Consuming a healthy diet throughout the life-course helps to prevent malnutrition in all its forms as well as a range of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and conditions. However, increased production of processed foods, rapid urbanization and changing lifestyles have led to a shift in dietary patterns. People are now consuming more foods high in energy, fats, free sugars and salt/sodium, and many people do not eat enough fruit, vegetables and other dietary fibre such as whole grains.
Eating a healthy diet is all about feeling great, having more energy, improving your health, and boosting your mood. Good nutrition, physical activity, and healthy body weight are essential parts of a person’s overall health and well-being.
A balanced diet includes foods from five groups and fulfills all of a person’s nutritional needs. Eating a balanced diet helps people maintain good health and reduce their risk of disease.
- Fruit and vegetables
- Starchy carbohydrate
FRUIT AND VEGETABLES
It is recommended to eat at least five portions of fruits and vegetables. They contain important vitamins and minerals that help prevent disease as well as fibre which can lower cholesterol, keep the bowel healthy and help digestion. They are low in fat and hence help with hunger pangs without increasing calorie consumption.
Fruits are high in sugar, but this sugar is natural. This means they’re less likely to cause a sugar spike and they’ll boost the body’s supply of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Vegetables are a key source of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Eat a variety of vegetables with different colors for a full range of nutrients. Dark, leafy greens are an excellent source of many nutrients. They include: spinach, kale, green beans, broccoli, collard greens
Examples of starchy foods are potatoes, bread, rice, and pasta. Starch is required to fuel the body and is a good source of energy. Whole carbohydrates contain essential fiber, calcium, iron, and other vitamins. starchy foods contain less than half the calories of fat. Try not to add extra fat to starchy food by adding butter, oil, spreads, cheese or jam – that’s just adding more calories.
Wholegrain foods usually have more fibre and nutrients. They take longer time to digest and hence help to remain full for a longer time, thus reducing food consumption. Good examples of wholegrains are brown rice, wholewheat, whole oats, wholegrain breakfast cereals and wholemeal bread, pitta, pasta and chapatti.
Dairy and dairy alternatives are good sources of protein. They also contain calcium, which helps keep our bones healthy and strong. Semi-skimmed, skimmed, and 1% fat milk all contain less fat than full-fat milk.
Dairy-free milk alternatives include soya milk and nut milks – if you chose dairy-free milk then go for unsweetened varieties which have been fortified with calcium.
Pulses – Pulses are foods such as beans, peas, and lentils. They’re a good source of fibre, vitamins and minerals and are naturally very low in fat.
Other vegetable protein – Nuts, beans, and soy products are good sources of protein, fiber, and other nutrients example; lentils, beans, peas, almonds, sunflower seeds and walnuts
Tofu, tempeh, and other soy-based products are excellent sources of protein, low in fat and are healthy alternatives to meat.
Fish – Fish is a great source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Oil-rich fish such as salmon contain vitamin A, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids that benefit the heart, skin, nails, memory, and digestion and are healthy and a good source of vitamins A and D. Oil-rich fish can sometimes contain small amount of pollutants that can accumulate in the body, so it is advised not to eat more than four portions of oil-rich fish per week. White fish such as haddock and cod are low in fat and contain important vitamins and minerals. Shark, swordfish, and marlin may contain high levels of mercury. Hence, it should not be consumed more than once a week.
Eggs – Eggs are a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals.
Meat – Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals. It’s one of the main sources of vitamin B12, an important vitamin which is only found in food from animals like meat and milk.
Red meat includes beef, lamb, venison and pork, all of which can form part of a healthy diet. Processed meat is meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. Processed meat includes things like sausages, bacon, burgers, ham, salami, other cured meats and pâté.
Eating too much red and processed meat can increase the risk of bowel cancer. Aim to eat no more than 70g of red and processed meat a day.
Fat is essential for energy and cell health, but too much fat can increase calories above what the body needs and may lead to weight gain. saturated fats would raise cholesterol levels.
A healthy diet will combine all the nutrients and foods groups mentioned above, but you need to balance them, too.
- filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables
- filling just over one quarter with grains
- filling just under one quarter with protein foods
- adding dairy on the side (or a nondairy replacement)
IMPORTANCE OF BALANCED DIET
A wide variety for the selection of food choices should be from each of five food groups in the specific amounts recommended. These food sources from each food group provide a similar amount of key micro and macro-nutrients to meet the body requirements.
The body requires quality carbohydrates, lean protein, essential fats and fluids accompanied by regular exercise in maintaining physical health and well-being.
These are effective in preventing excess weight gain or in maintaining weight loss but healthier lifestyles are also associated with improved sleep and mood. Physical activity particularly improves brain-related function and outcomes.
As with physical activity, making small changes in your diet can go a long way to attain the ideal body weight. Consuming the right kind of carbohydrates is important. Many people rely on the simple carbs found in sweets and processed foods.
Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of natural fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other compounds that your body needs to function properly. They’re also low in calories and fat. Unsaturated fats may help reduce inflammation and provide calories.
Importance of Balanced Diet for Children
- Because children are continuously growing, a balanced diet which includes all the essential nutrients is vital for their development. Lack of it can lead to deficiency diseases, stunted growth and delayed milestones.
- Their diet influences everything, from children’s brain functions to behavioural patterns. It is also critical to prevent a number of childhood disorders such as obesity and diabetes.
- Vitamins such as vitamin C are important for building immunity and formation of collagen which is a protein needed to make healthy bones, joints, skin and blood vessels. Vitamin B is essential for the energy cycle of the body along with build and repair.
- Minerals such as calcium are critical for the development of bones, teeth and other functions of the body. Iodine is needed for brain development, concentration and learning ability. Zinc is needed for normal growth and development along with good immune functions.
- The importance of a balanced diet for children can be seen in the contrast between healthy children who grow up getting all the nutrients, and children with deficiency disorders and stunted growth due to lack of nutritious food.
Importance of Balanced Diet During Pregnancy
- Pregnant women are not only eating for the nourishment of their own bodies, but also for the growth and development for their babies. Because of this, their energy requirements (macronutrients) and requirements of vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) go up.
- A balanced diet consisting of lean meats, veggies, fruits, nuts, whole grains, dairy and healthy fats contains all the essential nutrients needed to nourish the growing fetus.
IMPORTANCE OF A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
It’s not just a balanced diet that’s enough but also healthy practices of eating. Some of them which you can follow are:
- Eat-in smaller portions – You can do this by eating in small bowls to trick your brain into thinking it to be larger portions.
- Take time to eat – Not rushing your meals in between other work but taking the time to nourish your meals can send signals to your brain that you’ve had enough food necessary for functioning.
- Cut down on snacks – Unhealthy snacks are a strict no as they hamper your hunger. Switching to healthy bite-sized food can help.
- Curb emotional eating – Binge eating can be extremely harmful. Using it to relieve yourself from stress, sadness, or anxiety may affect your health. Instead, you can use healthier alternatives to beat negative emotions.
BENEFITS OF A BALANCED DIET
- Prevents diseases and infections. When you eat the full range of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you improve your immune system and your healthy diet may even help prevent diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
- Helps you control your weight. Most people at some point want to lose weight or gain weight – eating a balanced diet helps you control your weight and maintain it over time. It is not feasible to be on a weight-loss diet forever – a balanced diet is the only way to healthily control your weight in the long term.
- Improves your mental health. Getting the right mix of nutrients can help to ease symptoms of depression and anxiety – looking after yourself by eating well is essential as you take steps to good mental health.
- Good for growth. A balanced diet is crucial for children and adolescents. As the body grows it is important to receive the right nutrients so that cells are built and maintained and the body grows at the right pace.
- Better skin and hair. A healthy balanced diet also improves your looks. Eating well contributes to healthy skin and hair and a “glow” that makes you look younger.
FOODS TO AVOID
Foods to avoid or limit on a healthy diet include:
- Highly processed foods
- Refined grains
- Added sugar and salt
- Red and processed meat
- Trans fats