What a balanced diet really looks like

Fascinated by human nutrition and how it makes us feel, I recently enrolled as a student for a Bachelor of Health Science in Nutrition + Dietetics. Sounds fancy right?! Put simply, I will be a qualified nutritionist, and you can chat to me in private clinics. Yahoo! As a total health nut (you’d have to be right?! Staring down the barrel of another 6 years of University), I’ve spent a fait bit of time looking at balanced (and not so balanced) approaches to food in the quest for optimum health.

That’s what we are all seeking right? To feel the best we can possibly feel, whilst still enjoying all things we put into our bodies.

The past few years of popular and extreme diets (lemon juice cleanses, I’m looking at you!) has seen us lose touch with what a balanced meal really means.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been there and done that – I’ve cut carbs on a Ketogenic meal plan, I’ve been Paleo (lasted a week – I like oats WAY too much) and even hopped onto the all-plant-based bandwagon, but struggled with digestion. For my body and lifestyle, clearly none of these were sustainable long-term, because I’m now back to eating everything within moderation – carbs, fats and proteins from all sources. That’s where my body seems to feel it’s best.

So in a nutshell – here is why we need all three for a balanced meal:


  • Provides fast to medium release energy (around 1-3 hours)
  • Boosts metabolism
  • Inhibits insulin release = steady blood sugar levels.
  • Helps build lean muscle, which helps us burn more calories at rest.
    e.g. chicken breast, turkey mince, tinned tuna, tofu, legumes, plain yoghurt, eggs, salmon.


  • Provide fast to medium release energy (around 1-3 hours).
  • Fuels your brain, kidneys, heart, muscles and central nervous system.
    e.g. oats, brown rice, sweet potato, pumpkin, fruit and most veggies


  • Provide slow release energy (around 4 hours)
  • Insulate us and protect our vital organs.
  • Some vitamins are fat-soluble, meaning without the accompaniment of fat in your food, you won’t be able to absorb the goodness!
    e.g. nuts, avocado, olive oil, cheese

If you have a meal consisting of just protein + carbs, you will be hungry again after about 3 hours. If you added fats to that same meal, you’ll be fuelled for up to four hours – meaning less fridge-picking in between meals! 

Each macronutrient also has its own specific function in nourishing the body. Miss out on one category and it’s likely you’ll feel deprived which will hamper even your best efforts to lose weight and feel good.

A nourishing, whole food diet will help balance neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine – the brain chemicals that help us feel full, happy, motivated and rewarded!


Avoiding Risk Nutrients

What we need to be careful of is our intake of ‘risk nutrients’. These are those things found in food that don’t make us feel so great – such as sugar, refined oil, and heavily processed foods. The Health Star Rating in Australia is your quick-reference guide to navigate this on the front of packeted foods. At a glance you can compare like-for-like foods to select the one with the least amount of risk nutrients. How handy is that? Look for items that have the highest amount of starts (rated from 1 – 5) for the most nutritious options.

Other countries have similar systems – so be sure to check out the regulations in your country to help you make healthy choices quickly!

Inside the grocery basket of a Health Food Blogger

Have you cut out a food group before? How did it make you feel? In trying to eat a balanced diet have you noticed Health Star Rating on packaged food?  What did you think?

I’d love to know in the comments below!


This article is proudly sponsored by the Health Star Rating. Thank you for supporting the sponsors who make The Fit Foodie Blog possible. All images and opinions are my own and not influenced in any way.

About Sally O'Neil - Editor in Chief

Sal is on a mission to prove that healthy and nutritious doesn’t have to be boring – and that even while staying in shape you can have your cake and eat it too. After losing 14kg from adopting a healthier lifestyle, she shares her journey with others on The Fit Foodie Blog. She also writes for national health magazines, has launched a range of Protein Ball Mixes: Fit Mixes, and is the author of Love Move Eat (Bauer Media, 2017).

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Posted under: diet, nutrition, balance

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7 Responses to “What a balanced diet really looks like”

  1. Debs

    Love this post Sally. As usual you manage to put it in a nutshell that makes sense. So often we get the message that vegetarianism is the best diet out there. Good to know the pros don’t think that’s the only way to go!

    • Sally O'Neil - Editor in Chief

      Thanks Debs! I can totally appreciate that some people do it from a moral standpoint, but for my body, it thrives and supports me better when I have a full variety of foods. More nutrients, vitamins and phytochemicals from different sources so my body gets all the goodies nature has on offer 🙂 I don’t think there is a ‘best diet’, just intuitive eating for to your personal preference. We are all biologically different – i’m not sure how one approach could fit all, but thats what the diet companies love to sell us!

  2. Sev

    Hi Sally

    I like your blogs, I have s question for you.
    You mentioned if you don’t eat a balanced diet you will feel hungry after 3hrs?
    I believe you need to take into account everyone has different energy needs for the type of energy requirement for their daily routine being work or and exercise.
    You need to be specific, why I say this is that even if we eat a balanced diet, generally an average person that’s not sedentary will need to eat after every 3hrs or so with moderate energy requirement.
    If we are now talking about a person that’s active within the 3hr window then most definitely the energy needs of that person will be more.

    I also understand to keep our metabolism firing we need to eat a balanced meal every 3 hrs ( with all 3 macros ) with a snack in between the next meal, for example, let’s say we had a balanced macro meal at 12pm & we then had a snack at 3pm or 3.30pm & then another macro meal at 6pm or 6.30pm?
    Now for an average person we need to take into account between all those time lined from miday till say after diner meal what that persons energy are going to be so we need to then take into account portion / calorie amounts will be?… Otherwise we may have an energy imbalance from eother side of the spectrum, do you agree? Pls explain ?

    • Sally O'Neil - Editor in Chief

      Hey Sev!
      Thanks so much for your questions.

      Rather than counting calories and timing my meals, I prefer to eat intuitively. That means if I feel hungry after 4 hours, or 5, or 2, I eat. I eat only until I’m satisfied, and then I stop. Sometimes that can look like a few meals and a few snacks in a day, and on other days (when I am more active) I might eat 3-4 meals and a few snacks too!

      What I like to emphasise though, is energy from a variety of sources, so that my body benefits from all the kinds of fuel it needs to perform optimally.

      Hope that makes sense. Sal x

  3. Heidi Kokborg

    Such a great post – and a very important one as well! When I was deepest in my eating disorder I tried cutting out both fats and carbs and it really hurt me for a long time afterwards (obviously I know this has something to do with the starve-binge and overexercising cycle as well). When I didn’t eat carbs I has ZERO energy, my period stopped (again this was also due to the ED in general) and I was just feeling bad. When I cut out fat my skin got so dry, my nails was horrible and was hungry all the time. Now, I’m recovering from my ED, and I eat all three groups and I feel so much better. I will never cut out one of them again – our bodies just need all three to function properly.
    Thanks for a great post!

    • Sally O'Neil - Editor in Chief

      Thanks so much Heidi. I too went through a lot of what you have been through a few years ago when I struggled with Orthorexia. I cut out fats and carbs, lost my period (which I’m still trying to regain), had zero energy and lost a lot of my hair. As soon as I got my diet and exercise back to more sustainable levels, I felt `a thousand times better. Just goes to show our bodies thrive on a mix of energy sources.Well done you on the recovery – you’re a strong woman. x

  4. Alex

    This is a fantastic article about the importance of a balanced diet!
    Although everyone’s body is different, the principles of a balanced diet still applies.
    Thanks for sharing this blog post.

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