We have been through the basics of eating a balanced diet since enjoying the primary school days. Yet, how many of us really adhere (or at least try) to a balanced diet? Unless adversity (in the form of ill health) gives warning signals, we can have a long list of excuses to take health for granted.
Learning, as eating a balanced diet, should come spontaneously and not through forceful tools. Most of us have been gifted with a healthy body which should be preserved through simple efforts and healthy choices. What we eat today is certainly going to impact us tomorrow (and today as well).
A balanced diet consists of energy giving, body building and protective foods. With ample food choices around us, all we have to do is to choose wisely among these to get the most out of them. Eating should be for the body, not against it. Here is a brief summary of various useful components of eating a balanced diet.
Main Elements of a Balanced Diet
Energy Giving Food
Since you need energy to do every day activities, you should be very careful while choosing energy giving foods. These foods should constitute one-third of your diet which can mainly be in the form of carbohydrates.
Unrefined carbohydrates, which contain the whole of grain, are better options than refined carbohydrates. Wholegrain foods, which are high in fiber and other nutrients, provide many healthy outcomes for the body like reducing risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Bread, rice, potatoes and pasta are some of the main constituents of this group of food. It is very important to restrict quantity when consuming energy giving food, as this makes way for the more important food categories – body building and protective food.
Food high in fat and/or sugar should constitute the smallest portion of your diet. Even though these foods provide important energy for the body, they are poor in nutrients and are often known to provide ’empty calories’.
Food can be rich in unhealthy components like saturated fat, trans fatty acids, sugar and salt. Since these are associated with an increased risk of developing several diseases, occasional treats in this category of food can be acceptable. They can be used to increase the palpability of other food items like a sprinkling of sugar on tart fruits.
Body Building Food
The starchy foods like bread, cereals, pasta, maize and cornbread form an important part of a balanced diet, being a good source of energy and the major source of various nutrients in our diet. Wholegrain varieties, such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta and other food items containing fiber (roughage) can be good sources of vitamins and minerals.
Beans, lentils and peas are also good sources of fiber. Milk and dairy food items are also body building foods; these should, however, be taken in limited quantity owing to their saturated fat content.
Since these are essentially important for providing a variety of nutrients (like calcium for healthy bones), they should not be compromised with. To keep the fat intake under check, you can switch to the low-fat versions of the dairy products.
Meat and fish, which provide animal proteins, have an important role in the body in terms of growth and repair. Meat also provides vitamins and minerals, and is the primary source of vitamin B12. When consuming meat, cook it thoroughly. Prefer lean cuts and skinless poultry to restrict fat intake.
Fish provides several vitamins and minerals; the oily ones are particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids. You may have two portions of fish distributed over a week and chosen from fresh, frozen or canned varieties. However, canned and smoked fish can provide more salt and should be taken with care.
This category also includes eggs, pulses, nuts and seeds. These are great sources of protein and fiber. Although these have high levels of fat, they can be used as a good alternative to ‘unhealthy snacks’. Plant protein is also important for the body and should be obtained from vegetarian sources.
Fruit and vegetables are the main sources of protective food which are vital sources of vitamins and minerals for body. Eating five portions of various fruits and vegetables every day is a significant part of a balanced diet. Protective food can protect us from a variety of illnesses including obesity, heart disease and cancer.
Fruits and vegetables can easily fit into vivid recipes; eat a banana with the morning cereal or add a salad to your lunch. Besides adding a portion of vegetables to dinner, you can also snack on dried fruit. It is not difficult to make fruits and vegetables a third of your daily diet. They provide unique nutrients and plant compounds and can serve as the first choice for a snack.
Food Which May not be a Good Choice for Balancing Diet
With so many food choices, distinguishing between a ‘good’ food and a ‘not-so-good’ food can be difficult and confusing. Generally, we know what to eat and categorized as ‘good’ food. There are some food and drinks which should either be consumed to the minimum or not consumed at all.
Saturated fat, found in cheese, butter, cakes, biscuits, etc, can raise blood cholesterol level and the risk of heart disease. Food high in saturated fat should be restricted. Trans fat is another fat to be avoided to prevent high cholesterol and keep the body healthy.
Naturally occurring sugar, such as in fruits and milk, may not be harmful and you need not cut down on these. Added sugar, which can be found in sugary fizzy drinks, chocolate, pastries, jam and pasta sauces, should be avoided.
Some Basics of Arriving at a Balanced Diet
It is recommended to eat lesser food than you feel hungry or can actually eat. The idea is not to burden yourself with so much eating that your body cannot utilize it for good. When there is an imbalance between calorie intake and calorie burnt, you get an imbalance in the body. Excessive calorie intake can cause weight gain, which is a harbinger of a host of many other outcomes (mostly unfavorable for the body).
Create a colorful palate by including the greens, oranges, and yellows. Broccoli, citrus fruits and carrots are some ingredients of a colorful palate. They provide antioxidants and nutrients which can keep your body protected from the ever attacking ‘invaders’.
Portion size is another important part of a balanced diet. Keep portion size moderate, particularly when consuming high-calorie food items. This can be really tricky when dining out. Keep company when dining out or choose a starter when you plan to eat out.
It is important to have variety in eating for getting diversified nutrition from food sources. Many of us eat more than required instead of eating correctly. This can be major factor behind excess weight and related illnesses including diabetes and heart disease. Changing habits is not an overnight job. Give yourself time and motivation for making healthy choices in living.