How Do Nutritionists Define a Balanced Diet?
17 Jul 2020
By Matt Joynson – Medical Writer & Expert
Your body needs a variety of different foods for optimal health
In order to function optimally, your body needs a wide range of nutrients, taken from a variety of different sources. A balanced diet strengthens your immune system and lowers your risk of developing certain diseases, as well as ensuring that your body is properly fuelled for the repair and maintenance of healthy cells, tissues and organs.
What is a balanced diet?
A balanced diet contains foods from all the essential food groups, and provides your body with all the vital nutrients it needs. No single food contains all of the required nutrients; therefore, your diet needs to contain a variety of different foods.
A balanced diet should provide the right amount of calories to maintain an energy balance – this is where the calories taken in from your diet are equal to the calories used by your body. We all need calories to carry out everyday tasks such as walking and moving about, but also for all the functions of the body we may not even think about. Processes like breathing, pumping blood around the body, and thinking all require calories. The amount of energy you need in a day depends on a range of factors, such as how active you are.
Different food and drinks provide different amounts of energy, which you can find on food labels if available. Consuming more calories than you need over an extended period of time can lead to weight gain – this is because any extra calories that you consume but don’t use get stored as fat.
Different food groups make up a balanced diet
There are five main food groups that help make up a balanced diet: starchy food/carbohydrates (e.g. potatoes, rice, pasta), protein (e.g. fish, pulses, eggs), dairy products (e.g. milk, cheese) and alternatives (e.g. plant-based products), fruit and vegetables, and fats (e.g. oils and spreads).
A balanced diet doesn’t mean you need to cut out food groups. Instead, it consists of a wide range of foods to support your body and keep you energised, motivated, and healthy. You should aim to choose a variety of different foods from these food groups to get a wide range of nutrients.
To have a healthy, balanced diet, try to:
- Eat at least five servings a day of a variety of fruits and vegetables – they contain important vitamins and minerals
- Choose carbohydrate sources with a higher fiber content, such as whole grains, bread, rice, or pasta
- Include 2-3 servings of dairy per day, or a dairy alternative that has been fortified with additional calcium (such as soy milk) – these are good sources of protein, vitamins, and calcium
- Include protein sources such as beans, pulses, fish, eggs and meat in your meals
- Substitute oils and spreads high in saturated fat with ones that contain more unsaturated fat such as olive oil, canola oil, or grapeseed oil, but still try to eat them in small amounts – all fats contain a lot of calories
If you regularly consume foods that are high in fat, salt, and sugar, try consuming them less often and in smaller amounts. Also, don’t forget about drinking enough water throughout the day. Your body constantly loses fluids from breathing, sweating, and going to the toilet, which need to be replaced. Aim to drink 6–8 glasses of water every day to help keep your body hydrated.
Remember, a balanced diet will not be the same for everyone. We’re all different, and individuals will often require different amounts and types of nutrients. What you need will depend on your age, gender, lifestyle, health, and the rate at which your body burns calories. However, by following a diet that is varied; incorporates all food groups; and limits sodium, saturated fat and sugar, you will be well on your way to a healthy body.
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