A Guide to Eating a Balanced Diet

A Guide to Eating a Balanced Diet

A balanced diet includes foods from five groups and fulfills all of a person’s nutritional needs. Eating a balanced diet helps people maintain good health and reduce their risk of disease.

Dietary guidelines evolve with scientific advances, so it can be challenging to stay on top of current recommendations and know what to eat.

In this article, we look at current dietary recommendations and describe how to build a balanced diet.

What is a balanced diet?

A balanced diet is one that fulfills all of a person’s nutritional needs. Humans need a certain amount of calories and nutrients to stay healthy.

A balanced diet provides all the nutrients a person requires, without going over the recommended daily calorie intake.

By eating a balanced diet, people can get the nutrients and calories they need and avoid eating junk food, or food without nutritional value.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) used to recommend following a food pyramid. However, as nutritional science has changed, they now recommend eating foods from the five groups and building a balanced plate.

According to the USDA’s recommendations, half of a person’s plate should consist of fruits and vegetables.

The other half should be made up of grains and protein. They recommend accompanying each meal with a serving of low-fat dairy or another source of the nutrients found in dairy.

The 5 food groups

A healthful, balanced diet includes foods from these five groups:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Grains
  • Protein
  • Dairy

Vegetables

The vegetable group includes five subgroups:

  • leafy greens
  • red or orange vegetables
  • starchy vegetables
  • beans and peas (legumes)
  • other vegetables, such as eggplant or zucchini

To get enough nutrients and keep dietary boredom at bay, people should choose a variety of vegetables.

Additionally, the USDA recommend that people eat vegetables from each of the five subgroups every week.

People may enjoy vegetables raw or cooked. However, it is important to remember that cooking vegetables removes some of their nutritional value. Also, some methods, such as deep-frying, can add unhealthful fats to a dish.

Fruits

A balanced diet also includes plenty of fruit. Instead of getting fruit from juice, nutrition experts recommend eating whole fruits.

Juice contains fewer nutrients. Also, the manufacturing process often adds empty calories due to added sugar. People should opt for fresh or frozen fruits, or fruits canned in water instead of syrup.

Grains

People may enjoy vegetables raw or cooked. However, it is important to remember that cooking vegetables removes some of their nutritional value. Also, some methods, such as deep-frying, can add unhealthful fats to a dish.

Fruits

A balanced diet also includes plenty of fruit. Instead of getting fruit from juice, nutrition experts recommend eating whole fruits.

Juice contains fewer nutrients. Also, the manufacturing process often adds empty calories due to added sugar. People should opt for fresh or frozen fruits, or fruits canned in water instead of syrup.

Grains

The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that all people should include nutrient-dense protein as part of their regular diet.

The guidelines suggest that this protein should make up a quarter of a person’s plate.

Nutritious protein choices include:

  • lean beef and pork
  • chicken and turkey
  • fish
  • beans, peas, and legumes

Dairy

Dairy and fortified soy products are a vital source of calcium. The USDA recommend consuming low-fat versions whenever possible.

Low-fat dairy and soy products include:

  • ricotta or cottage cheese
  • low-fat milk
  • yogurt
  • soy milk

People who are lactose intolerant can opt for low-lactose or lactose-free products, or choose soy-based sources of calcium and other nutrients.

Losing weight

A poor diet is a common reason why people struggle with weight loss.

When combined with a regular exercise routine, a balanced diet can help a person reduce their risk factors for obesity or gaining weight.

A balanced diet can help a person lose weight by:

  • increasing their protein intake
  • avoiding excessive carbohydrates  or processed foods
  • getting essential nutrients, including minerals, vitamins, and fiber
  • preventing binge eating

People interested in losing weight should begin or enhance an exercise routine.

For some people, adding 30 minutes of walking each day and making minor changes, such as taking the stairs, can help them burn calories and lose weight.

For those that can, adding moderate exercise that includes cardio and resistance training will help speed weight loss.

Summary

Eating a balanced diet means eating foods from the five major groups.

Dietary guidelines change over time, as scientists discover new information about nutrition. Current recommendations suggest that a person’s plate should contain primarily vegetables and fruits, some lean protein, some dairy, and soluble fiber.

People interested in weight loss should also consider introducing moderate exercise into their routines.

6 Dangerous Diets You Should Avoid At All Costs

You probably already know that a balanced diet and exercise is the best way to shed pounds, but it’s safe to say we’d all like to take a few shortcuts when it comes to losing weight. You might think that skipping a run and simply trying one of these dangerous diets is the way to do it, but you’ll want to be careful before going to too many extremes to lose those 10, 20, or 30 pounds. You know the variation of the saying, “If it’s crazy enough, it just might work!”? In the case of most diets, “crazy” is what you want to avoid at all costs.

A general rule of thumb is to avoid any diet crazes that become mini themes in comedies — like the detox cleanse and tapeworm methods Kelly Kapoor tries on The Office. And yet, plenty of people have tried both of those methods, and others that not only put you through mild torture, but can be dangerous to your health.

“People get so focused on weight loss they are willing to do unproven and potentially dangerous things that can backfire and cause serious health problems,” Dr. Michelle May, who teaches mindful eating, told WebMD. What’s more, these “diets” often cut out important nutrients your body needs, while not being all that effective over the long term. “Fad diets often do not include exercise, and they do not teach healthy lifestyle behaviors and therefore do not cause sustainable weight loss,” Nina Eng, chief clinical dietitian at Plainview Hospital in New York, told U.S. News & World Report.

In general, you shouldn’t cut calories to fewer than 1,200 per day, and you should be eating foods from all food groups in their appropriate portions. Cutting out one too many vices, like desserts, will help you reach your goals much faster than the “miracle” diet your aunt was telling you about at your most recent family gathering. Common sense should kick in and warn you these fad diets might not be a good idea, but in case you’re tempted to try them anyway, here are the risks of some of the most dangerous diet plans out there.

The fasting diet

Fewer calories in, more weight loss out, right? That might be true in the short term, but all forms of fasting diets are bad news. Depriving your body of food and the nutrients in it for prolonged periods of time can increase stress, and have the reverse effect you actually want by slowing down your metabolism. You’ll also lose muscle mass you’ve worked to attain, and you’re at a greater risk for health problems including dehydration, dizziness, and anemia, among a long list of other possibilities.

Not convinced yet? When you do end your fast and begin eating food again, your body will kick into overdrive to eat as much as it can — meaning you’ll be fighting increased hunger that will likely convince you to put the pounds back on.

Juice diets and detoxes

These diets are sometimes considered fasting diets as well, but we’ll spell it out for you to be clear — that witch’s brew of lemon juice, water, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper will not help you look slimmer on your vacation three months from now. Like straight-up fasts, you’ll lose muscle mass and your metabolism will slow down. Plus, you’re basically just getting rid of water, not fat. If you go back to the same eating habits you had before the detox, you’ll gain every single pound back. Plus, you’ll be torturing yourself with likely consequences of fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and dehydration.

Cotton ball diet

Believe it or not, ingesting a handful of cotton balls soaked in orange juice, lemonade, or a smoothie is a terrible way to lose weight. In theory, the cotton balls fill you up and suppress your appetite. But aside from the worrisome lengths it takes to substitute food for puff balls in your bathroom, it’s also dangerous.

In most cases, the “cotton” balls you buy aren’t cotton, but instead are bleached polyester fibers filled with tons of other chemicals. On top of that, eating too many of the fibers can cause buildup and blockages in your intestines called bezoars, which could end up being life-threatening if left unnoticed.

Sleeping beauty diet

The sleeping beauty diet was founded on the idea that you don’t need to eat while you’re asleep, so if you take a strict regimen of chemical sleep aids, you’ll be able to sleep off the pounds — from the comfort of your pillow. It was made famous by Elvis Presley and was popular in the 1960s and 1970s, but this oldie isn’t a goodie. For one, most sleep aids carry the risk of becoming addictive. But if you stay asleep or sedated for multiple days, you risk muscle deterioration from a lack of movement.

The tapeworm diet

Suffice it to say, if your doctor prescribes medicine to ward off a parasite when you travel to other countries, you shouldn’t be welcoming that parasite into your body for the sake of losing a few pounds. Still, that hasn’t stopped people from ingesting tapeworm eggs, allowing the parasite to feed off their extra calories, and asking a doctor for an anti-worm medication when they’ve lost the desired amount of weight.

Aside from the huge ick factor of having a worm in your intestines (and really, that should be enough), having tapeworms in your system is a recipe for disaster. “Tapeworms can also cause unpleasant side effects, including abdominal cramps, diarrhea and fatigue, and if they stay in your system, all those calories they’re eating make them grow – sometimes into an intestinal blockage,” Keith Ayoob, an associate clinical professor of pediatrics who specializes in weight loss at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, told U.S. News & World Report.

The cabbage/grapefruit diets

No, eating a constant diet of cabbage or grapefruit won’t kill you. But consuming just one kind of food and forsaking all others can lead to major nutrient deficiencies, and often aren’t that effective for losing weight long-term.

Both of these diets, which focus either on cabbage soup or small meals based around grapefruit and grapefruit juice, are age-old fad diets. You’ll lose weight initially, since all low-calorie plans will make that happen. But you should be mixing in lean proteins and carbohydrates, among other elements, several nutritionists recommend.

So, if you can’t swallow cotton balls, host worms, and stomach cabbage for a week straight, what should you do instead? If you need more structure than simply watching your portion sizes and following dietary guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, try some of the top-ranking diets out there, which have earned stamps of approval by a variety of health experts.

The Most Effective Weight Loss Diet

A high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet is the most effective diet for promoting weight loss and reducing hunger, at least in the short term, according to scientists at Aberdeen’s Rowett Research Institute.

Researchers gave healthy but obese men one of two “high protein” diets. Protein was kept to 30% of total calories in both diets, but the amount of carbohydrate and fat was varied. In the first diet—which they called “low carbohydrate”—the carbohydrate content was kept to a very low 4%, with the rest of the calories coming from fat. In the second diet—which they called “moderate carbohydrate”—the carbohydrate content was kept to 35%, with the rest coming from fat.

Each subject spent four weeks on each of the two diets, and was weighed daily. The subjects were allowed to eat all they wanted, as long as the proportions of carbohydrate, fat and protein were kept constant according to the experimental design. The subjects were asked about their hunger and appetite on a daily basis.

Not surprisingly, those eating the very low carbohydrate version of the diet went into ketosis. They also reported the least amount of hunger. Not surprisingly, given their reports of less hunger and cravings, they also spontaneously ate less food and lost more weight.

The modern-day Atkins program no longer emphasizes ketosis as necessary for weight loss, but it does appear that for some people it’s a very effective way to lose weight and control appetite. But with or without ketosis, the modern-day Atkins Nutritional Approach™ continues to be shown to be effective at keeping weight under control while supporting good health. Remember, even in the “moderate carbohydrate” diet used in the research, carbohydrates were only 35% of calories, protein was 30% and fat made up the rest. With a diet of adequate protein, good fat, high-fiber vegetables, low-glycemic fruit and a little whole grain in lifetime maintenance, you can’t go wrong!

10 Reasons Doctors Talk About The Need For Good Nutrition & Diets

A healthy diet prevents malnutrition and protects from diseases like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke. Today, many people’s diets consist of more saturated fat, trans fats, sugars, and more sodium than fruits, vegetables and dietary fiber. Your body’s health reflects what you put into it.

There are many benefits to having a nutritious diet. Below are 10 reasons:

1. Good Nutrition Improves Well-Being

Eating a poor diet reduces physical and mental health because eating healthy allows people to be more active. Two-thirds of people who eat fresh fruit and vegetables daily report no mental health issues, as reported by the Mental Health Foundation. Compare this to those who do have some level of mental health problems and have generally reported eating less healthy foods and more unhealthy foods. Feelings of well-being can be protected by ensuring that our diet is full of essential fats, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

2. It’s Expensive To Be Unhealthy

Nearly two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a healthier diet could prevent at least $71 billion per year in medical costs and lost lives. That number may be underestimated because it only accounts for diet-related coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. It does not include other diet-related illnesses. Seventy-five percent of health care dollars are spent on treating preventable diseases.

3. Helps You Manage A Healthy Weight

Eating a nutritious diet filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and protein will help maintain a healthy body weight. Janelle Hodovic, a Registered Dietician with UnityPoint Clinic – Weight Loss, says this about nutrition: “There is no one diet, no diet pill and no surgery that lets people eat whatever they want and still expect weight loss and improved health. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise program will be what is needed to achieve those goals. Use food for its purpose: Nourishment.” Healthy Eating Plate discusses how to make the best eating choices. If eating healthy makes you think about the food you can’t have, refocus your thoughts on the foods you can have. Put a new spin on an old recipe to make it a little healthier. You don’t have to give up your favorite comfort foods; it’s all about balance. Adding a variety of fruits and vegetables to meals can help you control your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol.

4. Maintains Your Immune System

Our immune system is our defense against disease, but poor nutrition is the most common cause of immunodeficiencies worldwide. Maintaining your immune system requires an intake of proper vitamins and minerals. Eating a well-balanced diet, including fruits, vegetables and food low in fats, will help support a healthy immune system.

5. Delays the Effects Of Aging

Foods like tomatoes, berries, avocados, nuts and fish all contain certain vitamins and minerals that are good for the skin. For example, tomatoes contain vitamin C, which helps build collagen, in turn making your skin look firmer and slow premature aging. Berries are full of antioxidants and vitamins and eating them promotes cell regeneration for new skin.

6. Gives You Energy

Our bodies derive energy from the foods and liquids we consume. The main nutrients our body uses for energy are carbohydrates, fats and protein. Carbohydrates such as whole-grain breads and starchy vegetables are the best for prolonged energy since they are digested at a slower rate. Water is necessary for transport of nutrients, and dehydration can cause a lack of energy. A deficiency in iron may cause fatigue, irritability and low energy. Food rich in iron includes seafood, poultry, peas and dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach. To better absorb iron from these foods, it is best to consume vitamin C at the same time. Think of including vitamin C rich foods like broccoli, kiwi, peppers, leafy greens and tomatoes in meals full of iron.

7. Reduces The Risk of Chronic Disease

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, risk factors for chronic diseases, like type 2 diabetes, have been increasingly seen at younger ages as a result of unhealthy eating and weight gain. Among adults ages 20 to 74, diabetes remains the leading cause of kidney failure, blindness and non-traumatic lower-extremity amputation. Dietary habits are typically established in childhood and carry on into adulthood, making it crucial to teach children the importance of eating a healthy diet early on.

8. Healthy Eating Positively Affects Your Mood

Diets low in carbohydrates increase feelings of tension whereas diets high in carbohydrates have a more uplifting effect on mood. A diet rich in protein, moderate in carbohydrates and low in fat will have a positive effect on mood because it leaves an adequate supply of iron, omega-3 fatty acids and iron. As much as food affects our mood, mood affects our food choices. When we experience feelings of sadness, we are more likely to choose unhealthy foods. People feeling happier feelings are more likely to choose healthier foods.

9. Increases Focus

Food has an impact on the way we think. When the body is low on glucose, the brain is not receiving the energy it needs to remain focused. Diets high in fat and cholesterol can seriously damage the brain by building up plaque in brain vessels, damaging brain tissue and causing strokes. Eating fruits and vegetables throughout the day helps keep the mind healthy and engaged.

10. Healthy Diets May Lengthen Your Life

Your body needs food in order to survive, but the process of breaking down food nutrients, or metabolizing, causes stress on the body. Overeating creates more stress on the body and could lead to a shorter lifespan. According to research done by Columbia University, 18 percent of deaths among white and black Americans can be attributed to obesity. Obesity could potentially lead to a decline in life expectancy in the United States. Diets that are rich in nutrients and do not contain processed foods have been found to have a positive effect on life expectancy.

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