Six years ago, the world committed to the goal of ending all forms of malnutrition by 2030 as part of ending hunger and food insecurity. However, there is still nothing to write home about since lots of people cannot access a balanced diet.
Many people still cannot access safe, nutritious, and sufficient food throughout the year, and malnutrition is still a perpetual topic.
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), up to 3 billion people do not get healthy diets. This is a challenge, especially since the need for a balanced diet cannot be emphasized enough.
This article explains the principles of a balanced diet. It is a guide for eating healthy for most people. However, the general advice may apply only to a certain group of people that excludes pregnant women, people with pre-existing heart diseases, or individuals under prescribed or special dietary needs.
What is a Balanced Diet?
Every person needs a balanced diet for the role it plays in providing energy and nutrients required for survival and staying healthy. Combined with an active lifestyle, a balanced diet has a plethora of benefits including the reduction of risks for certain long-term diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke, as well as obesity.
Eating a balanced diet means consuming a wide variety of foods in the right amounts and proportions to maintain a healthy physique that allows the body to function optimally and at its best.
In a nutshell, a balanced diet can be said to be a complete diet since it consists of the right proportions of vitamins, minerals, essential nutrients, and the optimal number of calories ideal for your body’s makeup.
What Constitutes a Balanced Diet?
The daily nutritional requirements for any individual should be sourced from five food groups that include proteins, vegetables, fruits, grains, and dairy. Different food groups provide the human body with the needed number of calories required to sustain daily activities.
However, this must be done in moderation since consuming more calories than the body demands will lead to unintentional weight gain. This is because the extra calories are stored in the body as fats.
The human body functions better if your daily food intake contains different nutrients from the five food groups. Excluding one or more of the different nutrients provided by these foods may hurt your body.
For example, if you cut starchy carbohydrates from your diet, your intake of B vitamins and dietary fiber may decrease.
Here are the five food groups:
The nutritious value of vegetables includes the provision of essential vitamins, fiber, minerals, and antioxidants. There is a wide range of vegetables which includes legumes such as peas and beans; leafy greens such as spinach, collard greens, and broccoli; starchy vegetables such as potatoes, and others including red or orange vegetables.
For a balanced diet, your body needs vegetables from any of these subgroups every week to satisfy the different nutrient requirements.
You can consume these vegetables raw, boiled, or lightly fried. Remember, however, that for some cooked vegetables, the nutritional value is lost. Similarly, deep frying vegetables is not recommended.
That said, you should always ensure that a third of your daily food intake is made up of vegetables. You can use them as a salad, soup base, a side dish, and more.
Just like vegetables, fruits contain lots of vitamins, fiber, minerals, and antioxidants – they should, therefore, be included in your daily diet. The best part about them is that they provide tasty deserts, salads, freshly squeezed juices, smoothies, and more.
Fruits contain natural sugars, and it is recommended that you eat whole fruit instead of juice. This is because compared to whole fruit, juices do not contain all the nutrients.
During processing, fruit sugars are added, and these are empty calories that fill your stomach with no nutritional value. As such, it is recommended that you visit your local grocery or fruit vendor for a fresh supply. This is better than having canned or frozen fruits.
Grains are available as a whole – with all the three parts including the nutritious outer layer, the germ, and the endosperm still attached; or as refined grains where some of their nutrients are stripped.
Whole grains are rich in dietary fiber, iron, B vitamins, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and selenium. These nutrients are mostly lacking in refined grains.
Eating whole grains allows the body to break down its components conveniently keeping blood sugars within the optimal levels. And since they are minimally processed, whole grains provide a range of health benefits including lowering the risks of chronic diseases such as diabetes among others.
Luckily, there are myriads of whole grains to choose from. Whole barley, spelled, corn, quinoa, whole wheat, brown rice, millet, and whole oats among others are some of the suitable choices to include in your meals for a balanced diet.
Try as much to swap refined grains such as white rice, bread, and pasta from your diet for these alternatives if you want to maintain a healthy diet and life. Aim for at least a quarter of your plate to contain whole grains.
A balanced diet isn’t complete without proteins. It should, like whole grains, constitute about a quarter of your serving. This food group is ideal for building and maintaining muscle mass, growth and development, and other fundamental functions in the human body.
To enjoy a wide array of the nutrients in proteins, it is recommended that you have unprocessed meat. The refined types contain additives such as preservatives and added salts.
Apart from meat, you can also enjoy proteins from plant-based sources. These are largely found in legumes such as beans. It, however, doesn’t contain minerals such as zinc and iron, or vitamin B12 contained in meat.
Nonetheless, you should ensure that your body contains enough proteins for healthy growth – and while preparing meat, ensure that it is thoroughly cooked to rid it of any contamination source.
Dairy products are ideal for building strong bones. They contain calcium which facilitates this process. They are also great alternatives for vitamins and proteins.
It is highly commendable that you choose low-fat dairy or go with dairy-free milk, which includes nut and soya milk. Should you desire to consume these alternatives, however, it is important to choose the unsweetened varieties fortified with calcium.
These other sources are ideal for people who are lactose intolerant. Consequently, people on a vegan diet can consume these alternatives as well as oats, coconut, flaxseed, and almond milk.
Why the Need for a Balanced Diet?
A balanced diet typically consists of all the aforementioned food groups. They constitute a nutrient-dense serving with whole grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy, proteins, and vitamins.
Following this diet, or simply eating healthy has a wide of benefits that contribute to having strong bones, a healthy heart, and a boosted immune system among others.
Here are the benefits in detail:
a) Promotes a Healthy Heart
Heart disease is among the top 10 causes of death in the world. The leading cause of death in adults in this regard is cardiovascular disease. This is why hypertension is a growing concern among populations across the globe. It can cause a heart attack, heart failure, or stroke.
One of the causes of this condition, as identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) is the nutritional conditions of people.
Some resources point out that it is possible to prevent up to 80% of premature heart disease and stroke diagnoses through lifestyle changes including regular exercise and healthy eating.
Consuming plenty of vegetables, whole grains, and fruits is one of the ways recommended by the DASH diet. This program also advises one to opt for low-fat dairy products, limit foods and drinks with added sugars, and restrict sodium intake.
Foods high in dietary fiber are also crucial for keeping your heart healthy. Similarly, limiting certain types of fat in your meals can prevent illnesses such as coronary heart disease. Salt intake must also be limited to reduce blood sugar.
b) Reduces risk of cancer
Antioxidants help the body remove free radicals that increase the risk of cancer. As such, it is recommended that you consume foods that contain antioxidants to help protect your body cells from damage.
Most of the phytochemicals contained in nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes serve as antioxidants. Foods rich in antioxidants include berries, dark leafy greens, seeds and nuts, carrots, and pumpkins.
Being obese increases one’s a risk of developing cancer. This is why it is always recommended that a person maintains a moderate weight to minimize the risk. A diet rich in fruits reduces the risk of getting upper gastrointestinal tract cancers.
Also, a balanced diet with enough vegetables, fruits, and fiber reduces the risk of colorectal cancer the same way dietary fiber helps you lower the risk of getting liver cancer.
c) Improves your gut health
Diets high in sugars and fat and low in fiber affect your gut’s microbiome, which leads to inflammations. Your colon contains naturally occurring bacteria that facilitate metabolism and digestion. These strains help fight viruses and harmful bacteria.
Vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains output a combination of probiotics and prebiotics that are good for your gut. Probiotics can be obtained from yogurt, kefir, miso, and kimchi, among other fermented foods.
Prebiotics can be sourced from legumes, grains, veggies, and fruits. They help promote regular and optimal bowel movements.
d) Improves your memory
A balanced diet may help your brain function better and maintain cognition. In 2015, a study concluded that nutrients and foods that safeguard your cognitive ability can be obtained from sources with vitamins D, C, and E; omega-3 fatty acids, flavonoids, polyphenols, and fish.
e) Good for weight loss
Maintaining a healthy weight can help you reduce eliminate the chances of getting heart disease, type 2 diabetes, poor bone density, and some cancers.
Sticking to a balanced diet is one way of staying free from being obese. This is because many healthy foods including fruits, vegetables, and legumes are lower in calories than most of the processed foods bought at fast-food joints.
With a balanced diet, you don’t have to monitor your calorie intake, as is the case with many fast foods. It is enough the help you maintain a healthy weight.
Lean proteins and dietary fiber help you achieve weight loss without the need for counting how much you consume.
People with diabetes can benefit from eating healthy and thereby managing their blood glucose levels while keeping their blood pressure in check and cholesterol within optimum levels.
A balanced diet also helps in preventing or delaying complications of diabetes while maintaining a healthy weight.
Diabetic individuals need to reduce their sugar intake and foods with added salt. The same goes for fried foods filled with saturated and trans fats.
Certain foods like dairy contain calcium, which is good for the growth and the development of strong bones. Magnesium is equally important for strong bones and teeth. Ensuring that your bones are healthy keeps you safe from bone issues such as osteoporosis.
Foods rich in calcium include dairy (with low fat), cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, tofu, legume, and canned fish with bones.
Magnesium, on the other hand, is abundantly found in various foods with some of the best and ready sources being leafy greens.
These are not the only benefits of having a balanced diet. Eating healthy has also been linked to people’s improved moods, getting a good night’s sleep, and helping children develop a healthy diet by learning from parents. Top of Form
To enjoy a wide range of all these benefits, aim for the above food groups and note the changes. That said, here are some quick tips for eating healthy:
Quick tips for having a balanced diet
These are small but helpful ways of improving your diet:
- Replace soda and other soft drinks with water or herbal tea
- Swap refined grains for whole grains
- Aim for at least 50% of fresh produce in your meals
- Have whole fruits instead of juice
- Abandon processed meats
- Consume more lean proteins such as those found in fish, eggs, and nuts.
A balanced diet has a range of benefits that stretch from reducing cancer risks to keeping heart diseases at bay. It can also help you sleep better, perform better, and of course, become more energetic. It should be everyone’s priority, and you should aim for at least portions of foods in the listed food groups.
For those with pre-existing medical conditions, it is always recommended that you let your doctor or dietician provide you with tips on how your diet should look like.