It is important to have a balanced diet to make sure you have an optimum amount of energy and to provide the nutrients your body needs to repair itself and avoid illness. Women have different requirements than men for a balanced diet as do children and seniors. A poor diet has been linked to many causes of death including heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes.
There’s a lot of nutrition and diet advice out there and not all of it makes sense. We live busy lives and many find it’s not always easy to maintain a balanced diet. People have a natural tendency to eat things they like and not everything that tastes good is good for you. This is especially true for people who enjoy convenience foods and fast foods as part of their regular diet. There’s a lot of competition to attract your food dollars and little concern about whether or not foods are good for you. Once you develop cravings for junk food, there’s not much else that will appeal to your appetite.
Eating A Variety Of Food Provides A Balanced Diet
According to the food guide, there are 5 food groups: vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and a protein group which includes meat, poultry, fish and nuts. Foods that provide similar key nutrients are grouped together. The idea is to help you choose from a variety of foods so you can get a balance of nutrients every day.
It is not necessary to eat from each food group at every meal or even every day. For example, you only need to eat fish a couple of times a week. Choosing different foods from each group helps ensure you get a good supply of nutrients in any given week.
What Is A Balanced Diet
A dictionary definition for a balanced diet would be something like this: a diet that contains the proper proportions of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water necessary to maintain good health.
All we need now is to define what a proper proportion is. And here’s the problem, I don’t think there is one single answer for everyone. If you’re very active or do physical labour for a living, you probably require a different mix than someone who sits at a desk all day. Other factors come into play as well like your age, sex, metabolic makeup and the existence of any health problems. If you are diabetic for example, you need to be much more selective about the foods you eat.
The food guides are exactly that – guidelines. It’s a good place to start, but you need to pay close attention to how different foods affect you.
Calorie Requirements For A Balanced Diet
The Canadian Government has a detailed chart available here showing the recommended calorie intake for both women and men based on age and activity level. The upper limit is 2,000 calories a day for women and 2, 500 calories a day for men.(1)
I think it might also be helpful to say that the quality of the calories makes a difference. Calories from sugar don’t deliver any nutrients. And since high glycemic load carbohydrates convert to sugar very quickly, we need to be very selective in choosing calories from many food sources.
For example, the latest food guides, whether from Canada or the US, continue to recommend that we get 50 to 65 percent of our calories from carbohydrates even though two thirds of the population is overweight. Some carbohydrates convert to sugar very quickly and contribute considerably to weight gain. I personally prefer to reduce my intake of carbohydrates a bit and increase my calorie intake from protein and fat.
The government guidelines are slowly changing but they are under considerable pressure from lobbyists. I pulled this short quote from the Harvard Health Publications: “The federal government has been in the food icon business since 1992, when it unveiled the Food Guide Pyramid. It was built on a shaky foundation, influenced more by the food industry and agriculture interests than by science. MyPlate continues this unhelpful trend.”
It’s unfortunate that lobbying by food and agriculture industry players influences not only government diet recommendations but even what is taught in our schools to a certain degree.
It means we have to do a bit of thinking and conduct our own research rather than just accept these recommendations blindly.
Global Per Capita Food Consumption
According to nutrition guidelines, we should be consuming between 2,000 to 2,500 calories per day. The following chart was constructed using information from the World Health Organization (WHO).(2)
According to the WHO, there were an estimated 200 million obese adults worldwide in 1995. The number increased by 50 percent to 300 million in a very short time. As of 2000, the number of obese adults has increased to over 300 million. It is not an exaggeration to say the problem has now gone global. It is estimated that there are 115 million obese in developing countries.
Healthy Eating Habits Guarantee A Balanced Diet
Habits can make or break a balanced diet. You need to develop good habits in order to ensure you get a healthy balance of nutrients and avoid making bad food choices. Bad habits, sometimes even one, can ruin the best of plans when it comes to weight control. For example, you might watch your calorie intake and eat good healthy food all week, but if you have a habit of binging on weekends, you will very easily undo 5 days of good eating habits in 2 days of binging and rewarding yourself with junk food.
Food Away From Home
Many studies have associated Food away from home (FAFH) with a poor diet and associated health concerns. It is estimated that many Americans currently spend 42 percent of their food budget on food away from home. People tend to eat differently when they eat out and often choose foods that are less nutritious and higher in calories.
Some Foods To Limit
Potatoes have been a staple for many years but they have a high glycemic load. Foods with high glycemic loads digest quickly and cause a surge followed by a dip in blood sugar and insulin. After the blood sugar dips people look to boost it again and often eat sugary foods or any food with a high glycemic effect. The resulting hunger and overeating is why it’s best to limit your intake of potatoes.
Even though potatoes are nutritious they don’t contain any nutrient that can’t be had in other foods and they are not the best source of any one nutrient. A cup of broccoli has more than 8 times times as much vitamin C as a potato and many beans contain the same amount or more potassium.
Did you know that a cup of potatoes has a similar effect on blood sugar as a can of Coca Cola. Even a baked potato with skin on is a very starchy food and is something you need to limit unless you are the one in three that does not have a weight problem.
Rice is another starchy food that needs to be limited if you are watching your weight. Whole grain rice does have a slightly lower glycemic load than white rice, but it’s still considered a high glycemic food. It’s important to limit the quantity and frequency of eating a starchy food like rice.
These are just two examples of foods that people eat regularly that contribute to obesity in a big way.
According to Agriculture Factbook released in 2003, the per capita consumption of sweeteners had increased to an average of 152 lbs per year by 2000.(3) I’m using the information from 2003 because it is a more accurate representation than the more recent loss adjusted data. Here’s how it looks in chart form:
The use of table sugar dropped 31.1 lbs from 96.7 to 65.6 lbs per person per year in this time frame. Our use of corn sweeteners however went from 11 lbs to 85.3 lbs for an increase of 74.3 lbs and is a net increase of 43.2 lbs per person per year of sugar. If we round the numbers, that’s a 40 percent increase in sugar consumption!
A 40 percent increase in sugar consumption is a significant change. Sugar consumption has come under a lot of heat lately and some experts suggest that obesity will overtake alcohol as the biggest cause of liver failure within the next 5 years.
Drinks with added sugars have been identified as the major contributor to the overconsumption of sugar in the modern diet.
The information for added fats comes from the same source. Here’ what our consumption of added fats looks like:
The consumption of added fats increased from 44.6 to 74.5 lbs per person. Salad and cooking oils increased from 9.8 to 35.2 lbs and shortening increased from 10.9 to 23.1 lbs. The use of margarine remained constant but butter consumption was halved going from 9 lbs to 4.6 lbs.
It’s interesting to note that the increase in the use of fats corresponds with the surge in fast food restaurants. Restaurants and fast-food outlets use hydrogenated oils to deep-fry foods because these oils can be used more often in commercial fryers than regular oils. There has been a lot or pressure to reduce the trans fats in our food supply lately but it hasn’t affected the use by most fast food restaurants yet.
Artificial trans fats are created by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils. They are inexpensive to produce and give foods a desirable taste and texture. They also last a long time and these two features are why they are a favorite in fast food restaurants.
Healthy Meal Ideas For A Balanced Diet
One of the most important habits to keep you on a balanced diet is to plan healthy meal ideas before you go grocery shopping for the week. It’s a good way to make sure you have healthy foods available all week and it can also help you save money on your grocery bill. Planning large meals designed to leave left overs also guarantees that you will have healthy snacks to eat and will help you maintain a balanced diet throughout the week.
Balanced Diet And Weight Loss
It’s important to keep nutrition in mind if you’re trying to lose weight. The most effective diet for weight loss is a diet you can stick to. Any diet that cuts your calorie intake will help you lose weight in the short term, but if it’s a really strict or boring diet, you won’t be able to stick to it for long and you will regain all the weight you’ve lost very quickly. That is exactly what happens to 85 percent of dieters within one year of going on a diet!
The majority of dieters are always on the lookout for a new way to lose weight quickly, essentially repeating the same mistake over and over and expecting to get different results the next time. The most effective diet is one that doesn’t concern itself with how quickly you lose weight but is designed to keep the weight off. It doesn’t really matter how long it takes.
What matters is that the weight loss is permanent and the diet allows you to eat satisfying meals that provide good nutrition.
A well designed diet will be structured in such a way that the cravings for chips, sweets and other junk food will go away after a very short while. Once you start eating differently, you will gradually develop cravings for some of the healthier foods that are in your new diet. You just form another habit. Replace a bad habit with a good habit and the problem is solved – it’s that easy.
Get a copy of The Easy Way To Be Lean & Healthy for more information on an effective diet that is easy to stick with.
Time To Change
The overconsumption of fats and sugars is now a global phenomenon. Marketing and advertising play a significant role in encouraging behaviors and the daily bombardment with ads and commercials meant to encourage the consumption of sugary drinks and foods has been very effective indeed.
Much of what we eat is done out of habit. If you get used to eating foods that are high in salt, sugar and fat, more natural food will soon start to taste pretty bland. The same thing happens in reverse once you cut back on these foods. Natural foods start to taste better and you rediscover the natural sweetness and flavours that are in so many foods.
As more people buy healthier foods that are not as heavily processed and loaded with sugar, fat and salt, grocery stores will begin to stock more of them. As this trend continues we will see prices of healthier foods and organic products come more in line with highly processed production foods. The price of organic foods is a barrier for many people who would otherwise like to feed it to their families. If only our governments would subsidize natural foods the way they subsidize the current food industry, we would see change come about much more quickly.
In the meantime, we all need to vote with our dollars to bring about change. As this change comes about, it will become much easier for everyone to eat a healthier, balanced diet.