Know your food types

A balanced diet will provide you with everything you need to keep your body working well. Foods fall into different groups, all of which are used in a specific way by our bodies. They include:

  • Fruit and vegetables – these are a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre.
  • Starchy foods (carbohydrates) – these turn into glucose to give us energy. Energy is measured as calories. If we have too many calories, we put on weight. Men need about 2,500 calories a day and women about 2,000.
  • Fibre – this is a good source of iron and vitamin B, and gives us energy.
  • Fats – these bring condensed energy to the body.
  • Protein – the amino acids in protein help the body build muscle and repair tissue. When we are unwell, it is important to have protein.
  • Vitamins and minerals – these help our bodies work normally. Minerals help maintain healthy bones and nerves, for example.
  • Fluid – to function properly, the body needs fluid. Women should try to drink roughly 8 glasses (about 1.6 litres) of fluid a day, and men should try to drink about 10 glasses (about 2 litres) a day.


Carbohydrates are broken down in the body to become glucose, which gives us energy. Energy is measured in calories. We all need a certain number of calories each day for energy, even if we aren't very active. Just sitting in a chair we need energy to breathe. If there are too many calories in our diet we put on weight, and if there are too few we use up our body’s energy stores and lose weight. The amount of energy a person needs each day varies. It depends on how quickly their body uses the energy, and on their level of activity. An adult man needs about 2,500 calories a day and an adult woman needs about 2,000 calories.


Protein is made up of amino acids – the basic element our bodies use to build and repair muscles and other body tissues. The body must have extra protein – as well as extra energy – when we are ill, injured or under stress, to repair any damage.


Fats provide a concentrated source of energy and contain some important vitamins.

Vitamins and minerals

The body needs minerals for various functions, such as maintaining healthy nerves, bones and teeth. Vitamins are essential to help our bodies work normally, but we only need tiny amounts of them. If you are eating even a small amount of the main food types that contain vitamins, you are probably getting enough vitamins. But if you are not able to eat well for a long period of time, you may need multivitamins and mineral supplements. Your doctor, dietitian or pharmacist can give you more advice about these.


Fibre is sometimes called roughage. It’s the part of the food that passes through the body without being completely absorbed. Starchy foods, such as bread, chapati, cereals, rice, pasta, yams and potatoes, are an important part of a healthy diet. They provide energy and are a major source of fibre, iron and B vitamins. Vegetables and fruit are good sources of fibre too.


Our bodies need a certain amount of fluid each day to work properly. If you don’t feel well it may be difficult to drink enough liquid. You should try to drink about 1.6 litres of fluid a day if you’re a woman, and about 2 litres a day if you’re a man. That’s roughly 8 glasses for a woman and 10 for a man. This can be water, fruit juice or squash. Drinks that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea and some fizzy drinks, may make you dehydrated because they make you produce more urine. You can include them in your daily fluid allowance, but have other fluids that don’t contain caffeine as well.

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Healthy eating

A balanced diet will provide everything you need to keep your body healthy. It will contribute to your well-being.