Eating a Balanced Diet: What It Is and How to Do It
Eating a balanced diet is one of the best ways to maintain good health and prevent chronic diseases. A balanced diet provides your body with the nutrients it needs to function properly and support your physical and mental well-being. But what exactly is a balanced diet and how can you achieve it? In this article, we will answer these questions and share some practical tips on how to eat a balanced diet.
What Is a Balanced Diet?
A balanced diet is a way of eating that includes a variety of foods from different food groups in the right proportions and amounts. A balanced diet should provide you with enough calories, protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water for your needs. A balanced diet should also be low in added sugars, salt, saturated fats, and trans fats, which can harm your health. 1
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a balanced diet should consist of the following food groups: 2
- Fruits, vegetables, legumes (such as beans and lentils), nuts, and whole grains (such as oats, brown rice, and quinoa). These foods are rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that can protect against various diseases. You should aim for at least 400 grams (or five portions) of fruits and vegetables per day, excluding starchy roots such as potatoes and cassava.
- Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products (such as milk, cheese, and yogurt), or plant-based alternatives (such as soy products, tofu, and tempeh). These foods are high in protein, which is essential for building and repairing tissues, making hormones and enzymes, and supporting your immune system. You should choose lean cuts of meat and poultry and remove visible fat and skin. You should also limit your intake of red meat (such as beef, pork, and lamb) to no more than 500 grams per week and avoid processed meats (such as bacon, ham, sausages, and salami), which can increase your risk of cancer. 3 You should aim for at least two servings of fish per week, preferably oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and herring), which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that can benefit your heart and brain. 4 You should also consume moderate amounts of dairy products or plant-based alternatives that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, which are important for your bones and teeth. 5
- Healthy oils and spreads (such as olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, avocado oil, and nut butters). These foods provide healthy fats that are needed for your cell membranes, hormone production, nerve function, and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). You should choose oils and spreads that are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids and low in saturated and trans fatty acids. You should also limit your intake of butter, lard, coconut oil, palm oil, margarine, shortening, and fried foods, which are high in saturated and trans fatty acids and can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
- You should aim for no more than 30% of your total calorie intake from fats or about 0.8 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.
A balanced diet should also include plenty of fluids, especially water. Water is essential for every function in your body, including digestion, absorption, transportation, circulation, excretion, temperature regulation, and lubrication. It also helps prevent dehydration, which can impair your physical and mental performance and increase your risk of kidney stones and urinary tract infections. You should aim for at least 2 liters of water per day or more if you exercise or sweat a lot. You should choose plain water or water infused with fruits or herbs. You should avoid or limit sugary drinks, such as sodas, juices, sports drinks, and energy drinks. These drinks can add extra calories and sugar to your diet and increase your risk of obesity and diabetes.
How to Eat a Balanced Diet Eating a balanced diet may seem challenging or confusing at first, but it does not have to be complicated or restrictive. You can eat a balanced diet by following some simple tips:
Eat a variety of foods from each food group every day. This will ensure that you get all the nutrients you need and prevent boredom and cravings. Try to include different colors, textures, flavors, and shapes of foods in your meals and snacks. For example, you can have a salad with leafy greens, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, chickpeas, cheese, and nuts for lunch; a stir-fry with chicken, broccoli, mushrooms, peppers, brown rice, and soy sauce for dinner; and a yogurt with berries and granola for dessert.
Eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day. This will help you control your appetite and blood sugar levels and prevent overeating or skipping meals. Try to eat at least three main meals and one or two healthy snacks per day. Space them out evenly and do not go longer than four hours without eating. For example, you can have breakfast at 8 am; a snack at 10 am; lunch at 12 pm; a snack at 3 pm; dinner at 6 pm; and another snack at 8 pm if you are hungry.
Watch your portion sizes. This will help you avoid eating too much or too little of any food group or nutrient. You can use your hand as a guide to estimate appropriate portion sizes for different foods. For example:
- A fist is about one cup or one serving of fruits, vegetables, grains, or dairy products.
- A palm is about three ounces or one serving of meat, poultry, fish, or tofu.
- A thumb is about one tablespoon or one serving of oils or spreads.
- A fingertip is about one teaspoon or one serving of sugar or salt. You can also use smaller plates, bowls, cups, or utensils to help you control your portions. Alternatively, you can use food labels or apps to track the amount and calories of the foods you eat.
Limit your intake of foods that are high in calories, sugar, salt, saturated fats, or trans fats. These foods include cakes, cookies, pastries, candy, chocolate, ice cream, chips, fries, pizza, burgers, hot dogs, bacon, ham, sausages, salami, butter, lard, coconut oil, palm oil, margarine, shortening, fried foods, sodas, juices, sports drinks, energy drinks, alcohol, etc. These foods can contribute to weight gain and body fat accumulation and increase your risk of various diseases. They can also displace other nutritious foods from your diet. You do not have to avoid these foods completely but have them less often and in small amounts.
For example, you can have a slice of cake or a glass of wine once in a while as a treat or on special occasions. 11 Conclusion Eating a balanced diet is one of the best ways to maintain good health and prevent chronic diseases. A balanced diet provides your body with the nutrients it needs to function properly and support your physical and mental well-being. A balanced diet consists of a variety of foods from different food groups in the right proportions and amounts. A balanced diet should also be low in added sugars, salt, saturated fats, or trans fats.