It’s important to make sure that your diet is well balanced in order to achieve good health, and avoid long term diseases and illnesses. As our lives become busier, this can become more difficult. However, this article will try to help you to understand the components of a balanced diet, why it’s important, and how to apply this information to your everyday life. This article discusses the five major food groups (Fruits and Vegetables, Protein, Dairy, Carbs, and Fatty and Sugary Foods). Get started with Step 1 below to get on your way to maintaining a healthy, balanced diet.
Fruit and vegetables: Despite this being one of the most important food groups, and having many health benefits, studies have shown that the majority of the population aren’t eating enough of them. This is surprising considering the goodness it provides and huge variety available in shops nowadays. So, let’s take a more detailed look at what this group is.
- Why it’s important:Fruits and vegetables provide your body with lots of vitamins and minerals which are hard to come by in other areas of your diet. They also have a high water and low fat content so are a good choice for snacks. Research has shown that a diet which lacks in this group of food can lead to diseases such as heart disease and even some cancers! A lack of it can also lead to high blood pressure and various vitamin deficiencies which result in a lowered immune system, and sometimes long-term illness. So as you can see, it’s pretty important.
- How much do you need:As you probably know, the general guideline is to eat at least five portions per day. These portions must be of five different fruits and vegetables to make sure that you get a variety of vitamins and minerals. To get the best variety, choose ones which are different colours, as generally, different colours give you different things. But how much is in a portion? A quick way to decide is to count one generous handful as a portion, but it does vary between different foods.
- What foods is it in:Well obviously it’s just fruits and vegetables, but there are many different ways to consume them. For example, vegetable soups, tinned fruits, smoothies, fruit juice, salad, dried fruit, and obviously, fresh food. In order to get the most goodness out of them, they are best eaten raw, or vegetables should be cooked by steaming them rather than boiling.
- How to bring it into your diet:The easiest way to raise the amount of fruit and veg that you eat is to snack on them rather than chocolate and crisps. But as well as that, here are some simple ways to include fruits and vegetables in your diet;
- Glass of fresh fruit juice with your breakfast.
- Berries or other fruit sprinkled over your breakfast cereal.
- Portion of dried fruit as a mid-morning snack
- A salad with your lunch
- A portion of steamed vegetables with your evening meal
- Sweet fruit such as strawberries as a desert.
Method 3 of 5: Eat Dairy
Dairy: dairy is known as being a good source of calcium, and dairy products are fairly easy to include in your diet. However for people with a lactose intolerance or an allergy to milk, getting enough dairy in there diet can be more difficult, although there are many substitutes for the real thing. So lets read on to find out why it’s so important to get enough dairy…
- Why it’s important:Dairy is a very good source of calcium. Calcium is important as it helps to promote strong bones and teeth. As well as this, it also regulates muscle contraction, which includes the heartbeat, so it’s pretty important. Inadequate calcium intake up to the age of 25 can cause bone problems such as brittle bone disease and osteoporosis. This is most common in women as they generally have a lower bone mass than men. In order to absorb calcium effectively, research suggests that Vitamin D is helpful. This is easy to get as your body generates it as long as you get a good amount of sunlight.
- How much do you need:It’s recommended for adults to aim for three portions of dairy per day. If you are worried about your fat-intake then opt for low-fat versions. Here are some ideas of what counts as a portion; 200ml milk, 250ml soya-milk with calcium, 30g cheese, 1 pot of yoghurt. Children and teenagers also need plenty of dairy in their diet since their bones are still developing.
- What foods is it in: here are some foods which are either dairy foods or foods which are useful to those who can’t eat dairy. Dairy foods, although this may be pointing out the obvious, include, milk, cheese, yoghurt, fromage frais, but don’t include butter or cream in the dairy category. For those who are vegan or lactose intolerant, you can find your calcium elsewhere, such as in calcium-fortified soya milk and yogurts, dark green leafy veg such as broccoli and spinach, almonds and some types of fish.
- How to bring it into your diet:If you want to increase the amount of calcium that you consume, then here are some ways of adding it to your diet;
- Obvious, but pouring milk over your cereal
- Some dried fruit contains small amounts of calcium so try sprinkling some over your cereal or eat a handful as a snack.
- Eat a spinach-based salad with toasted almonds or sesame seeds sprinkled over it.
- Have a cheese sandwich for a lunch on the go.
- Have a mug of warm milk, or hot chocolate made with milk before bed.
Method 4 of 5: Eat Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates: This food group should be your bodies main source of energy rather than sugars and fats. They should generally be a part of every meal, and most people have no trouble in including this in their day to day diet. Certain types of carbohydrates are especially good for you and can prevent diseases so it’s best to choose your carbohydrates wisely to get the most out of them.
- Why it’s important:Most carbohydrates provide a long lasting, slow release of energy which prevents an energy crash throughout the day. They are generally low in fat yet are still filling, which means you are less likely to snack on less healthy things in between meals. The best type of carbohydrates is whole-grain products. Whole grain is widely available in many types of carbohydrates, and their importance is becoming more widely known. Whole grain provides many useful nutrients which are stripped away in refined grains. They contain fibre which promotes a healthy digestive system, protein (which you already know the importance of), vitamins and minerals, and carbohydrate (mainly in the form of starch). They are also rich in anti-oxidants which prevent cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
- How much do you need:It’s recommended that about a third of each meal you eat should be carbohydrates of some sort. You should also be aware of which carbs you are choosing in order to get the most out of your portions. Eating too much will lead to weight gain, but gram for gram carbohydrates contain less calories than fat and protein.
- What foods is it in:Complex (the good ones) carbohydrates are found in foods such as; oats, potatoes, root vegetables, wholemeal bread, wholemeal cereal, wholemeal pasta, nuts, brown rice, beans and lentils. Complex carbohydrates are also found in a less healthy form in white bread, white flour and white rice. Simple (the bad kind) carbohydrates (also known as sugars) which you should avoid are in pizzas, white sugar, snack bars, chocolate, cakes, pastries and ready-meals and sauces.
- How to bring it into your diet:each meal should be based on a complex carbohydrate, along with vegetables and protein. Here are some ideas on how to bring whole-grain into your daily diet;
- Look for whole-grain cereals such as porridge oats, or wholegrain bread to toast for your breakfast.
- At lunch opt for more protein than carbs as a large carbohydrate meal can leave you feeling sleepy.
- There are many ways of cooking potatoes to go with your evening meal, such as making wedges, mashing potato, boiling, roasting and even shallow frying.
- Switch from what you normally buy to whole grain pasta and rice instead of white.
Method 5 of 5: Be Careful with Sugars, Salts, and Fats
Fatty and sugary foods: While many people assume that fat and sugar should be cut out if you want to be healthy, this is wrong. It’s important to include a little bit in your diet, it’s just all about finding the correct balance. Besides, if you never treat yourself then one day you’re going to binge on lots of unhealthy food, and that’s really not good for you.
- Why it’s important: Fat is good for you in small amounts as it transports fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E & K) around the body, and it also supplies essential fatty acids. These essential fatty acids have to be supplies through diet, and research suggests that they improve your immune system as well as heart health. Fat is stored under the skin as a fuel reserve, so it’s good to have a bit there, especially as it also cushions your organs. You do need to be aware though, that too much fat will cause obesity-related diseases, so just consume it in moderation. And the best thing about fat? It makes the food taste better! As for sugary foods, unless it’s sugar found naturally in fruit, they provide no nutrient, only a burst of energy, so you should really cut down on them.
- How much do you need:One gram of fat contains 9 calories, this means that it’s really easy to over eat and gain weight when eating fatty foods, so you really should keep an eye on it. Government guidelines suggest that fats should make up, at the most, 35% of the energy in your diet, and that saturated fats should cover less than 11% of your total energy intake, (this works out at 70-95g of fat per day at most). Most adults don’t consume too much fat, but consume too much saturated fat which can lead to bad health. As for sugar, sugary food should only be eaten at mealtimes to prevent tooth decay, and other than naturally occurring sugars, you should attempt to reduce your intake as much as possible. Over-eating of sugary foods can lead to diabetes and obesity.
- What foods it’s in:Bad types of sugar are found in soft drinks, sweets, chocolate bars, desserts and sugary breakfast cereals, while good types are found in fruits. Saturated fats are found in foods such as, meat, butter, cheese, eggs, full fat milk and full fat yoghurt, so these foods such be eaten in moderation. Unsaturated fats (which are better for you and contain essential fatty acids) are found in oily fish, avocados, nuts, seeds, virgin olive oil and sunflower oil.
- How to bring it into your diet: rather than listing ways to get a fatty diet, which I think we all know too well, I’m going to tell you ways of reducing your fat/sugar intake, and ways of replacing your bad fats/sugars with better versions.
- Cook food with vegetable oil instead of butter or lard.
- Warm olive oil can be used on bread as a replacement for butter or margarine.
- Make a salad dressing out of virgin olive oil rather than using salad cream or mayonnaise.
- Find alternatives for your unhealthy snacks, you could snack on seeds, nuts, raw vegetables or fruit rather than chocolate or crisps.
- Grill meat and fish rather than frying it to reduce the fat content. When grilling meat you should make sure that there is drainage for the fat so that it doesn’t stay in the meat.
- Look for lean meat in the supermarket and always cut off fatty excess on meat before cooking.
- Choose reduced-fat dairy produce.
Method 2 of 5: Eat Protein
Protein: This refers to protein rich foods which mainly includes animal produce. For this reason vegetarians and vegans often don’t consume enough protein, although this can be avoided since there are vegetarian foods containing lots of protein. However, most people do not struggle to consume enough of this food group.It is an important part of your diet as it’s vital for many functions inside the body.
- Why it’s important:It’s main function is for growth and repair, so it’s needed for hair and nail growth, repair of nerve cells, muscle growth and repair, and healing injuries. A diet which lacks protein can cause muscle deterioration, arthritis, heart problems and organ failure, so it really is important to consume enough. If you want to know whether you are deficient in protein, you should visit a doctor, but some of the symptoms include hair loss, muscle soreness and cramps, slow healing of wounds and loss of sleep.
- How much do you need:The recommended daily amount for an adult women is 45g, and the recommended daily amount for an adult man is about 55.5g per day. However, opinions vary on this as research is still being done to determine how much is required. This number also changes depending upon your lifestyle and natural build and weight. If you regularly exercise or are trying to build more muscle, then more protein will be required in your diet. If you rarely do exercise and you have a small build, then you won’t need as much. To make it easier to decide whether or not you are consuming enough protein, it’s suggested that you eat 2-3 portions a day. Some examples of what is considered a portion are: 100g meat, poultry or fish, 2 eggs, 3tbsp nuts, seeds or beans.
- What foods is it in:Some of the main protein-containing foods are; meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, nuts, seeds, pulses and soya products. For people who don’t eat meat, meat supplements are available which usually contain plenty of protein. Protein from animal products is best as they contain the full range of important amino acids, but be aware that red meat contains high levels of saturated fat which can lead to heart problems, as well as this, a diet that is too high is red meat or too high in processed meat increases the chance of developing certain cancers. Oily fish is a good source of protein, and also provides good fatty acids such as Omega 3 which reduce the likelihood of developing a cardiovascular disease.
- How to bring it into your diet: Here are some ways of increasing your protein intake;
- Spread peanut or almond butter over your toast at breakfast
- Try sprinkling seeds or nuts over a salad for lunch
- As a snack, dip foods such as sliced carrot and celery into a houmous dip.
- Have a tuna sandwich with seeded bread at lunch
- Try soy-based yogurts in place of what you usually buy
- Always include a portion of meat/poultry/fish in your main meal.