All too often we are plagued by what diet will work best to lose that last 10 pounds, or how to lose the muffin top with detox smoothies, or enticed to drink tea to lose underarm fat. In a world of highly processed foods, an excess of sugar intake and stressing over the next best fad diet, it may be more logical to simplify things by just focusing on the importance of a balanced diet for overall health and well-being.

It’s not rocket science to figure out that if you are eating highly processed, sugary, fried foods, you run a much higher risk of chronic diseases and highly flawed, daily functioning. On the other side of the spectrum, if you are living a rigid, “diet” infested lifestyle, full of such things as high protein bars and/or meals, zero carbohydrates, gallons of daily water intake, and overall low calorie intake, this too will run you the risk of illness, impaired mental focus and overstressed organs.

If we were to break food down in the most simplest of terms, food provides us with the energy needed to go about our daily lives and the nutrients the food contains will build and maintain our bodily cells.  If we break it down a bit further into the nutrients that food provides we will find carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, as well as plain water.

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So, what is the importance of a balanced diet?

When we eat a variety of foods that are plants, animals or fish, our meals are not only enticing and appetizing. A balanced diet is full of nutrients that we need to grow as a child and throughout those first 18 years of life, to increase muscle and strength as an athlete, to provide for a developing fetus in a woman’s womb or to simply prepare our bodies for the next days worth of hard, continuous work.

How can our food intake be balanced?

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When we have a balanced plate of food we have food sources from a variety of groups: fruits, vegetables, meats, legumes, dairy/dairy alternatives, fats and water. We also need to remember that not one single food is going to provide our body of all the necessary nutrients needed to grow, heal and sustain life.

Lets look at a carrot, for instance.  If you were to only choose carrots as your vegetable on a daily basis for all meals eaten, you would be missing out on many other important nutrients other foods may provide, such as broccoli and its natural source of folate for normal cell formation or the iron in spinach that is a structural component of some proteins.

A balanced diet is also low in added sugars, low in added saturated and trans fats, and low in added sodium.  It means drinking half your weight in ounces, of water.  On a side note, a balanced diet can be extra flavorful by adding herbs and non-sodium spices, which many also have great health benefits.

Is there such a thing as “too much of a good thing?”

Sure there is! Even if you are eating the best choices of foods, cooking at home and having a meal while seated (the best way to keep healthy), you can eat too large of a portion and essentially consume more energy than your body needs to function in reference to your personal lifestyle.  As taught in pediatric nutrition, parents are encouraged to focus on a weeks worth of food, as opposed to a single day. Ultimately, this is how everyone should look their food intake.

You can ask yourself a few questions to see if you are consuming a balanced diet that is right for you:

  1. Is my plate full of a variety colors?
  2. Does  my plate contain a source of protein (either from an animal or plant)?
  3. Is there a small amount of healthy fats?
  4. Is my carbohydrate a natural source such as a sweet potato or brown rice?
  5. Am I energetic most of the time, (especially when I know I am getting enough sleep)?
  6. Do I only see my physician for well visits?

For a dietetics professional, there are certainly more layers involved when it comes to a balanced diet but for everyone else, simply looking for health and vitality, keep it simple by choosing a variety and keeping it as close to nature as possible.

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