The Importance of a Healthy Balanced Diet

Eating a healthy balanced diet is the route to enjoying a healthy life with a minimum of ailments. Both short and long term benefits can be enjoyed by giving a little thought to your daily dietary requirements.

The key to a balanced diet is in the selection of the correct proportions from the following list of the five main food groups, which contain nutrients that are essential for your body’s growth, energy and body maintenance and regulate your body’s chemical processes and functions.

Importance of a Healthy Balanced Diet

1. Carbohydrates

In a normal diet, carbohydrate makes up about one third of your total calorie intake, but can be divided into refined and unrefined carbohydrate. Both types provide energy, but by far the healthier option are the low glycemic unrefined carbs, which have not had the fiber removed, as they offer a slower release of sugars and are kinder to the body. These would include wholegrain breads, brown pasta and brown rice. As the body breaks down much of the carbohydrate you eat into sugars; sweets, pastries and most desserts fall into the refined carbohydrate category and should be kept to a minimum.

2. Fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are a rich source of vitamins and minerals, which are essential nutrients for your body. There is clear evidence that they can reduce your risk of getting heart disease and some cancers.

You should aim to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables each day as a minimum. Fresh is best, but frozen, canned or dried can be used.

One portion counts as a large piece of fruit, such as an apple, banana or orange, For vegetables consider three heaped tablespoons as one portion. One glass of 100% fruit or vegetable juice counts as one portion regardless of how much you drink. Beans and pulses, such as baked beans or lentils, also contribute to this group and are another great source of fiber.

3. Protein

Protein helps to build and repair your body. Foods rich in protein also contain minerals, such as iron, zinc and magnesium, as well as important B vitamins. Around 20% – 25% of your daily calories should be protein based.

Good sources of protein include lean meat, fish and eggs, as well as non-animal products, such as beans and nuts. Reduce the intake of saturated fats from meat derived protein by trimming fat, removing the skin from chicken and draining excess fat after cooking.

Fish based protein is a healthier option so try to eat two portions of fish each week. At least one of these fish portions should be oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel or fresh tuna, always opt for grilling, roasting or microwaving over frying to keep saturated fat to a minimum.

Vegetarians can substitute nuts, seeds, soya and beans for animal products as they are rich protein alternatives, although they do not provide much zinc or B12 vitamin.

4. Dairy

Dairy products are rich in calcium, which is important for strong bones and teeth. A pint of milk (preferably semi-skimmed) or two low fat yogurts a day should provide about 700mg of calcium.

If you don’t drink cow’s milk or eat dairy products, you can get calcium from soya milk and yoghurts with added calcium, and from vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage.

5. Fats

Fats are divided into two main groups – saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fat is found in meat, cream, margarine, bakery products and fried foods. The consumption of saturated fat should be kept to a minimum as it is a contributory factor in heart disease.

Unsaturated fat is found in vegetable oils and oily fish. Eating unsaturated fats will help to keep your immune system healthy and can reduce cholesterol levels.

Transfats (partially hydrogenated oils) are now perceived as a killer and have no place in the food chain. Although once thought to be a healthier alternative to saturated fats, they are now slowly being eradicated from food stuffs thanks to positive action by pressure groups throughout the Western world.

Always read the labels on the foods you buy and aim for a healthy balanced diet.…

How Much Fat Do You Need?

Fat is one of our three main sources of calories (in addition to carbohydrate and protein), and provides nine calories per gram. That means if a product contains 10 grams of fat, it would provide 90 calories from fat (9 calories per gram x 10 gm of fat). Carbohydrate and protein each provide four calories per gram. Notice that fat provides more calories than carbohydrates and proteins combined, which means that fat is the richest source of calories in our diet. This is why it’s important to watch your fat intake if you’re trying to lose weight. If you currently have a high-fat diet, then limiting your fat intake is one of the quickest ways to cut calories.

Be assured, however, that fats are a necessary part of a healthy diet. You need fat in your diet in order for your body to function properly as fats provide “essential fatty acids” (EFA). EFA’s are essential because our body does not produce them on its own, therefore we must consume them. One EFA you may have heard of is omega-3 fatty acid. This one has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, which is believed to help reduce the risk of heart disease. Fats are also a good source of vitamin E and have many functions, such as brain development in babies and toddlers, hormone production, nervous system function, the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and healthy skin and hair, just to name a few.

Examples of good fats include oil, trans-fat free margarines, nuts, seeds, olives, salad dressings, etc. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish, especially salmon and tuna; shellfish; flaxseed; and walnuts.

So, how much fat do you need? Well, first you need to know how many calories your body needs daily because your diet should be comprised of about 25-30% fat. That means 25-30% of your calories should come from fat. If you’re not sure how many calories you need, you can easily find a calorie calculator online or you can search for the article I wrote about how to calculate your calorie needs. If you are overweight or underweight, be sure to use your ideal body weight or goal weight in the equation and not your current weight. Once you know how many calories your body needs, then you can complete the following equation to determine how much fat you need.

Here’s a sample calculation for an individual who needs 2000 calories per day:

2000 calories x 30% (0.30) = 600 calories
600 calories per day / 9 calories per gram = 67 grams per day

2000 calories x 25% (0.25) = 500 calories
500 calories per day / 9 calories per gram = 56 grams per day

Therefore, this individual needs about 56-67 grams of fat per day.

As I’ve said in other articles, I don’t think it’s necessary to count anything for the rest of your life in order to lose weight and keep it off, whether it’s calories, fat grams, carbs, points, etc. I hope that you will simply use this equation to determine how much fat you need and then compare that to what you are consuming on average. (Just count your fat intake for a few typical days). Then, you can adjust your diet accordingly. If you find that you are way under-consuming fat, then give yourself some more leniency. However, if you find that you are over-consuming fat, then try and cut back a bit more until you are in a healthy range.…