A balanced diet

The three nutrients required in the largest quantities are:

  • carbohydrates
  • proteins
  • lipids (fats and oils)

Other nutrients required in smaller quantities are:

  • vitamins
  • minerals
  • dietary fibre
  • water

To obtain these nutrients humans, as omnivores, eat a varied diet.

Carbohydrates, proteins and lipids

Here are the sources and main functions of the different components in a balanced diet.

A table with three rows and two columns . The rows are labelled Carbohydrates, Proteins and Lipids. Column 1 is labelled Typical sources and lists a variety of foods. Column 2 is labelled Function.

Vitamins

Vitamins are only needed in small amounts to maintain a healthy body. A lack of vitamins in the diet leads to deficiency symptoms.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is needed to help heal wounds and maintain healthy connective tissue (which gives support to other tissues and organs).

Citrus fruits on a plate, including a lime, a lemon and a pink grapefruit
Oranges are a good source of vitamin C

Good sources of vitamin C include:

  • citrus fruits (such as oranges, lemons and limes)
  • leafy green vegetables (such as sprouts and broccoli)

Vitamin C deficiency leads to scurvy. The symptoms of scurvy include bleeding and swelling of the gums, loss of teeth, tiredness and muscle and joint pain.

Mineral ions

Like vitamins, mineral ions are only needed in small amounts to maintain a healthy body. A lack of the correct mineral ions in the diet also leads to deficiency symptoms.

Iron

Green leafy vegetables including chard, curly kale and cabbage
Leafy green vegetables are a good source of iron

Iron is needed to produce haemoglobin, found in red blood cells.

Good sources of iron include:

  • liver
  • red meat
  • beans and nuts
  • dried fruits such as dried apricots

Iron deficiency causes anaemia. People with anaemia become tired and weak because their blood does not transport enough oxygen.

Water and dietary fibre

Water and dietary fibre (roughage) are also important components in the diet.

Water

Water being poured from a bottle into a glass
Water is found in drinks and food

About two-thirds of the human body is water. It is found in the cytoplasm of our cells and in body fluids like blood.

Sources of water include:

  • food
  • drinks
  • metabolic processes, such as aerobic respiration

Dietary fibre

A bowl of cranberry granola cereal
Wholegrain cereals are a good source of dietary fibre

Dietary fibre consists of material in food that cannot be digested, in particular cellulose from plant cell walls.

Sources of fibre include:

  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • cereals

Dietary fibre is important because it provides bulk, which helps the walls of the intestine move food and faeces along the gut. Lack of dietary fibre can lead to constipation.