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
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.
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.
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.
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.