Balanced Diet is a diet which contains adequate amounts of all necessary nutrients required for healthy growth and activity. Consumption of a balanced diet ensures that one receives the optimum amounts of each and every food type. Daily recommended amounts of macronutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, fats, dietary fibre and water as well as micronutrients like vitamins and minerals should be consumed. A diet that is balanced enables the body to support its proper functioning, providing fuel to sustain activity and maintain energy levels.
Components of a Balanced Diet
- Carbohydrates constitute the major part of any meal as they are present in substantial amounts in foods like rice, wheat, breads, noodles, pastas, oats and other cereal based products. Carbohydrates maybe classified into simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are sugars that are easily absorbed into the bloodstream and bring about a rapid rise in blood-sugar levels. Complex carbohydrates such as starchy potatoes and grains take longer to digest and absorb, since starches are typically longer branched chains of sugar units that need to be disintegrated to simpler single sugar units. Hence it is always recommended that higher levels of complex carbohydrates be included as part of a balanced diet and refined carbohydrates such as simple sugars are reduced in the diet.
- Fats are essential to the body as they aid in the absorption of necessary vitamins and help insulate internal organs. Fats may be classified as saturated and unsaturated based on the structure of fatty acids involved. The saturated fats are harmful to healthy heart function, as their excess consumption causes elevated cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are present in red meats and dairy products. Unsaturated fats may be further classified as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are typically liquids like olive oil and flaxseed oil. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are classified as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These are essential fats as they are not produced by the body and need to be included in the diet as they are important for maintaining health. Nuts, seeds and fish, flax seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts are some of the best sources of these essential fatty acids.
- Proteins play two main functions in the body – growth and repair. They constitute important body tissues like muscles, skin, hair etc. and their adequate intake translate into better growth of these tissues. Proteins are important for repair and maintenance of tissues as well. Proteins are composed of amino acids. Thus our body constantly requires amino acids to produce new proteins for growth and to replace damaged proteins with respect to tissue maintenance. Certain amino acids are essential to the body and need to be supplied by way of diet. Therefore a diet containing adequate amounts of amino acids (especially essential amino acids) becomes critical in situations like pregnancy, lactation, or injury. Complete protein is one that contains all the essential amino acids. Some of the best sources of protein are meat, fish, eggs, tofu, soy products, legumes, dairy products like milk and cheese.
- Vitamins are of two types, fat soluble are Vitamins A, D, E and K and the remaining are water soluble vitamins. Vitamin intake is important as these play significant roles in various metabolic processes in the body. Certain vitamins exhibit anti-oxidant activity and protect the body from harmful free radical damage. Conditions like disorders of cell metabolism, osteoporosis, scurvy, impaired immunity, premature aging arise from vitamin deficiencies.
- Minerals also have certain specific roles to play in the body. While some are structural, like Calcium, Phosphorus and Magnesium, others act as electrolytes like Sodium, Potassium and chlorine. Apart from these there are certain trace minerals that play catalytic roles in enzyme functions.Therefore a nutritious balanced diet must have appropriate levels of both vitamins and minerals for the body to function efficiently.
A balanced diet is all about consuming all the necessary nutrients – both macronutrients and micronutrients, in the recommended amounts.