A balanced diet for women

  • By
    Kerry Torrens - Nutritional therapist

When are the best times to eat carbs, protein and fat, what should your portion size be and what are your guideline daily amounts? Choose wisely and you can eat healthily around the clock..

A balanced diet for women

Women have different daily nutritional requirements to men, and below our nutritionist has offered guidance and recipe ideas for women seeking a balanced diet for good health - but what exactly is meant by a 'balanced diet'? There are some simple rules to follow like getting your five-a-day, including three servings of whole-grains and choosing more fish, poultry and less red meat while opting for low-fat dairy foods. But that's not the whole story - how much should you be eating and when is the best time to eat protein, carbs or fats? Read on for our guide to healthy eating around the clock.

Reference Intake (RI) – the new term for Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs)

Nutritional needs vary depending on your sex, size, age and activity levels so use this chart as a general guide only. The chart shows the daily amounts recommended for a healthy, balanced diet for maintaining rather than losing or gaining weight. Typically women need less nutrients than men with the exception of salt and fibre.

Guideline daily amounts
Energy (kcal)25002000
Protein (g)5545
Carbohydrates (g)300230
Sugar (g)12090
Fat (g)9570
Saturates (g)3020
Fibre (g)2424
Salt (g)66

Perfect Portionsportion sizes

Numbers and figures are all very well but how does this relate to you? Personalise your portions with our handy guide to finding the right serving size:


Your portion size
FoodsPortion size
Carbs like cereal/rice/pasta/potatoYour clenched fist                              
Proteins like meat/poultry/fishPalm of your hand
Savouries like popcorn/crisps2 of your cupped hands
Bakes like brownies/flapjacks2 of your fingers
Butter & spreadsThe tip of your thumb


Full English frittata with smoky beansBreakfast

Kick start your metabolism by including protein at breakfast, choose from eggs, salmon, lean ham or low-fat dairy. We burn more calories digesting protein rather than carbs so, by making your breakfast a protein one, you'll be revving up your metabolism and because protein foods keep you fuller for longer, you'll eat fewer calories the rest of the day.

A protein breakfast needn't take any longer to prepare - top your morning toast with a scrambled egg, a slice of smoked salmon or some lean ham and when you do have a little more time enjoy an omelette or frittata.

Whatever you do don't skip breakfast as this sets your blood sugar off on a roller coaster, which means you'll end up choosing the wrong foods later in the day. Remember breakfast makes an important contribution towards your daily intake and it plays a key role in maintaining a healthy weight.

Protein breakfast recipes:
Scrambled omelette toast topper
One-pan summer eggs
Flash-fried smoked salmon & egg bagel
Full English frittata with smoky beans
Smoked salmon & mascarpone tortilla


Almond butter Mid-morning snack

Eating little and often is the ideal way to manage your blood sugar levels - this doesn't mean you'll be eating more but spreading your day's intake evenly throughout the day. Make every snack count with nourishing options that supply both the 'pick me up' you need while topping up your five-a-day.

Swap your morning biscuits for oatcakes spread with peanut or almond nut butter and a banana or have a tasty dip with veggie sticks.

Energy giving snacks:
Almond butter
Bean, feta & herb dip


LunchOpen cottage cheese & pepper sandwich

Make lunch a mix of lean protein and starchy carbs. Carb-rich foods supply energy and without them you'll suffer that classic mid-afternoon slump. The key is to choose carbs that produce a steady rise in blood sugar, which means passing on the sugary 'white' foods and going for high fibre whole-grains which help you manage those afternoon munchies.

Opt for an open rye-bread sandwich topped with salmon, chicken or low-fat dairy as well as plenty of salad or choose whole-grain toast topped with baked beans.

Protein and carb lunch recipes:
Open mackerel sandwich with fennel slaw
Open chicken Caesar sandwich
Open sandwiches - Smoked salmon & avocado on rye
Open cottage cheese & pepper sandwich
Salmon & chive bagel topper

Spiced apple crisps Mid-afternoon

Satisfy that sweet craving and the need for energy with fruit. A handful of dried fruit combined with unsalted nuts or seeds, provides protein and healthy fats to keep you satisfied till supper.

Swap your chocolate or cereal bar for a handful of dried apple rings with a few almonds or walnuts. Dried fruit is four times as sweet as its fresh equivalent - which is great if you've got an exercise class or a gym session planned for the afternoon. Combining dried fruit with nuts helps stabilise the release of their sugars keeping you energised for longer. Alternatively stock your fridge with plenty of low calorie nibbles like cherry tomatoes, grapes and vegetable crudités, which will prevent you reaching for the biscuit tin when you fancy something sweet or crunchy.

Sweet afternoon snack:
Spiced apple crisps

DinnerMexican chicken stew with quinoa & beans

Don't curfew carbs - they're low in fat, fibre-rich and help you relax in the evening. Combine them with some healthy essential fats the ones you find in oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines as well as nuts, seeds and their oils. Your body can use these healthy fats overnight for regeneration and repair, which is important for maintaining healthy skin and hair.

Fill half your plate with a colourful variety of vegetables or salad, drizzle with a dressing made from flaxseed or rapeseed oil and add meat, fish or beans with brown rice, quinoa or wholemeal pasta.

Healthy dinner recipes:

Mexican chicken stew with quinoa & beans
Miso prawn skewers with veggie rice salad
15-minute noodle supper
Soy & ginger salmon with soba noodles
Miso brown rice & chicken salad


Kerry Torrens is BBC Good Food magazine's nutritional therapist.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact  your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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Cherry Smith's picture

Great post! Some really useful points included. I recently found another helpful post which lists foods that aid natural weight loss as they require lots of chewing, fill you up, are low in calories, contain high amounts of water or air and improve satiety (to you and me that means keep us satisfied so that we don’t need to over eat, naturally :)) - it's definitely worth a read! http://magazine.siansplan.com/9-foods-that-are-great-for-natural-weight-...

Dees diner's picture

I have just joined! Great idea. Really needed some good guidance on healthy eating and found some great ideas. I love the way I can store them in my own collection.

yumminesss's picture

Just a quick note to say well done kiwi-abroad. I agree with everything you say...however at the start of these comments there are a few messages of praise for the info found here. I agree though. A lot of the meals on the site are high in calories and expensive to make. I am lucky and do usually have salmon for breakfast, but this not possible for most. This is a great hub with most of the nutritional values given so I find it invaluable, as my husband is diabetic.

sybilgodden's picture

Surely one can eat other fish than expensive salmon? What's wrong with potatoes? As a vegetable don't they count as part one one's 'five (seven) a day? Come on Good Food: get real!

alexxx373's picture

Potatoes are not classed as a vegetable because their starch content is so high. Therefore they are classed as a carbohydrate and fall under that category in diet guides. Other root vegetables are a better substitute with lower starch: carrots, parsnips, sweet potato etc.

veggiemaniac's picture

I agree with some of the other comments - not enough fruit and veg included in the overall meal plan PLUS so many bits and pieces in each meal that by the time you've done the shopping, planning and preparing, you'd have no time for living and all this is assuming you don't have a family who will have different needs and demands.

kiwi-abroad's picture

Sorry - had to do this in 2 parts.
Smoked or fresh salmon features in a lot of your recipes. Not available (cost) to the usual person. Please find a substitute. Smoked mackerel does some wonderful recipes. In a salad, in an omelete, in a pita with crunchy accompaniments.
Butter & spreads. Tip of your thumbnail. Is this per day - per slice - per meal?
asb staedn- too general.
Most BBC recipes call for butter in their recipes (to saute etc).
For those without the time for your breakfast recipes, simple baked beans on toasts provides both carbs & protein. So does simple scrambled eggs with chives on toast. All meals should contain both protein & carbs.....
Mascapone (not cheap) is loaded with calories. Can you not substitute low-fat creme fraiche or similar?
Generalisation needs to be broken down in to more practical & detailed components.

kiwi-abroad's picture

Once again as in all short columns, this is too general. Portions have always been advised for years e.g. meat no bigger than the palm of your hand.
When stated above in Dinners - add meat - this needs to be clarified. Opening paragraph states 'choose more fish, poultry and less red meat'. ...So 'add meat" means?
Also agree with allenz, more veg recipes are required. I have lived on the Med diet for many years. Most days are veges only - meat is a special/weekend occasion. (If you partake of course). Char-grilled peppers, aubergines, spring onions, courgettes etc are very tasty and along with skewers of halloumi/bread cubes/potato etc can create a 'balanced meal' along with fish. In winter I do a baked pasta dish with cheese sauce incorporating the same peppers onions etc.
These kind of practical recipes - esp for people with lower incomes - would be more welcome. Tks

allennz's picture

I am enjoying your series. I would encourage you, however, to provide more recipes for vegetarians. Thanks heaps.

haraheart's picture

Excellent practical guide to portion sizes! Useful stuff, thanks.

cretalake's picture

Excellent post!!! I really need it!!!

helmut's picture

Thanks, I really enjoyed reading this section on a balanced diet for women. It gives great and healthy ideas. Well done!