You’ve probably heard the term balanced diet before, but what does it really mean? Basically it’s, “A diet consisting of a variety of different types of food and providing adequate amounts of the nutrients necessary for good health”.
That’s why I disagree with diets that cut out or demonize Nutrient groups. For a balanced diet you need seven things. Adequate amounts of Carbohydrate, Fat, Protein, Vitamins, Minerals, and water. Something most people don’t realise that it’s not essential that you include all seven of these things in every meal or snack!
The exact amount of each Nutrient required for a balanced diet is different for every person and generally depends on age, gender, activity level, weight, and height. This is the same for overall caloric needs which is why it’s important to calculate you own Nutritional needs based on these measurements and lifestyle answers.
General Nutrition Recommendations for Essential Nutrients (Adults)
- Carbohydrates – 45-65% of overall daily calories should come from carbohydrates
- Fat /lipids – 0.8g of Protein for every Kg of bodyweight
- Carbohydrates – 20-35% of overall daily calories should come from carbohydrates
- Dietary Fibre – 25 – 38g fibre/day
- Water – 1200-2000mls/day
You’re probably looking at those recommendations and thinking “I have no idea if I’m getting those amounts of Nutrients daily!” Don’t worry! This blog should help make having a balanced diet a bit less complicated, because Nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated!
How To Have A Balanced Diet
- First, don’t use fruit and vegetables as a ‘side dish’. Make them the main star of the dish when you can! There are so many ways to include fruit and vegetables in your diet. Soups, curries, stews, casseroles, chillies, pasta sauce, fajitas and wraps, salads, the list goes on. I’m not saying you must go 100% Vegan but having a more plant-based diet has many health benefits. It will also ensure you’re getting plenty of essential Vitamins, Minerals and Antioxidants. Recommendations are 5-7 portions of fruit and vegetables (3-4 of vegetables and 2-3 of fruit). You can always have more than 7 portions, so a good way is to fill half you plate at main meals with vegetables and choosing fruit and vegetables for snacks.
- Get enough Fibre. Western diets don’t include nearly enough Fibre. Fibre can be found in wholegrain Carbohydrates like brown bread, rice, and pasta. Fruit and vegetables. Nuts & seeds. Fibre is essential for a healthy Gut and scientists are now finding out that the Gut is closely connected to the brain. This is effects more than our digestive health It effects our mood, cognitive function, food cravings we have, how well we cope with stress, how well we sleep and so on. You should aim for at least 25g of fibre per day. If you tend to have a very low fibre diet increase slowly. You also need to make sure you drink enough water when you increase fibre.
- Try to stick to lean protein sources. That means foods with low amounts of saturated fats. These include foods such as fish, shellfish, chicken without the skin, turkey without the skin, eggs, legumes (peas, beans, and lentils), tofu and other soya-based products, nuts & seeds. Red meat and dairy are ok in small amounts, especially red meat which is quite high in saturated fats.
- Fat is not bad for you! Fat is an essential nutrient, but it’s important to know which is the right kind. We want mainly unsaturated fat, especially polyunsaturated Omega 3 fats. You get unsaturated fats from oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, trout), avocados, oils like olive oil, rapeseed oil, corn oil etc. Nuts & seeds. Saturated fats are found in fast food, deep fried foods, cakes, buns, chocolate, ice-cream, cream, butter, lard, coconut oil, palm oil.
- Water is very much underestimated in its importance. Your body is 60% water. You can survive without food for 3 weeks but can only survive without water for 3 days! You should drink at least 8 glasses (1200ml) of water per day. More is needed in warm weather and when doing exercise.
- Cook more often. Even if you aren’t a pro chef there are tons of easy-to-follow recipes (check out the recipes section) for all preferences. This can also help you save money in many cases as you can pre prepare and then freeze leftovers which you can’t really do with takeaway and ready meals. Takeaways and ready meals are usually high in saturated fat, sugar, and salt, three things we need to be sure to limit as best we can. Cooking from scratch will help massively with this!
- Try not to add salt to EVERYHING! Make use of the many amazing herbs and spices out there to flavour your food. You can use fresh or dried versions. Just know if the recipe states fresh you can always use dried but use less dried as it’s more concentrated.
- Don’t follow diets. A diet is anything that tells you to cut out a certain type of food completely, or it paints certain foods as ‘bad’ or ‘good’ 9like using the word sin to describe a food….). A balanced diet also includes foods you enjoy that may not exactly be nutritionally superior like chocolate cake, crisps or ice-cream. What’s important is that you choose unprocessed whole foods more often.
- Try to be in tune with your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Most of is are not in sync with these cues. We don’t give our body time to realise we’re full because we eat so fast and don’t take time to sit down and enjoy our food. Intuitive and mindful eating are both tools that you can use to help you get back in sync with your body so you can give it exactly what it needs when it needs it.
- Finally enjoy your food! Don’t stress about calories or how much protein something has or how much fat or sugar. If you follow the above nine tips your body should tell you when it’s hungry, when it’s full etc.
Health Benefits Of A Balanced Diet
- Increases energy
- Strengthens Immune function
- Maintains a healthy weight
- Helps you meet your Nutritional needs which is important to prevent Nutritional deficiencies which can lead to serious chronic illnesses and even premature death.
- Help prevent, treat, and manage symptoms of certain diet related diseases such as type 2 Diabetes, Heart diseases and high blood pressure and Osteoporosis.
- Helps you cope better with stress and sleep better.
- Food plays an important role in many social and cultural events. Apart from nutrition properties, it helps people connect.
Hopefully this helps clear up any confusion you had over what a balanced diet is, and how YOU can achieve it!