Few people eat food just because of taste and the experience of eating different foods. It is paramount to bear in mind that a healthy diet is good for your physical and mental health. We need to have an idea of the balance in our diet so that it will be easier to enjoy foods and still be healthy.
A balanced diet is a diet consisting of the proper quantities and proportions of foods needed to maintain health and optimal growth. There are seven essential factors for a diet to be balanced. These factors are;
A balanced diet should provide us with the right amount of energy from foods and drinks needed to maintain energy balance. Energy balance is when the calories taken in from the diet are equal to the calories used by the body. A balanced diet should include a varied selection of foods, but some foods are more better for us than others.
When thinking of a balanced diet, we should consider an Eat well guide. An Eat well guide is a simple practical tool which helps us make healthy choices and shows the proportion in which different food groups are needed to make up a healthy balanced diet. These are the tips to following an Eat well guide:
- Most of what we eat should come from ingredients shown in the 2 biggest food groups which are, starchy carbohydrates and fruit and vegetables.
- Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat , dairy and their alternatives are from a smaller group called the protein group. These shows that we should eat foods from these groups in moderate amounts.
- Most of the fats in our diet should come from unsaturated oils and spreads. But because this foods are high in calories, they should be eaten in small amounts.
There are recommendations to follow if you want to achieve a balanced diet daily. The stipulated recommendations are;
- Eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables daily.
- Eat at least 2 portions of fish in a week.
- Eat enough fiber.
- Eat less than 6 grams of salt daily.
- Eat foods that have more free sugars.
- Avoid saturated fat in your daily diet.
The best ways to ensure you take a balanced diet is to choose a variety of food from each of the 5 food groups daily. Each of the food groups have essential nutrients needed in a balanced diet. The 5 food groups are;
- Vegetables and Legumes
Vegetables and legumes have hundreds of natural nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Eating vegetables raw is sometimes a healthier option, although there are some vegetables which offer useful health benefits when they are cooked. You can include vegetables at lunch as well as dinner. Vegetables and legumes include; beans, peas, tomatoes, carrot, pumpkin, cabbage, potatoes, mushroom etc.
Fruits are good sources of vitamins and dietary fibers. It is best to eat fruits fresh. If you wan to get all the nutrients from fruits, do not take fruit juices because they lack fiber and are not filling. Also, their acidity can damage tooth enamel, and commercial fruit juices are often high in sugars. Fruits include; orange, lemon, kiwi, mango, pawpaw, cherries, watermelon, lime etc.
- Grains and Cereal Foods
Whole grains have protein, dietary fiber, minerals and vitamins. Some of these nutrients are lost during processing, so it is advised to consume whole grains. Grains include; oats, rice, wheat, barley, breakfast cereals like cornflakes and golden morn.
- Lean Meat, Poultry, Fish, Eggs, Legumes, Nuts and Seeds
These foods provide protein, minerals and vitamins. They also contain dietary fiber. It is good to choose a variety of foods from this group. However, adults should reduce their intake of red meat to 500 grams a week or less, because eating more than 500 grams a week may increase the risk of bowel cancer.
- Milk, Cheese, Yoghurts
This group gives you protein, vitamin and calcium. Children should be given full cream milk until the age of 2. If you are using plant based milk alternative like soy milk, check that they have at least 100mg of calcium per 100ml.
Foods that are not included in the 5 food groups are called Discretionary Choices. Such choices like unsaturated oils and spreads can be eaten in small amounts. There are some discretionary choices that are not needed in a balanced diet, these include; biscuit, cakes, ice cream, soft drinks, processed meat, fried foods, alcohol etc. These foods and drinks often provide excess energy, excess saturated fat, excess sugar and excess salt. They should be avoided because they replace healthier foods in a balanced diet.