So… What Does A Balanced Plate Of Food Actually Look Like?

by | Jul 23, 2019

Ever wondered precisely what makes a balanced meal? Sure: you learnt that a few servings of veg was a decent idea in school, but what about protein? Dairy? Starch?

In the UK, the office advice of a healthy diet comes courtesy of the NHS Eatwell Guide, which is based on advice from both the World Health Organisation and the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.

The guide is designed to show you what a healthy diet looks like over a period of a day or a week, rather than for each meal, because there are times when it’s useful to favour a particular macronutrient – a protein-rich breakfast has been shown to support weight loss, while carb-heavy meals post-workout can speed up recovery.

According to the guide, a third of your diet should come from fruit and veg, and the NHS advises eating at least five portions a day. Notice the ‘at least’ – evidence is mounting for benefits of up to 10 portions, or 800g a day.

As for the rest of your plate, it isn’t too prescriptive. Instead, we’re told to ‘base meals on starchy foods’, eat ‘some’ dairy, beans, pulses, fish, meat and eggs and consume unsaturated oils only in ‘small amounts’.

It’s intentionally vague – the ideal portion size depends on your individual body size, activity levels and weight goals. But the figures behind the guidelines do suggest that half of your daily calories should come from carbs. Of this figure, less than 5 per cent should come from added sugars, and your choices should help you reach the recommended intake of 30g of fibre daily.

RELATED: Always Pair Your Ice Cream With An Apple If You Want To Lose Weight

Overwhelmed? Join the club. In 2016, scientists from the British Nutrition Foundation explored the real-world feasibility of these recommendations. They found that it was possible to eat this way, but only if all meals were based on starchy foods (mainly wholegrain), daily fruit and veg intake amounted to eight portions and snacks were high-fibre. As for protein, a palm-sized portion at each meal (plant or animal) will meet the recommended 0.8g per kilo of body weight per day, but there may be times when it’s beneficial to consume more, such as during weight loss or muscle gain. And if you’re eschewing carbs in favour of protein, you might want to rethink, as low-carb diets are lower in fibre, the very stuff that protects against bowel cancer, heart disease and type-2 diabetes, as well as fertilising your microbiome. For cooking and flavour, fats from olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds are best.


How to build a balanced meal in 4 steps

1/ Start with two portions of fruit and veg (whole fruit, not juice, because #fibre). 

2/ Next, add whole grains. Start with a cupped handful and increase portion sizes pre and post-exercise (between 0.8g and 1g per kilo of body weight after an intense workout).

3/ Add protein (larger portions at breakfast and post-workout)

4/ Finish with some dairy or a drizzle of healthy fat

In an IRL day, that might look like the below balanced meals.

A day of balanced meals

Breakfast

Eggs, wholegrain toast, avocado and spinach. The balance of protein, carbs and fat should keep your energy levels up till lunch.

Lunch

Mixed bean and quinoa salad with chicken or tofu. The balance of grains and protein will ward off the afternoon slump.

Dinner

Salmon with freekeh, butternut squash and stir-fried greens. Oily fish twice a week ticks off your omega-3 needs.

This article originally appeared on Women’s Health UK.

RELATED: Fitness Star Sophie Guidolin’s Guide To Counting Macros

Recommended to you

Women Fleeing Domestic Violence Can Now Receive A One-Off Support Payment

It’s been labelled the shadow pandemic and the fact remains that for many women across Australia, domestic violence is a lived reality that doesn’t discriminate by age, occupation, or socio-economic status. Researchers have found that during Covid-19 lockdowns, there was a surge in family and domestic violence, with agencies experiencing a surge in demand as nearly half their clients reported an increase in controlling behaviours. 

As many who have lived through such turmoil and trauma can attest, the roadmap to fleeing such situations at home can be fraught with challenges and extremely difficult to navigate, particularly when such bureaucracy makes it even harder. Now, it’s been announced that women fleeing a violent relationship will be given a one-off $5,000 payment as part of a federal government trial scheme. 

Known as the “escaping violence payment scheme,” the government has set aside $144.5 million over the next two years to give women $1,500 cash, with the remainder to pay for goods and services, bond, school fees and other necessaries to establish a new safe home. UnitingCare Network will be tasked with delivering the payments while helping link women and their children with relevant community services. 

As the Daily Telegraph reports, “An analysis of domestic violence data by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that while it is more common for women from poorer areas, women from high socio-economic areas are not immune from experiencing partner violence.”

As Women’s Safety Minister Anne Ruston explained, the trial has been introduced with the aim to help women overcome the financial barriers that might deter them from leaving a violent relationship. “We know that financial hardship as well as economic abuse - which may involve interfering with work or controlling or withholding money - reduces women’s ability to acquire and use money and makes it difficult to leave violent relationships,” she said. 

“The payments will assist people who need financial support to leave. We know the size of the house a woman is fleeing doesn’t matter. Often she bundles the kids into the car, maybe the dog too and they leave with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.”

To be eligible for a payment, women must be facing financial stress and have some evidence of domestic violence such as a referral from a family and domestic violence service provider with a risk assessment and safety plan, or an AVO, court order or police report. As UnitingCare Australia National Director Claerwen Little said, “We believe that all people, especially women and their children, have the right to live freely and without fear, and this payment is an important step forward to ending violence against women and children.”

If you require immediate assistance, please call 000.

If you’d like to speak to someone about domestic violence, please call the 1800 

Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online. 

Under 25? You can reach Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or chat online.