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On an almost daily basis, we are inundated with information regarding our diets: what we should eat; what we should not eat; and how much of something we are allowed to eat at any one time. It is very confusing and it often seems there is always a new fad diet to follow to make us healthier or to lose weight.
However, while fad diets do come and go, there are some basic principles to healthy eating that will enable a person to lead a healthy lifestyle when coupled with regular exercise. Here, we look at those principles and how they lead to a well-balanced diet. By exploring what constitutes a well-balanced diet, you should be able to have the information you need to eat well all the time.
A well-balanced diet is one that provides all the nutrients the body needs. To run efficiently, the body needs to gain energy and sustenance from the food it eats. A balanced diet therefore needs to contain these following food types: protein, fibre, carbohydrates, water, fats, vitamins and minerals.
"Eating a balanced diet is one of the most important ways we can help ourselves lead longer and healthier lives."
What are the food types needed for a balanced diet do and where to find them?
Protein is needed to help the body grow and keep muscles strong. It’s also needed to help the body repair itself after any exertion. This is why so many bodybuilders take a protein supplement or shake after a workout. Protein can be found in meat and fish as well as eggs. It can also be found in non-animal products like beans, pulses and nuts so it is vital that vegetarians eat a wide range of these to ensure they are taking in enough protein. For those that do eat meat, it is highly recommended to eat lean protein as much as possible. That means non-fatty and skinless meat. Eating processed meat like bacon and sausages, as well as minimising the intake of red meat, is also recommended.
We all need to eat fibre as it helps us in many ways. Firstly, it is a good food type to aid digestion. It can stop constipation and therefore help your gut work optimally. The gut is often seen as the least understood organ of the body and those with poor digestion are often seen with other health issues. Fruit and vegetables are high in fibre as are breakfast cereals made from whole grains. Porridge oats are also good for fibre, along with wholemeal and other whole grain ingredients. Legumes like chickpeas are a good source of fibre too and good to add to a variety of meals.
When it comes to the energy your body needs, your body will first use any carbohydrates it has for any bodily function or activity. As a result, carbohydrates are needed not only to get your body moving but also to keep your brain, nervous system and all your organs working. Importantly, carbohydrates also fill you up meaning you can consume less calories over a day - though this will only ever be the case if you adhere to appropriate portion sizes. Carbohydrates can be found in a lot of foods, like fruit and vegetables, but mainly in foods such as bread, potatoes and pasta.
While many people advocate following a low-fat low-calorie diet to lose weight, we do all need some fat in our diets. Plus the type of fat you eat is important too. Saturated fats should be reduced as much as possible as it can raise a person’s cholesterol. Having high cholesterol puts you at a higher chance of heart disease. Fat is needed in the body as it helps the body to absorb vitamins such as vitamin A, D and E. Fat can also be used for energy to help us stay moving and functioning. The problem with fat is when it is not used up and it then gets stored causing us to put on weight.
So much of our body is actually made up of water. For that reason, we need to replenish our intake of it at a suitable level to ensure we do not get dehydrated. While technically not a food type, we all need to drink around 8 glasses of water a day to help replace what we lose through going to the toilet, sweating or helping to digest our food. Plus, dehydration or thirst can sometimes be why we feel hungry. It is always a good idea to increase your water intake if you are trying to lose weight as it can help you feel fuller for longer. Finally, every cell in your body needs water to function properly. It’s why we can survive longer without food than we can without water. Try to drink it unadulterated, but if you are struggling to get your intake to a good level, you can also try juices or milk.
Vitamins and minerals can be found in fruit and vegetables which is why it is key to eat as wide a variety as possible. Doing so means you will materially improve your chances of ingesting all the vitamins and minerals you need, and in the right amount too. You can get the vitamins and nutrients you need from fresh, canned, dried, juiced or frozen fruit and veg. The UK guidelines are to eat at least five portions a day.
Eating a balanced diet is one of the most important ways we can help ourselves lead longer and healthier lives. Plus, a fully functioning body and gut can also make us happier and more mentally sound. When our bodies can do what we want them to and we are not uncomfortable due to a lack of something in our diets, we are able to do and act as we like. Diet cannot be underplayed as an area of our life that has far-reaching impacts. By ensuring we are ingesting everything we need, we can help our bodies and minds to perform as they should do.