Restaurant and instant fast foods culture in the recent decades has led to the millennial generation eating fast food almost every day, or as we call it – ‘grabbing a quick bite’. But do we ever ponder on our eating habits, and how good what we ingest is? By, good, I don’t mean the taste and appearance, but good to the body and nutritious enough to meet our dietary requirements, a diet replete with all the essential macronutrients like carbohydrates, proteins and fats, and micronutrients like vitamins, minerals and water. Now let’s think – is our daily diet fulfilling our daily nutrition quota and not just filling our stomach? Do we set a daily goal to drink at least n number of bottles of water per day and track what and how much we eat? Do we check if we are eating within the stipulated calorie limits, whether we are eating too much of something like fats or too little of something like essential vitamins and minerals? All these and many such questions constitute the answers to basis of a balanced diet.
What is a balanced diet?
The website Narayana Health defines a balanced diet as ‘A balanced diet contains different kinds of foods in certain quantities and proportions so that the requirement for calories, proteins, minerals, vitamins and alternative nutrients is adequate and a small provision is reserved for additional nutrients to endure the short length of leanness’. The quantities of foods needed to meet the nutrient requirements vary with age, gender, physiological status and physical activity. A balanced diet should also provide other non-nutrients such as dietary fibre, antioxidants and phytochemicals which bestow positive health benefits.
Ideally, a balanced diet should offer 60-70% energy of the daily value from carbohydrates, 10-15% from proteins and 20-250% from fats, along with sufficient amounts of micronutrients too. A healthy diet has many long-term benefits in improving immunity. It also keeps deficiency diseases at bay and makes the body less prone to catching infections. It also has a good impact on the healthy functioning of vital organs and protects the body from heart, liver and kidney diseases for a long time. It is helpful in managing chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and diabetes. A balanced diet also helps to maintain body leanness.
Generally, a Mediterranean diet is considered to be the best form of balanced diet as it contains the right components and proportions required for a healthy meal. But many other regional-centric diets have also been developed by national health bodies keeping in mind dietary, cultural and religious constraints of the society. Lacto-ovo vegetarian diets, lacto-vegetarian diets and vegan diets have been developed to make up for the protein requirement of non-meat and dairy consumers.
The health organization USDA had developed the Food Pyramid, visual representation of the components and quantities that a diet should consist of roughly, for the general public to comprehend and follow. These had been adopted and modified to suit regional diets too. Later on, the Food Pyramid was changed to My Pyramid, a more personalized form of the previous version, also including the exercise part of a healthy lifestyle. Recently, the Food Pyramid has been replaced by My Plate, for a better understanding of the portion of component like cereals, pulses, vegetables, fruits, dairy, meat a plate should consist of. It is a better representation of the Food Pyramid. The My Plate concept also explains how a plate should be designed for a daily meal and recommends certain aspects of implementing a healthy diet. It also stresses on the importance of exercise and fitness.
A balanced and healthy diet surely helps us in maintaining a good health and is useful to reduce the consumption of high energy foods, sugar, salt, fats and oils and increase the consumption of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. A colourful diet with all the fresh, natural and healthy foods makes up a great meal!