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The Art of a Balanced Diet

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In today’s fast-paced world, where convenience often trumps nutrition, understanding the role of
nutrients in our diet is more critical than ever. A nutrient-dense diet not only fuels the body but
also supports overall well-being, enhances energy levels, and reduces the risk of chronic
diseases. Consuming a healthy diet throughout the life-course helps to prevent malnutrition in all
its forms as well as a range of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and conditions. However,
increased production of processed foods, rapid urbanization and changing lifestyles has led to a
shift in dietary patterns. People are now consuming more foods high in energy, fats, free sugars
and salt/sodium, and many people do not eat enough fruit, vegetables and other dietary fiber such
as whole grains.


What is a Balanced Diet?
A balanced diet provides the necessary nutrients our body needs to function correctly. It includes
a variety of foods in the right proportions to supply macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats)
and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). To get the nutrition we need, most of our daily
calories should come from, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, lean
proteins.

The number of calories in a food refers to the amount of energy stored in that food. Our body
uses calories from food for walking, thinking, breathing, and other important functions. The
average person needs about 2,000 calories every day to maintain their weight, but the amount
will depend on their age, sex, and physical activity level. Males tend to need more calories than
females, and people who exercise need more calories than people who don’t.
The source of our daily calories is also important. Foods that provide mainly calories and very
little nutrition are known as “empty calories.” Examples of foods that provide empty calories
include; cakes, cookies, and donuts, processed meats, energy drinks and sodas, fruit drinks with
added sugar, ice cream, chips and fries and pizza etc.
However, it’s not only the type of food but the ingredients that make it nutritious. To maintain
good health, it is better to limit our consumption of empty calories and instead try to get our
calories from foods that are rich in other nutrients.

The Pillars of a Balanced Diet

  1. Variety: Consuming a wide range of foods ensures that we get a broad spectrum of
    nutrients. Different foods provide different essential nutrients, so variety is key to
    covering all bases.
  2. Proportion: Balancing the amounts of different food groups is crucial. According to
    dietary guidelines, our plate should be half-filled with fruits and vegetables, a quarter
    with protein, and a quarter with grains, preferably whole grains.
  3. Moderation: While it’s important to eat a variety of foods, portion control is equally
    essential. Moderation helps in avoiding overconsumption of calories and nutrients, which
    can lead to health issues.

The Food Groups and Their Roles

  1. Fruits and Vegetables: Rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, they should make up a significant part of our diet. It is better to aim for a colorful array to ensure a range of nutrients.
  2. Proteins: Necessary for muscle repair and growth, proteins should be sourced from lean meats, fish, dairy, legumes, and nuts. Diversifying protein sources helps provide different essential amino acids.
  3. Grains: Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat provide sustained energy and fiber. They are preferable over refined grains, which can spike blood sugar levels and provide fewer nutrients.
  4. Dairy: Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt are important for bone health due to their high calcium and vitamin D content. Choose low-fat or fat-free options to reduce saturated fat intake.
  5. Fats: Healthy fats, such as those from avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, are vital for brain health and hormone production. Intake of saturated and trans fats should be limited to protect heart health.

Why a balanced diet is important?

A balanced diet supplies the nutrients our body needs to work effectively. Without balanced nutrition, our body is more prone to disease, infection, fatigue, and low performance.

Children who don’t get enough healthy foods may face growth and developmental problems, poor academic performance, and frequent infections. They can also develop unhealthy eating habits that may persist into adulthood. Without exercise, they’ll also have a higher risk of obesity and various diseases that make up metabolic syndrome, such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 4 of the top 10 leading causes of death directly linked to diet. These are heart disease, cancer, stroke, type 2 diabetes.

Benefits of a Balanced Diet

  1. Improved Energy Levels: A balanced diet provides a steady supply of energy, helping to avoid the highs and lows associated with sugar and caffeine spikes.
  2. Better Mental Health: Nutrient-rich foods support brain function, potentially improving mood and cognitive function. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and flaxseeds, are particularly beneficial.
  3. Weight Management: By focusing on nutrient-dense foods and proper portion sizes, a balanced diet helps in maintaining a healthy weight.
  4. Reduced Risk of Chronic Diseases: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats can lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.

Practical Tips for a Balanced Diet

  1. Plan Our Meals: Create a weekly meal plan to ensure variety and balance. This can help avoid last-minute, unhealthy choices.
  2. Snack Smart: Opt for healthy snacks like fruits, nuts, and yogurt instead of processed snacks high in sugar and unhealthy fats.
  3. Hydrate: Drink plenty of water throughout the day and limit sugary drinks and excessive caffeine.
  4. Mindful Eating: Pay attention to what and how much we eat. Eating slowly and savoring our food can help with portion control and digestion.
  5. Cook at Home: Preparing meals at home allows us to control the ingredients and portion sizes, leading to healthier choices.

Certain life stages and conditions may require tailored dietary adjustments:

  • Pregnancy: Higher needs for folic acid, iron, and calcium.
  • Aging: Increased requirements for calcium and vitamin D for bone health.
  • Active Lifestyles: Greater needs for proteins and carbohydrates for energy and muscle repair.

Achieving a balanced diet is an ongoing process that involves making informed choices and listening to our body’s needs. By incorporating a variety of nutrient-rich foods in appropriate proportions, we can support our overall health and well-being. Remember, small, consistent changes can lead to significant long-term benefits. Start today and embrace the journey to a healthier us.

References:-

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Healthy Eating Plate & Healthy Eating Pyramid.”

https://www.healthline.com/health/balanced-diet#putting-it-together

Mayo Clinic. “Dietary fats: Know which types to choose.”

National Institutes of Health. “Vitamins and Minerals: How to Get What You Need.” World Health Organization. “Healthy diet.” https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/healthy-diet

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