From childhood until we finish school, we have been taught about the concept of a balanced diet. We have been endlessly told that we must eat healthy to be healthy. But how do we become healthy with a balanced diet? What is a balanced diet, and what do we eat for a balanced diet? And why does it hold so much importance? Let’s dive deeper and find out.
A balanced diet is not a fad. It is not just another crash diet. It is an everyday system of ensuring that all the nutrients required for your body to function in a proper way are consumed. We are individuals with different amounts and types of nutritional requirements. Thus, a balanced diet is not the same for all individuals. What you need depends upon gender, age, weight, health, lifestyle, and the rate at which your body works. We can get all the nutrients from a planned yet normal diet.
A balanced diet maintains good health and growth. It keeps your body in its optimum condition. It comprises a range of foods to support your body. Consuming a balanced diet keeps you motivated, healthy, and energized.
What we consume daily counts as diet, and a balanced diet comprises all the nutrients in adequate quantities we need in a day. It includes six essential nutrients – Proteins, Vitamins, Fats, Carbohydrates, Roughage/Fiber, and Minerals and also Water. All these nutrients are present in the variety of food types we consume on an everyday basis. Different food items consist of different proportions of nutrients. The nutritional requirements vary from person to person, depending on their health, age, and gender.
Importance of Balanced Diet
According to Healthline, a balanced diet provides essential nutrients necessary for your body to function properly. Fulfilling the requisites of a balanced diet leads to robust physiological and psychological health. It helps your body grow optimally and increases your capacity to work. A balanced diet increases the ability to prevent and fight diseases.
In the absence of balanced nutrition, your body becomes susceptible to fatigue, exhaustion, infection, and diseases. Children who do not consume a healthy diet daily may face growth and developmental problems, frequent illness, and poor academic performance. They may also end up developing unhealthy eating habits persisting well into adulthood.
The absence of exercise increases the risk of obesity and makes you vulnerable to high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, Type-2 Diabetes, and Stroke. As per the Center for Science in the Public Interest, four out of the top ten leading causes of death in the US are directly linked to diet.
What You Should Eat For a Balanced Diet?
What is a balanced diet without a variety of food such as vegetables, fruits, grains, protein foods, dairy products, and oil?
They are rich in minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, starch, roughage, and healthy fats. Protein foods include eggs, meat, fish, nuts, beans, and legumes. Vegans follow a diet that focuses on plant-based food. They do not consume fish, meat, or dairy products, but their balanced diet includes food types that provide similar nourishment. Beans and tofu are excellent examples of plant-based proteins. Those who are lactose intolerant can still ensure a balanced consumption of food by choosing various nutrient-rich substitutes.
What Food Should You Avoid?
What is healthy for one person is not so for another. Whole wheat flour can suit some people but may not do so for gluten intolerants. However, certain types of food should be avoided or taken in moderation by all and sundry such as –
- refined grains
- highly processed foods
- red and processed meat
- added sugar and salt
- trans fats
Fresh, nutritious, and high on natural sugar, fruits make a tasty snack or dessert. Seasonal local fruits are refreshing and provide more nutrients than imported ones. Besides natural sweetness, fruits also provide fiber and other nutrients such as minerals, essential vitamins, and antioxidants. Low-sugar fruits such as watermelon, peach, orange, guava and more can be consumed by those suffering from Diabetes.
A key source of minerals, essential vitamins, and antioxidants are vegetables that come in a variety of colors. The dark leafy ones such as kale, spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, collard greens, and green beans are an excellent source of nutrients. Local, seasonal vegetables are easy to prepare in a salad, side dish, purees, smoothies, and juices.
While refined white flour is a significant component of baked food items such as bread, they have very little nutritional value. This is because the nutritional goodness is in the outer shell or the grain’s hull, which is removed during processing. On the contrary, whole grain products include the entire grain and its hull. It is a rich source of minerals, fiber, and vitamins. It is prudent to make a switch from pasta, rice, white bread to whole grains to maintain a healthy and balanced diet.
Beans and legumes are primary sources of protein for vegetarians. Meat is the principal source of animal protein. It is essential for wound healing, muscle maintenance, growth, and development. Proteins are either animal-based or plant-based.
Animal-based protein includes fish such as sardines, salmon, oily fish; poultry such as turkey and chicken; and red meat such as mutton and beef. According to research, red meats and processed meats contain salt and preservatives, increasing the risk of cancer and other high-risk diseases.
Plant-based protein such as nuts, lentils, beans, peas, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and soy products are a good source of fiber and nutrients. Tempeh, tofu, and other soy-based products are healthy meat alternatives and are an excellent source of protein that helps in maintaining a balanced diet.
Essential nutrients such as calcium, fat, Vitamin D, and proteins are found in dairy products. But if you want to limit your fat intake, you can opt for vegan milk, soy milk, or skimmed milk. Milk can also be extracted from cashew, almond, oats, flax seeds, coconut, and oats. Not only do they fulfill calcium requirements, but they also contain nutrients that contribute to a balanced diet.
6. Fats and Oils
An essential for cell health and energy, but too much consumption of fats and oils can increase calories well above the body requirement and lead to weight gain. Many research studies have found and recommended avoiding saturated fat due to concerns over raised levels of cholesterol. Recent research suggests replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat and its correlation with lowered risk of cardiovascular diseases. Recommendations on the type of fats to consume or avoid can be hard to follow. Hence, experts propose the following guidelines:
Fats to love: fish oils and vegetable oils
Fats to limit: cheese, butter, and heavy cream
Fats to lose: trans fats, as used in many processed foods, such as fried fast food and baked goods.
Most experts deem extra virgin olive oil to be a healthy fat as it is the least processed type. Deep-fried foods with high calories have low nutritional value and should be avoided or eaten sparingly.
Correlation of Diet and Weight
We are often told that if we eat fewer calories than our daily body requirement, we will lose weight, but if we eat more than what we need, it leads to weight gain. But this is not the complete picture. Our body has its sense of individual balance depending upon its ability to process food, known as metabolism. Some people burn more calories quickly while others don’t. This also defines how we all look. But it changes over time.
Some foods are healthily processed in our body, releasing sugars more slowly and containing fiber. While other foods with high salt content or saturated fats have cannot be processed quickly, affecting our health negatively, and leading to weight gain.
Calories and Lifestyle
The amount of calories we need per day varies from person to person, depending upon age, growth, metabolism, gender, pregnancy, lifestyle, work type (sedentary/physical) and body type. Factors such as genetics, body weight, hormone levels, height, illnesses can determine how much energy we need daily. Guidelines recommend 1800 – 2500 calories for men and 1600 -2000 for women on a daily basis to maintain a balanced diet.
Differences Within Nutrients
We are not told very often, but there is a substantial difference between healthy and less healthy dietary sources of nutrients, such as carbohydrates (carbs) and fats. Let us explore them here:
Carbohydrates: Simple vs. Complex
Most diets are based on carbs, making up half of the total calorie consumption. Carbs can be classified into simple (bad) carbs and complex (good) carbs.
Complex carbs such as brown rice, wholewheat flour, and pasta consist of larger chains of sugar molecules, taking longer to digest than processed grains. It keeps you full for longer and controls your appetite. They are a vital source of Vitamin-B, minerals, fiber, and energy. Refined complex carbs such as rice, white flour, and pasta get digested and absorbed more quickly by the body. They are an instant energy source but low on nutritional value and do not contribute to a balanced diet. Simple carbs can be natural in fructose found in fruits or refined in sweets, biscuits, and soft drinks.
Fat: Saturated and Unsaturated
Dietary fat is of the essence in the formation of healthy cells, hormones, and other molecules. It is a source of energy and energy storage. Fats are either saturated or unsaturated and have the same amount of calories but different health effects. Therefore, we need a balanced diet that incorporates different dietary fats to optimize our health and reduce risks.
Saturated fats impact our health negatively. They are found in hard cheese, butter, lard, fatty meat and meat products, suet, cream, palm, and coconut oil.
Unsaturated fats include monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and Omega 3 fats, which impact our health positively. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats exist in oils such as rapeseed, olive, and sunflower.
Omega-3 is naturally found in oily fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel.
Diet and Cholesterol
Fat and cholesterol are quite similar to each other. The body requires a certain amount of cholesterol to form the outside barrier of the cell membrane. It can be produced by the body as well as consumed through dietary sources. Absorption of dietary cholesterol is a complex process. Genetics elements can affect the level of cholesterol circulating in the blood. High cholesterol levels are associated with heart disease. But dietary changes can make a difference. Foods with more unsaturated fats increase HDL (good cholesterol) and lower LDL (bad cholesterol).
Dietary Fiber: Soluble and Insoluble
Dietary fiber can be classified into soluble and insoluble. A mixture of soluble and insoluble fiber is required for a healthy body.
Soluble fiber( potatoes, sweet potato) affects the absorption of other nutrients in the digestive system, while insoluble fiber ( oats, apples etc) is not metabolized and absorbs water. Soluble fiber balances intestinal pH levels and regulates blood sugar levels. Insoluble fiber, on the contrary, aids in digestion and fastens the passage of food through the digestive system.
Vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and minerals are chemical compounds and chemical elements, respectively and constitute a balanced diet. The body needs them in small quantities for a wide range of functions, and their deficiency is related to health complications. Unless you are deficient in a particular mineral or vitamin, you are unlikely to benefit from taking a supplement.
How to Promote a Healthy Diet
According to the World Health Organization, diet evolves. Social and economic factors such as income, food prices, individual preferences and beliefs, geographical and environmental aspects, climate, cultural traditions, and more shape an individual’s dietary patterns.
Therefore, promoting a healthy and balanced diet in a diverse environment holds a lot of importance. Governments, public and private stakeholders have a pivotal role in creating an environment that enables people to adopt healthy dietary practices.
For creating a healthy food environment, effective action points must include –
- Creating coherent national policies including trade, food, and agricultural policies for promoting a healthy, balanced diet.
- Encouraging consumer demand by promoting consumer awareness, educating children, adolescents, and adults about nutrition, a well-balanced diet, and healthy dietary practices.
- Promoting and supporting breastfeeding in health services and implementing practices to protect working mothers
Benefits of a Balanced Diet
- Vitamins and minerals are vital to promoting growth and development and boost immunity.
- Opting for an adequate and varied diet constitutes a healthy lifestyle.
- A balanced diet protects the human body against diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and skeletal conditions.
- It enriches us to experiment with cuisines from different cultures and origins, with a different preparation style.
- Consuming a diverse range of foods also has emotional benefits, as different colors and variety are essential ingredients of a balanced diet.
General Guidelines for Eating Healthy
For maintaining optimum health, your body needs nutrient-rich food and regular physical exercise. If you want to introduce drastic lifestyle changes and adopt a more balanced diet, you need to understand some basics to get started.
- Never skip your meals. Never give your breakfast a skip.
- Eat five portions of vegetables and whole fruits every single day.
- Healthy eating doesn’t imply it has to be complicated. Learn more straightforward ways to prepare your meals.
- Consume fruits, salads, and vegetable juices.
- Stop when you feel full.
- Focus on the pleasure of eating.
- Keep yourself hydrated throughout the day.
- Make your menu diverse by including a variety of food items.
- Include cereals and pulse in your diet.
- Keep a supply of healthy snacks handy. This will prevent you from binging on an unhealthy snack when hungry.
- Limit your caffeine, sugar, and alcohol intake.
- Include two portions of fish on the menu per week.
- Limit eating out to once a week.
- Eat what is tasty for you. Don’t force yourself to eat something you don’t like just because it is healthy.
- Exercise for at least 150 minutes per week.