A balanced diet for women

Find out how much carbohydrate, protein and fat you should be eating and when. Choose wisely for a healthy diet that keeps you full around the clock...

A selection of food including fruit, vegetables, eggs, wholegrain bread, oils, meat and fish

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'?

The Eatwell Guide defines different types of foods we should be eating and in what proportions. These include some simple rules to follow like getting a minimum of five fruit and veg a day, including wholegrains and choosing more fish, poultry, beans and pulses, less red meat and opting for lower fat, lower sugar dairy (or dairy-free alternatives). But that's not the whole story. How much should you be eating and is there an ideal time to eat protein, carbs or fats? Read on for our guide to healthy eating around the clock.

Reference Intakes (RI)

Nutritional needs vary depending on sex, size, age and activity levels so use this chart as a general guide only. The chart shows the Reference Intakes (RI) or daily amounts recommended for an average, moderately active adult to achieve a healthy, balanced diet for maintaining rather than losing or gaining weight.

The RIs for fat, saturates, sugars and salt are all maximum amounts, while those for carbs and protein are figures you should aim to meet each day. There is no RI for fibre, although health experts suggest we have 30g a day.

Reference intakes (RI) for women

  • Energy – 2000kcal
  • Protein – 50g
  • Carbohydrates – 260g
  • Sugar – 90g
  • Fat – 70g
  • Saturates – 20g
  • Salt – 6g

Perfect portions

Numbers and figures are all very well but how does this relate to you? Keeping the Eatwell Guide in mind, you can personalise your portion sizes with our handy guide.

Carbs like cereal/rice/pasta/potato

  • Portion size: Your clenched fist
  • Include 1 portion at each main meal and ensure it fills no more than ¼ of your plate

Protein like meat/poultry/fish/tofu/pulses

  • Portion size: Palm of your hand
  • Aim to have a portion at each meal


  • Portion size: 2 of your thumbs
  • Enjoy as a snack or part of a meal


  • Portion size: 1 of your cupped hands
  • Enjoy as a snack or part of a meal

Butter/spreads/nut butter

  • Portion size: The tip of your thumb
  • Eat no more than 2 or 3 times a day

Savouries like popcorn/crisps

  • Portion size: 2 of your cupped hands
  • Enjoy as a snack/treat

Bakes like brownies/flapjacks

  • Portion size: 2 of your fingers
  • Enjoy as an occasional treat

Don’t forget, as set out in the Eatwell Guide, we should all be aiming for a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Discover what counts as one portion using our five-a-day infographic.


A stack of spinach protein pancakes topped with a poached egg

Kick-start your metabolism by including protein at breakfast, choose from eggs, salmon, lean ham or 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 keeps 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 that 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:
Spinach protein pancakes
Mushroom baked eggs with squished tomatoes
One-pan summer eggs
Smoked salmon & mascarpone tortilla
Pear & blueberry breakfast bowl
Berry omelette
Dippy eggs with Marmite soldiers
Egg & tomato baps

Mid-morning snack

Many people find eating little and often helps them manage their blood sugar levels. This doesn't mean they eat more but instead spread their 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
Spicy chickpeas


A wholewheat noodle dish with vegetables in a glass jar

Make lunch a mix of lean protein and starchy carbs. Carb-rich foods supply energy and without them you're more likely to 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 wholegrains that help you manage those afternoon munchies.

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

Protein and carb lunch recipes:
Open chicken Caesar sandwich
Open cottage cheese & pepper sandwich
Salmon & chive bagel topper
Veggie wholewheat pot noodle
Smoked salmon, quinoa & dill lunch pot
Spicy tuna quinoa salad
Indian chicken protein pots
Tuna Niçoise protein pot
Steak & broccoli protein pots


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, apples and vegetable crudités that will prevent you reaching for the biscuit tin when you fancy something sweet or crunchy.

Satisfying snacks:
Date & walnut cinnamon bites
Iced grapes with cheddar cubes & celery
Almond, raisin & popcorn trail mix


A dish of wild salmon and vegetables in a bowl on a blue table

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 along with protein overnight for regeneration and repair, 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 cold-pressed flaxseed, olive or rapeseed oil and add meat, fish or beans with brown rice, quinoa or wholemeal pasta.

Nutritious dinner recipes:
Wild salmon veggie bowl
Moroccan-spiced tuna
Mexican chicken stew with quinoa & beans
Miso prawn skewers with veggie rice salad
Nutty crusted fish
Tomato & crispy crumb chicken
Spicy root & lentil casserole
Lamb & squash biryani with cucumber raita
Mexican penne with avocado
Lamb dopiaza with broccoli rice

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This article was last reviewed on 4 July 2019 by Kerry Torrens.

Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.

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.

Comments, questions and tips

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Henry Nichols's picture
Henry Nichols
16th Jul, 2020
This is a really great article about the best diet and balanced diet for health. Thanks for sharing this post. https://herbsforhealth.goherbalife.com/Catalog/Home/Index/en-US/
9th Nov, 2019
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Ysabel Howard's picture
Ysabel Howard
13th Oct, 2019
Undoubtedly well meant and quite interesting but is this entirely real world? Sorry, sorry, I'm thinking particularly of the snacks. I'm retired now, but I had a busy working life and have slight difficulty imagining me or anyone I worked with coming up for air mid afternoon to nibble our iced grapes and cheddar cubes. The simplest most nourishing and energizing snack is a pint of skimmed milk, an apple and a banana, which gives you nearly 20 g protein - and equally makes an effortless breakfast. Back in the day we had school milk at break and an apple in our satchels and the people who worked that one out were not thick. Being grown-up doesn't mean you have to be fancy! Save that for a leisurely dinner.
Adrián Ľaš's picture
Adrián Ľaš
21st Apr, 2019
Yeah, that's a lot of good information.But I have a good 2 weeks diet program for you.You know how to lose a lot of weight for shortly?I know.Please click here==>https://bit.ly/2DlHXP9 If you want real results
Hijab Khan's picture
Hijab Khan
5th Jan, 2019
Healthy Eating for Women. A balanced diet is a cornerstone of health. Women, like men, should enjoy a variety of healthful foods from all of the foods groups, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, low-fat or fat-free dairy and lean protein. https://tikkaykhan.com/ketogenic-diet-for-weight-loss/
Ally Chua's picture
Ally Chua
11th Oct, 2018
Yeap! Balanced diet is very important in order to be healthy, but the portion also need to be care about. We need to know how much we need, we should not overeating or under-eating no matter how 'balanced' it is. Also, I think antioxidant is very important for us to reduce the risk or our body getting diseases or ageing. At first, what I only know about antioxidant is 'it's good for skin', but after I did some online research, I found how important is antioxidant to our body. State of Victoria (2018) https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/antioxidants I think in order to convince people to eat healthy, in stead of telling them to eat because it's good for them, they need to know why and how it is good! At the same time, shows them how healthy food can be very tasty and easy to make. By proving and showing the result, it is more convincing. Does anyone agree with me?
Ashley de Sá's picture
Ashley de Sá
15th Aug, 2018
That's actually how I became obese. I ate continuously throughout the day and I went from being a normal healthy weight to being obese. Eating throughout the day I've found to be the quickest way to get fat. It's not normal to eat such small meals. You shouldn't do it. It's bad for your health and frankly you can't handle it. The body isn't optimal for this kind of eating strategy.
Steve Tatlow's picture
Steve Tatlow
20th Aug, 2018
You are absolutely wrong in every statement you write..... Read the article again and take note of what is written, such as "Nutritional needs vary depending on sex, size, age and activity levels" Everybody is different! There are plenty of articles to support eating little and often. Diet mismanagement will lead to obesity, not spreading your food intake through the day.
5th Feb, 2018
Not skipping breakfast is super important and I learned that the hard way. I used to skip it because I wasn't overly hungry upon waking up and thought why increase my caloric intake if I'm not even hungry yet....but I was wrong. It was throwing my metabolism out of whack and once I started eating breakfast, even something small like a protein bar, I started feeling better and seeing better results. My fave is the Salted Toffee Pretzel protein bar by BalanceDiet. The flavor is different than anything I'd found and they have a wide variety so I don't get bored with eating a protein bar every morning.
7th Sep, 2017
Thanks for sharing this useful information!! A balanced diet is a cornerstone of health.We should choose wisely for a healthy diet that keeps ourbody full around the clock. This blog is very informative for women.Thanks !!!


Patricia Monaghan's picture
Patricia Monaghan
29th Mar, 2018
Just wondering if this diet is suitable for diabetics?
goodfoodteam's picture
1st Apr, 2018
Thank you for your question. This diet was not designed with diabetes in mind, although some of the dishes may be suitable. We have a collection of recipes selected by Diabetes UK and always recommend following the advice you have been given by your doctor: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/diabetes More information can be found here: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/
11th Jun, 2015
Hi! First, thank you for this site. I am a 55 year old woman and 5'4" tall. I weigh 122 kg and need to lose weight as it is effecting my health - thyroid, cholesterol, asthma. I wonder if there is a nutritionist who could advise me? My physician has suggested I try a no carb diet to try to get rid of the sleep apnea problem as well. Thank you.
28th Aug, 2015
It's easy to overlook, but choosing healthier drinks is a key part of getting a balanced diet. Many soft drinks – including instant powdered drinks and hot chocolate – are high in sugar. Food and drinks that are high in sugar are often high in calories, and having too many calories can make you more likely to gain weight. Some energy drinks are high in both sugar and caffeine. Checking the nutrition labels on soft drinks such as fruit juices and fizzy drinks can help you make healthier choices. For more information, see Food labels. Drink plenty of water Water is a healthy and cheap choice for quenching your thirst at any time. It has no calories and contains no sugars that can damage teeth. Plain tea, fruit tea and coffee (without added sugar) can also be healthy. If you don't like the taste of plain water, try sparkling water or add a slice of lemon or lime. Or heat the water and infuse a tea bag, some coffee or a slice of lemon. You could also add some no-added-sugar squash or fruit juice for flavour. Drink semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk Milk is a good source of calcium, a mineral that helps build and maintain healthy bones. It also contains protein, vitamins and other minerals, and doesn't cause tooth decay. For a healthier choice, choose semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk. Limit your intake of flavoured milks, milkshakes, condensed milk and milk-based energy or malt drinks – these contain added sugar, which is bad for teeth. Milk is especially important for young children. They should drink whole milk until they are two years old because they may not get the calories they need from lower-fat milks. Cow's milk should not be given as a drink until a baby is one year old as it doesn't contain the balance of nutrients a baby needs. From the age of two, children can gradually move to semi-skimmed milk as a main drink as long as they are eating a varied and balanced diet and growing well. For more information, see Drinks and cups for children. http://bit.ly/1Iq7Wgi
goodfoodteam's picture
17th Jul, 2015
Hi there, thanks for your question.We cannot give medical advice, though would suggest seeing a nutritionist who will be able to help you - your GP should be able to refer you. Here at BBC Good Food we advocate a healthy, balanced diet that includes whole foods that have been minimally processed. Many thanks and all the best,The BBC Good Food team 
29th Apr, 2014
I have lost good weight with a diet that reduced my inflammatory fat, I have lost 30 pounds but should I include chocolate on this diet here http://75poundsdiet.blogspot.com/2014/04/a-diet-to-lose-75-pounds-and-use-of.html
Kerry Torrens's picture
Kerry Torrens
4th Jun, 2014
Hi there, thanks for your question. Good quality, high cocoa chocolate is a source of flavonols which are protective and anti-inflammatory in nature. However, you do need to look for the dark, high cocoa (minimum 70%) chocolate which has been subject to limited processing. Stick to a small portion of 25g as an occasional treat.
31st Jul, 2013
what foods should i avoid for frequent upset tummy? trying to cut out wheat and dairy currently. could really do with a couple of week's worth of recipes so I can plan my shopping and diet
Kerry Torrens's picture
Kerry Torrens
4th Jun, 2014
Hi there, thanks for your question. Stress, diet and lifestyle can all disrupt our stomachs – however, if this is a consistent change in your digestive pattern you should visit your GP. Getting dietary advice from a registered dietician will also help and is advisable before making significant changes to your diet. When we eliminate foods like wheat and / or dairy we need to ensure we replace them with nutritionally equivalent alternatives so that we’re not missing out on valuable nutrients, like calcium from dairy. Non-dairy calcium rich foods include nuts and seeds especially almonds, canned fish, leafy greens and veg like broccoli. Keep a food and symptom diary and take this with you to your GP / Dietician.
17th Apr, 2020
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