to one-on-one support, dietary advice, and even prescription services for glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) products if you qualify.

To find out more, and start your journey toward better nutrition and overall well-being, visit Everlywell online today.

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  1. USDA. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020 -2025 .; 2020. URL. Accessed Aug 4, 2023.
  2. Mayo Clinic. Diabetes diet: Create your healthy-eating plan. Mayo Clinic. Published 2021. URL. Accessed Aug 4, 2023.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Benefits of Healthy Eating. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published May 16, 2021. URL. Accessed Aug 4, 2023.
  4. Selhub E. Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food - Harvard Health Blog. Harvard Health Blog. Published September 18, 2022. URL. Accessed Aug 4, 2023.
  5. AskUSDA. URL. Accessed Aug 4, 2023.
  6. Harvard University. Healthy Eating Plate. The Nutrition Source. Published January 2023. URL. Accessed Aug 4, 2023.
  7. Harvard Health Publishing. Know the facts about fats. Harvard Health. Published April 19, 2021. URL. Accessed Aug 4, 2023.
  8. That “Quick-and-Easy” Weight Loss Advice Comes With Risks. Cleveland Clinic. Published June 26, 2023. URL. Accessed Aug 4, 2023.
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