What is a healthy, balanced diet?

A healthy, balanced diet contains a variety of foods, in the right amounts. This will give you enough energy, protein, vitamins and minerals to stay healthy.

What makes up a healthy, balanced diet?

A healthy, balanced diet contains a variety of foods, in the right amounts. This will give you enough energy, protein, vitamins and minerals to stay healthy.

Having a healthy, balanced diet is important for everyone, especially if you have been diagnosed with cancer. Eating well and keeping to a healthy weight will help you keep up your strength, increase your energy levels and improve your sense of well-being.

Try to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. They should make up over one third of the food you eat each day. Starchy foods (carbohydrates) should also make up over a third of what you eat each day. The amount of protein you eat should be smaller. The amount of dairy you have should be even smaller. You should try to have only a small amount of oils and spreads.

Foods that are high in fat and sugar should be limited because they often do not have any extra vitamins or minerals.

You do not need to get the balance right with every meal, but try to get it right over a day or even a week.

This chart shows the amount of each food group you should try to eat for a healthy, balanced diet.

Food group chart

Food labels

Most packaged foods have labels giving information to help you make healthier choices when buying food. The labels give information about what the food contains, including:

  • fats
  • salt
  • sugars
  • calories.

The label also sometimes gives information about sodium and fibre.

Many food manufacturers and supermarkets use a food traffic light system on their labels. This tells you the amount of fats, saturated fats, sugars and salt in 100g (3½ ounces) of the product.

The colours show if the level is high, medium or low:

Red – the level is high.

Amber – the level is medium.

Green – the level is low.

You should eat more foods with amber and green labels and fewer with red.

If a product does not have traffic light labelling, you can use this diagram to check by comparing it with the list of ingredients.

Food labelling diagram

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our healthy eating information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Fang X et al. Quantitative association between body mass index and the risk of cancer: A global Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. International Journal of Cancer. 2018 Oct 1;143(7):1595-1603.

    British Nutrition Foundation website www.nutrition.org.uk (accessed December 2019).

    Bhaskaran K et al. Body-mass index and risk of 22 specific cancers: a population-based cohort study of 5·24 million UK adults. The Lancet, August 2014..

    The Eatwell Guide: Helping you eat a healthy, balanced diet, Food Standard Scotland, October 2019.

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 August 2020
Next review: 01 August 2023

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.

Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.