You hear people talk about the importance of a balanced diet all the time. Everything in moderation as part of a balanced diet, right? As a Dietitian I talk about it often and I think it’s important to consider this in depth, because when we actually stop to think about it – what does a balanced diet actually look like?
A ‘balanced’ diet can be interpreted in many ways, all of which are important. A balanced diet means eating a variety of foods to get the full range of nutrients. It means having a balance of different macronutrients in our meals so we feel satisfied after eating.
A balanced diet is definitely not about perfection, because that involves absolutely no balance at all.
It is about having enjoyment from eating and taking away the labels of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods. So let’s talk through the three main factors that I consider to be essential to a balanced diet.
EAT A VARIETY OF FOODS
The food groups provide different core nutrients that are all important. A balanced diet should include all the food groups, and not cut anything out. This is the best way to ensure you are getting all the essential vitamins and minerals into your diet and in adequate amounts. Variety also increases the pleasure of eating. A great way to think of this is to try to get a rainbow of colours on your plate.
INCLUDE ALL THE MACRONUTRIENTS
At each meal it’s ideal to include a source of each of the macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein and fats. This combination is best for satiety and nourishing the body. While a green salad may appear to be a healthy lunch, it can lack a balance of macronutrients, leaving you absolutely ravenous and craving a sugar hit by 3.30pm – we have all been there!
Using a salad as an example, there are many options for getting the balance of macronutrients right. For example, protein can be in the form of chicken breast, canned tuna, smoked salmon, eggs, tofu, or legumes and lentils. Carbohydrates could be roasted sweet potato, quinoa, brown rice, canned corn, or legumes, which also fall into this category. Sources of healthy fat for a salad are olive oil, avocado or a handful of nuts and seeds for added crunch. These three components together with a big serve of fresh salad veggies is a winning lunch combo.
The concept of balance is also relevant when it comes to enjoyment from eating and not placing restriction on ourselves. We should be able to enjoy our food, and not feel any guilt. The good old 80/20 balance is a good overall aim, as a diet that is 100 percent focused on only choosing particular foods and sticking to a strict regime is not good for you in the long term.