A balanced diet is a harmonious mixture of both plant based and animal based food which give the body all the essential nutrients that it needs.
How do you define a balanced diet?
A balanced diet is one which gives the body the nutrition it needs to function properly. Without good nutrition, the body is more prone to diseases, infection, fatigue, poor performance, etc. A balanced diet must have proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, fats, water, and fiber in it so as to keep the body fit and healthy.
All of these nutrients are broken down by the body into simpler forms and then absorbed into the bloodstream. The body requires a sufficient amount of fluids, amino acids from proteins, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals and the adequate amount of calories, which essentially makes up a healthy diet.
What does a balanced diet require?
Any balanced diet should contain the following % of each nutrient:
- Carbohydrates: 50%
- Fats: 35%
- Proteins: 12%
- Vitamins and minerals: 3%
- Sufficient water
The main macronutrients required by the body are:
Carbohydrates for a Balanced Diet
Carbohydrate is the macronutrient that is needed in the most amounts by the body. Carbohydrates are the main source of fuel for the body. They are most easily used up by the body for energy. Most importantly, all the cells and tissues of the body use up glucose from the food, all of which comes from carbohydrates. Organs of the body such as the brain, the kidneys, the central nervous system, the muscles (including the heart) all require carbohydrates to function properly. One added advantage of carbohydrates is that it can be stored in the muscles and the liver and used later for energy purposes by the body. They are also helpful in intestinal health and waste elimination.
Foods rich in carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are mainly found in starchy foods, like:
- Grains (whole)
- Cottage cheese
- Nuts, etc
Proteins for a Balanced Diet
Proteins are the major components of our immune system and hormones, essential to the building, strength maintaining, and repair of body tissue such as the skin, the muscles, the internal organs, etc. our body needs proteins for :
- Tissue repair
- Making essential hormones and enzymes
- Immune function
- Energy source when carbohydrates are not available
- Preserving the lean muscle mass
Foods rich in protein
The various kinds of foods which are rich in protein are:
- Meats and beans; essential for the proper development of the brain and muscles
- Lean, low-fat meats such as chicken, fish and certain cuts of beef
- Sunflower seeds
- Tofu, tempeh (substitutes for meat; for those people who do not eat animal proteins)
When we consume these types of foods, the body breaks down the food into simpler substances known as amino acids, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream and distributed to all the parts of the body.
Fats for a Balanced Diet
Although fats have gained a very bad reputation that they are the main cause of weight gain around the world, they are definitely essential for the body in limited amounts to maintain and regulate the normal functioning of the body. Although fat is an important and necessary part of a healthy diet, it is necessary to look into what kind of fat is consumed.
Why are fats necessary?
Fats are needed in the body for:
- Normal growth and development
- Energy (fats are the most concentrated form of energy)
- Providing cushioning to the organs
- Absorbing certain vitamins (vitamins A, D, K, E, and carotenoids)
- Providing taste, consistency, and stability to foods
- Maintaining cell membranes
Foods rich in fats
Fats are found in foods like:
- Milk products
- Salad dressings
- Grain products, etc.
Fats are mainly of three types; saturated fats, unsaturated fats and Trans fats. Trans fats and saturated fats are the unhealthy forms of fat which raise cholesterol levels, clog arteries, and are the main causes of heart diseases and other weight gain problems. Therefore, it is highly advisable that the saturated and Trans fats should be substituted in the diet with unsaturated fats.
Vitamins and Minerals for a Balanced Diet
Both vitamins, like vitamin A, D, E and K, and minerals, like calcium, potassium, and iron, are vital to the proper functioning of the body. Vitamins and minerals are not made in the body and so, need to be essentially included in the diet.
Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients, i.e. they are needed by the body in very minute amounts. However, their deficiency in the body can cause serious health problems in the body. Therefore, they are necessary for the healthy functioning of the body and its systems, from bone growth to brain function.
Types of vitamins
There are 13 essential vitamins for our body divided into two different categories:
- Fat soluble
- Water soluble
Fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, K, and E are easily stored by the body. Excess amounts of these may be toxic to the body, so it’s necessary to ingest them as much as possible.
Water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and all the B vitamins, on the other hand, cannot be stored for long in the body, and so, they need to be consumed daily. If more of these are taken than what is actually needed, the excess is excreted in urine.
Foods rich in vitamins
The main sources of vitamins in our food are:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Milk and milk products
- Whole grain cereals
- Citrus fruits
- Olives and olive oil
- Strawberries, etc.
Minerals essential for the body
Minerals are also classified as water-soluble minerals and trace minerals. The water-soluble minerals need to be taken in relatively larger amounts than the trace minerals. The main minerals which are essential for the body are:
- Selenium, etc.
Why do you need minerals?
Minerals help to perform the following functions in the body:
- Needed for proper fluid balance, muscle contraction, and nerve transmission
- Stomach acid
- Important for healthy teeth and bones
- Maintaining the acid-base balance in the body
- Needed for making certain proteins
- Immune system health
Foods rich in minerals
The mineral-rich food which is to be included in any healthy diet are as follows:
- Table salt
- Soy sauce
- Whole grains
- Fish (canned, with bones)
- Processed foods
Having a balanced diet is an important aspect of keeping yourself healthy and fit at all times. Therefore, you need to make sure that whatever food you consume throughout the day, you should be getting the proper nutrients in their specific amounts. This helps to ensure that your body functions correctly, and its metabolism is not affected in any way.
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