When someone talks about a balanced diet, do you know what they mean? Is there only one diet that is balanced or can there be more? In other words, can your balanced diet differ from someone else’s balanced diet?
Most health professionals agree that a healthy balanced diet is made up of fruits, vegetables, grains and lean meats, along with some low-fat dairy products. But in what proportions?
To break this down even further, let’s look at the ratios of the three main macronutrients that should be in your diet.
The general guidelines say 50% of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates. But there are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex, and they are very different. Simple carbs are high in sugar, digested quickly and usually don’t have very much fiber. Complex carbs keep you full longer because of the fiber they contain. They keep you satisfied and don’t spike your blood sugar. Of the 50%, only 10% should be come from simple carbs with the rest being complex.
Approximately 30% of your diet should comprise of fats, but not all fats are created equal. There are three types of fats: unsaturated, saturated and trans-fat. Most of your fats should be poly and mono-unsaturated. Ten percent should be saturated and you should avoid trans-fat altogether.
Nutritional labels in the U.S. allow up to 0.5 gram of trans-fat without requiring it to be declared on the label. You can tell if a food has trans-fat in it or not by adding up the saturated and unsaturated fats on the label and comparing it to the total fat listed. If they are not the same, the difference is trans-fat.
Twenty percent of calories should come from proteins, but not all proteins are created equally either. There are both meat and vegetable protein. Meat protein is generally better for you as it contains all of the nine essential amino acids. Most vegetables don’t contain all the essential amino acids. These types of food are sometimes referred to as incomplete proteins.
Vegetarians and vegans that don’t eat meat usually have to supplement their vegetable protein with amino acid supplements or nuts. Another way is to combine specific types of vegetable with others to make up a complete protein.
Isn’t There An Easier Way?
Instead of trying to compute percentages, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) came out with new simplified daily balanced diet guidelines in 2011. They now say:
- Half your plate should consist of fruits and vegetables of various colors.
- Half of your grain products should come from whole grain. (They should say: “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat”.)
- Add in protein such as lean beef, chicken, turkey or beans. Twice a week you should choose seafood as your protein.
- Consume one cup of low-fat dairy products, either as milk, cheese or yogurt.
- Reduce the consumption of foods high in sugar and sodium.
With a sensible selection of foods in the correct proportions, there isn’t any reason why eating can’t be both fun and healthy. Adjust your calorie consumption to meet or to maintain your weight goals.