tomatoes, cous cous and coriander salad

We’re told all the time that we should have a healthy, varied and balanced diet, but to a lot of people that doesn't mean much. With so much food available, all of which have different benefits and drawbacks, it may seem hard to work out what a balanced diet looks like. As Jamie and I found out while making Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals, it’s actually quite simple.

In the UK, foods belong to one of five food groups: fruit and vegetables, starchy carbohydrates (e.g. bread, rice and pasta), protein (e.g. meat, fish and eggs), milk and dairy foods, and food and drinks high in fat and/or sugar. In a typical meal we should aim for one-third fruit and vegetables and one-third carbohydrates, with the final one-third split between protein, dairy and a small amount of foods high in fat and/or sugar. For Jamie’s Fifteen Minute Meals we created around 100 balanced meals. Even though it was easier than we thought it would be, it made us think twice about the food and come up with new ideas and recipes to balance things out. The result was a cookbook healthy enough to use every day.

To get a little more technical, each different food group offers a unique health benefit.  Fruit and vegetables are a great source of vitamins, minerals and fibre, which your body needs to stay strong and healthy. Carbohydrates are our main source of energy, and it’s better to eat wholegrain (sometimes called wholemeal or whole-wheat) bread, rice and pasta, because research has shown they reduce the risk of heart disease, strokes, cancer and obesity. Protein-rich foods help us with growth and repair.  Dairy foods, such as cheese and milk, are essential for strong bones and healthy teeth.  We shouldn’t eat much of the final food group of fatty and sugary foods, because they are high in calories and contain very few nutrients.

By eating a wide range of different foods, you’ll stand a greater chance of getting all the nutrients you need and maintaining a healthy weight and general wellbeing, and if you use good-quality ingredients and cook them healthily – the best ways being to bake, steam or grill – just this rule can vastly improve your diet.

About the author

Laura Matthews

Laura is head of nutrition at Jamie Oliver. Her passion for food comes from having cooking lessons at a local college from the age of 10, and the nutrition side from a fascination for how the right foods can fuel the body.

Laura Matthews