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What is balanced nutrition?

Published:Wednesday | December 6, 2023 | 12:05 AMKeisha Hill/Senior Gleaner Writer

EATING A healthy, balanced diet is an important part of maintaining good health, and can help you feel your best. This means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, and consuming the right amount of food and drink to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

A balanced diet fulfils all of a person’s nutritional needs. It comprises foods from five groups including vegetables, protein, and whole grains that can help manage weight and reduce the risk of disease.

According to Patricia Hudson Buck, wellness coach, there are four pillars to overall wellness. Experts, she said, widely consider exercise, good nutrition, relaxation and sleep crucial to healthy living. While these so-called ‘four pillars’ of good health help keep your body running, they also do wonders for your emotional well-being.

A balanced diet, she said, should fulfil all of a person’s nutritional needs. “Humans need a certain number of calories and nutrients to stay healthy. A balanced diet provides all the nutrients a person requires, without going over the recommended daily calorie intake,” Buck said.

By eating a balanced diet, she said people can get the nutrients and calories they need and avoid eating junk food, or food without nutritional value.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) used to recommend following a food pyramid. However, as nutritional science has changed, they now recommend eating foods from the five groups and building a balanced plate.

According to the USDA’s recommendations, half of a person’s plate should consist of fruits and vegetables. The other half should be made up of grains and protein. They recommend accompanying each meal with a serving of low-fat dairy or another source of the nutrients found in dairy.

“A healthful, balanced diet includes foods from these five groups – vegetables, fruits, grains, protein and dairy. The vegetable group includes five subgroups – leafy greens red or orange vegetables, starchy vegetables, and beans and peas (legumes). To get enough nutrients and keep dietary boredom at bay, people should choose a variety of vegetables,” Buck said.

Cooking vegetables

People may enjoy vegetables raw or cooked. However, it is important to remember that cooking vegetables removes some of their nutritional value. Also, some methods, such as deep-frying, can add unhealthful fats to a dish.

A balanced diet also includes plenty of fruit. Instead of getting fruit from juice, nutrition experts recommend eating whole fruits. “Juice contains fewer nutrients. Also, the manufacturing process often adds empty calories due to added sugar. People should opt for fresh or frozen fruits, or fruits canned in water instead of syrup,” Buck said.

Fruit and vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals and fibre, and should make up just over a third of the food you eat each day. It is recommended that you eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. There is evidence that people who eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

There are two subgroups of grain – whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains include all three parts of the grain, which are the bran, germ, and endosperm. The body breaks down whole grains slowly, so they have less effect on a person’s blood sugar.

Additionally, whole grains tend to contain more fibre and protein than refined grains.

Refined grains are processed and do not contain the three original components. Refined grains also tend to have less protein and fibre, and they can cause blood sugar spikes.

“At least half of the grains that a person eats daily should be whole grains. Healthful whole grains include quinoa, oats, brown rice, barley, buckwheat,” Buck said.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that all people should include nutrient-dense protein as part of their regular diet. The guidelines suggest that this protein should make up a quarter of a person’s plate.

Nutritious protein choices include beef and pork, chicken and turkey, fish, beans, peas, and legumes.

Dairy and fortified soy products are a vital source of calcium. The USDA recommend consuming low-fat versions whenever possible. Low-fat dairy and soy products include ricotta or cottage cheese, low-fat milk, yogurt, and soy milk. People who are lactose intolerant can opt for low-lactose or lactose-free products, or choose soy-based sources of calcium and other nutrients.

Eating a balanced diet means eating foods from the five major groups. Dietary guidelines change over time, as scientists discover new information about nutrition. Current recommendations suggest that a person’s plate should contain primarily vegetables and fruits, some lean protein, some dairy, and soluble fibre.