What Is A Balanced Diet: A balanced diet is a diet, which involves all natural food groups in right amount so that the human body gets all the essential nutrients required for a healthy living. The major food groups are:
- Whole grains
- Pulses and legumes
- Fresh fruits
- Nuts and seeds
Food Groups in Balanced Diet
Let’s Explore in Detail About Each Food Group
Whole grains are the main source of glucose and energy in an Indian diet. They are a great source of dietary fiber, which is required for healthy bowel movements and B-complex vitamins, that are required by the body for a healthy living.
Whole grains have their outer covering intact, which makes them more nutritious as compared to refined grains. Refined flour is made from the grains, whose outer covering is removed. Hence, they have low or no nutritive value and all they provide is just ‘calories’.
Individuals who wish to shed some weight should always opt for fiber-rich whole grains. Some of the examples of whole grains are:
- Pearl millet or bajra
- Sorghum or jowar
- Finger millet or ragi
- Brown rice
- Cracked wheat
Examples of refined grains are:
- White flour or refined wheat flour or maida and its products such as white bread, pasta, and noodles
- White rice
Whole grains are further beneficial for individuals with type 2 diabetes, high triglyceride and cholesterol levels and heart diseases.
The ideal intake of whole grains should be 3-4 servings per day. (1)
Pulses and Legumes
Pulses are a great source of plant proteins for vegetarians. Proteins are required by each cell of the body for growth and development. Besides this, pulses are an important source of essential minerals like potassium, phosphorus and B-complex vitamins.
Pulses are also an amazing source of dietary fiber, which makes them beneficial for weight loss, management of high blood glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Most pulses do not contain all the essential amino acids in them. Therefore, it becomes important to combine them with whole grains in your diet, so that you are able to meet all of your amino acids. For example- Eating roti with dal
Soybeans are the only plant foods that contain all essential amino acids, thus making it a complete source of plant protein just like animal protein sources. Here is a list of pulses:
- Kidney beans
- Black-eyed beans
- Green gram
- Adzuki beans
- Black gram
- Navy beans
- Split chickpeas
- Split pigeon peas
- Red lentils
- Horse gram
Consume at least 2-3 servings of lentils and pulses daily to get your daily dose of protein. (2)
Fresh and whole fruits are a great source of essential vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. People who do not consume fresh fruits daily, push themselves towards vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Fresh fruits are low in fat and they contain a good amount of dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and antioxidants.
Eating 2 fresh fruits daily can lower your risk of heart diseases and cancer. It is an instant source of energy, which makes it a perfect pre-workout snack. Besides this, fruits make your skin glow and prevent premature aging of the skin and fight signs of skin aging too.
They are completely packed with antioxidants and flavonoids that fight oxidative stress, protect the cells of the body against free radical attack and prevent the onset of diseases that are linked to oxidative stress.
- Whole fruits are better than juices. Juicing leads to the loss of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber and the liquid, which you get at the end is of little nutritive value.
- Always choose fresh and seasonal fruits over canned fruits. Canned fruits contain preservatives, chemicals and a huge amount of sugar, which is definitely not good for your health.
- Enjoy one fruit at a time and eat it on an empty stomach, so that its nutrients are better absorbed. (3)
Vegetables are a great gift of nature to humankind. They deliver an ample amount of nutrients like- vitamin A, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin K, lutein, zeaxanthin, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron.
They are loaded with antioxidants and other plant compounds that are extremely beneficial for human health. Dietary fiber present in vegetables provides satiety, keep you full for a longer period of time and prevents constipation.
Vegetables are low in fat and high in moisture, which makes them beneficial for individuals who want to drop some weight.
- Always consume fresh and seasonal vegetables. Canned vegetables have a high content of salt, preservatives, and chemicals, which makes it unfit for human health in long-term.
- Eat 4-5 servings of vegetables daily in the form of salad, veggie (subzi) and unstrained soups
- If you are consuming vegetables in the form of salad, then start your meal with a big bowl of salad. This will make you feel full and you may end up eating less carbohydrates from your grains.
- If you are making a veggie (subzi) out of vegetables, add less oil to it.
- Vegetable soups must always be unstrained and do not add any thickener, such as corn flour to it.
- Ready-to-eat vegetable soup packets are unhealthy and one must not replace fresh vegetable soup with packaged soups. (4)
Nuts and Oilseeds
Nuts and oilseeds are packed with vitamins, minerals and healthy fat that are required by the body for good health. Choosing healthy fats from nuts over fried foods and packaged foods can protect your body against various diseases.
They protect the heart against damage and reduce the risk of heart diseases. Nuts contain dietary fiber that keeps you full for a longer period of time and keeps hunger pangs at bay.
Besides this, they are a good source of plant protein, which helps in growth and development. Magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium are the minerals present in nuts and oilseeds that boost the immune system and lower the risk of inflammation in the body.
Note: Though nuts provide an array of health benefits, one must not overdo on nuts and oilseeds because anything in excess is not good. Eating 3-4 pieces of almonds, cashew nuts, pistachios or 1 whole walnut daily is good to go.
Do not opt for salted and honey-coated nuts. (5)
Fats and Oils
This food group must be used sparingly, but it should not be avoided completely. It is very well-known that eating high fatty foods can damage the heart and cause weight gain, which gives rise to a host of diseases. But avoiding this food group completely may lead to dry and dull skin and deficiency of fat-soluble vitamins.
Foods that are high in fat, but nutritious include:
- Fresh olives
Consume no more than 2 teaspoons of cooking oil for one person per day. (7)
Why Eating A Balanced Diet Is Important?
A balanced diet is important so that the body gets the right amount of nutrition for proper growth and development. Such a diet contains foods from all the food groups in the appropriate amount. Here are some major health benefits of a balanced diet:
Helps in Weight Control
Packaged foods or foods containing high fat, sugar and refined flour in it often leads to weight gain. This is because foods prepared from these ingredients contain little or no nutrition at all.
On the other hand, eating foods rich in vitamins, minerals, healthy fat, lean protein and dietary fiber provides satiety and keeps you full for a longer period of time. This prevents weight gain and obesity.
Besides this, certain nutrient deficiencies are also linked to weight gain. Therefore, eating natural foods in the right amount is nutritious and healthy. (8)
Keeps Diseases and Illnesses at Bay
Eating a balanced diet is important for nutrition and well-being. Studies have found that a wholesome and nutritious diet supports a healthy living and prevents weight gain and obesity.
A number of diseases are linked to obesity, which can be controlled or modified through a balanced diet.
Medical experts have further recognized the impact of an unhealthy and improper diet on the risk of heart diseases, altered lipid profile, high blood glucose level, cancer, dental diseases and renal stones.
Studies have further observed that generous consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, replacement of unhealthy trans fat and saturated fat with healthy monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat, intake of adequate dietary fiber and restriction of refined sugar can protect against an array of diseases. (9)
Keeps You Energized
A diet full of unhealthy fat, refined sugar, and refined flour can make you feel lazy and sluggish. Even though you eat enough of these foods, you may not feel energetic.
Eating such foods regularly affects the physical as well as mental health. It has a negative effect on cognition and causes inflammation of the brain, which impairs the ability to perform a task effectively.
Eating fast food provides energy for a short span of time because it contains little or no dietary fiber and it reduces your motivation to work.
Eating nutrient-rich foods can increase your efficiency and make you more alert when it comes to work. Besides this, eating fiber-rich foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables supplies energy constantly all throughout the day and keeps you energized.
Healthy proteins coming from low-fat animal foods, dairy products, and pulses help in building muscle strength and stamina. (10)
Boosts Immune System
Eating foods high in fats and sugar can hamper your immune system and increase your risk of infections. Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants coming from fresh fruits and vegetables boost the immune cells to fight against foreign invaders, bacteria, and parasites.
These nutrients protect the body against infections and reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, which otherwise favor infections. Therefore, eating the right kind of foods is not just associated with weight, but it also improves the overall quality of life. (11)
Supports Heart Health
The heart is the vital organ of the body responsible for supplying purified blood to the entire body. Consuming a balanced diet ensures that your heart works efficiently. To reduce the risk of heart diseases, eat flaxseeds rich in omega-3 fat twice a week, nuts such as walnuts and almonds and deeply colored fruits and vegetables that are full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. (12)