So, you want to lose weight. And you may have heard that it is important to eat a balanced diet to be healthy and fit. Well, it’s true. A balanced diet has been proven by nutrition science time and time again to be an optimal approach to health and weight loss. But, how exactly do you do it? What does it mean to eat a balanced diet, and how does one do that? We have good news for you: the answer is more intuitive than you think! You don’t need to browse anywhere; I sketched out all the details for you. Keep reading!
What exactly is a balanced diet? The Definition: A balanced diet is a diet that provides all the essential nutrients needed for life. There are 40 essential nutrients that have been discovered. You need to eat all of those nutrients. But you also need to eat them in the right amounts.
Without those essential nutrients in the right dose, illness may result. Without enough essential fatty acids, for example, a skin condition called dermatitis can develop. On the other hand, too much of essential omega-6 fatty acids are associated with heart disease. In some rare cases, too much or too little of a nutrient even result in death.
So if there are 40 essential nutrients, each of which must be eaten in the right dose, how exactly do you get the right amount of those essential nutrients?
The science is actually quite tricky, but two simple rules make it a lot easier to achieve.
Getting the right amount of those really important essential nutrients through a balanced diet is achieved when 1. a large variety of foods is eaten, and 2. each food is taken in moderation.
Our natural and preferred eating patterns actually tend to provide balance. Eating a balanced diet is intuitive to most people and is part of most cultures. Looking carefully at any meal will reveal that it contains a variety of foods, in moderation! Subzi, dal, roti and/or rice, raita- many foods in one meal but not too much and not too little of any one food.
The first rule to a balanced diet is “Variety”. Variety, or eating many different foods, is important because no single food has all the essential nutrients needed for life. That’s why you need to eat a variety of many different foods. And that’s also why it’s dangerous to drop a specific food from your diet completely. But here’s the good news.
By following our “Variety” rule, that technically means that every food can have a place in a balanced diet. Because every food has some amount of nutrients that you need! If you look at this list of foods: 1. samosa 2. pakoras 3. chips. This list certainly doesn’t look like a list of health foods, yet, those foods to give us alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid. These are essential fatty acids that are necessary for healthy, glowing skin!
The second rule to a balanced diet is “Moderation”, or eating just the right dose of a specific food. It is possible to get too much of a good thing. Think back to the example of samosa, pakoras and chips. These may give us essential fatty acids, which is good, but they are also high in sodium and calories. People tend to get too much of their food from these sources, and although the body needs sodium and calories, too much of them has negative health consequences. So, samosa, pakoras and chips can be a part of a balanced diet, but eating them in excess would make the diet unbalanced.
Here’s how you put this into action:
- To boost variety, try new foods as often as you can and if you enjoy them, once in a while you can add them to your regular diet. For example, instead of making your usual rajma masala dish, instead try a new recipe for lobhia masala. If you like that, have it on and off instead of the rajma masala.
- To ensure moderation, don’t eat your entire diet from just a limited number of foods for a long time period (more than 2 weeks). This approach is what makes diets like “The Cookie Diet”, which is made of mostly cookies, bad for health to follow for very long.
- To achieve both variety and moderation avoid cutting out any one food group entirely for a long time period (more than two weeks). A popular example of this type of diet is a gluten-free diet. Gluten-free diets tend to be low in critical essentail nutrients like fiber and certain minerals. Unless you have a medical reason to follow a gluten-free diet, don’t cut it out.
- Make sure each meal has a minimum of three food groups. Food groups include broad categories like: 1. fruits and vegetables, 2. meats, 3. dairy, 4. beans and pulses, and 5. fats (oils and butter).