Sometimes we eat because we enjoy the taste and experience of different foods. Other than for pleasure, we need food to get nutrients, vitamins, minerals and energy.
Eating well does not have to be complicated; if you live a healthy lifestyle and eat a balanced diet you are well on the way to a better life. For proper body functioning and to meet all the nutrient requirements necessary for good health, your diet has to be balanced. A healthy diet is good for your physical and mental health. It can reduce the risk and severity of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, depression and cancer. A healthy eating plan gives your body the nutrients it needs every day while staying within your daily calorie goal for weight loss. A healthy eating plan also will lower your risk for heart disease and other health conditions.
While trying to maintain a balanced diet, you should also be mindful of your calorie intake. 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 sources of your daily calories are also important. To maintain a healthy diet, you should eat less or totally avoid foods that provide mainly calories and very little nutrition, otherwise known as “empty calories.” Examples of these foods include cakes, cookies, donuts, processed meats, energy drinks and sodas, fruit drinks with added sugar, ice cream, chips and fries, etc. To maintain good health, limit your consumption of empty calories and instead try to get your calories from foods that are rich in other nutrients.
Why a balanced diet is important
A balanced diet supplies the nutrients your body needs to work effectively. Without balanced nutrition, your 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.
The following are some of the benefits of following a balanced diet plan:
- It helps to prevent diseases and infections: eating the full range of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients will help improve your immune system to prevent a number of diseases.
- Weight loss: eating a balanced diet will help you control your weight and maintain it over time. No matter the weight loss diet you are currently on, a balanced diet is still the key to healthily control your weight in the long term.
- It helps in growth: a balanced diet is essential for children and adolescents; for build up of cells and proper body development.
- It improves your mental health: with the right mix of nutrients, your mental health will definitely get better.
- Better skin and hair: eating the right foods contribute to healthy skin and hair; and can make you look younger.
What to eat for a balanced diet
A balanced diet gives your body the nutrients it needs to function correctly. In simple terms, it means choosing a variety of foods from the different food groups – specifically: vegetables and fruits; protein (meat, fish, eggs, beans, soy); dairy (low-fat milk, cheese, yogurt); carbohydrates (starchy foods like rice, pasta, potatoes and bread); and a small quantity of healthy fats such as the unsaturated fat from olive oil. Water is also very important to keep hydrated and to help your body function better.
Fruits are sources of many essential nutrients including potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C, and folate (folic acid). Eating fruit provides a number of health benefits — people who eat more fruits and vegetables as part of an overall healthy diet are likely to have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases. Fruits provide nutrients vital for health and maintenance of your body and boost the body’s supply of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
The sugar contained in fruits is natural; thus they are less likely to cause a sugar spike. However, if you have diabetes, your doctor or dietitian can advise you on which fruits to choose, how much to eat, and when.
Eating vegetables every day is important for health. They provide essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, such as antioxidants and fiber. According to research, people who eat the most vegetables have the lowest risk of many diseases, including cancer and heart disease. Dark, leafy greens including spinach, kale, green beans, broccoli, collard and greens are an excellent source of many nutrients. You can prepare your vegetables as a side dish, roasted with a splash of olive oil, with soups or stews, as salad or in juices and smoothies.
Refined white flour is commonly used in making bread and other baked foods; but it has limited nutritional value because the nutritious hull of the grain is removed during processing. Whole grain products include the entire grain and the hull. Whole grains are packed with nutrients including protein, fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, and trace minerals (iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium). A diet rich in whole grains has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer.
Your body needs protein to stay healthy and work the way it should; eating plenty of protein has numerous benefits for weight loss, muscle gain and general metabolic health. Healthy animal-based options include: red meats (beef and mutton), poultry (chicken and turkey) and fish (salmon, sardines, and other healthy sources).
It is also important to know that processed meats and red meats may increase the risk of cancer and other diseases. Plant-based protein includes nuts, beans, lentils, peas, almonds, sunflower seeds and walnuts.
Dairy products are important for building healthy bones and for maintaining a healthy weight. Dairy products are also healthy for your teeth and gums by reducing your risk for gum disease. Dairy products are high in calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, magnesium, zinc; they also provide essential nutrients, including protein, calcium and vitamin D.
Fats and oils
Fat is essential for energy and cell health; good fats come mainly from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish. Too much fat can however increase calories above what the body needs and may lead to weight gain. Choose healthy fats like vegetable oils and fish oils; limit your intake of fats like butter, cheese, and heavy cream; and avoid trans fats used in many processed and premade foods. Deep fried foods are often high in calories but low in nutritional value, so you should eat them in small quantities.
A healthy diet should be a combination of all the nutrients and foods groups mentioned above, but you need to balance them in the right proportions. This will help you lose weight easily. Opting for a balanced, adequate and varied diet is an important step towards a happy and healthy lifestyle.