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What Is a Healthy Balanced Diet, and Why Is It Important?

Updated on May 7, 2019
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David is an army-trained biomedical scientific officer, writer, and lifelong health and fitness enthusiast.

A healthy, balanced meal.
A healthy, balanced meal. | Source

A Healthy Balanced Diet

If you want to improve your health, and maybe lose some weight, it’s not just about eating less and exercising more. It’s what you eat that’s really important. A healthy balanced diet should consist of all three macro-nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) and a wide variety of micro-nutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, etc.). This will enable your body to function properly and maintain good health well into old age.

If you don’t provide your body with all the nutrients it needs, you’ll deteriorate due to the effects of ageing far quicker than you otherwise would. You’ll also have a much greater risk of developing health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, brain and central nervous system disorders, and many other degenerative conditions.

Proteins - The Building Blocks Of Life

Proteins are essential for muscle growth and repair, and they have numerous other functions in the body too. They are obtained from such foods as meat & poultry, fish, eggs, milk and cheese.

Meat from grass fed animals is better than from grain fed. Wild caught fish is better than farmed. And free range eggs are better than caged. But don’t go out of your way to buy these if you can’t easily afford them.

Dairy products, such as milk and cheese, are fine to eat if you are not lactose intolerant, but they are not an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet. The Japanese Okinawans are the healthiest and longest lived people in the world and they don’t eat any dairy products at all.

Carbohydrates Should Be Complex - Not Refined

Good sources of complex carbohydrates include whole grains such as brown rice and oats, as well as starchy vegetables such as potatoes and sweet potatoes.

Refined carbohydrates are low in nutrition, and they also cause a lot of inflammation in the body, so they should only be eaten on an occasional basis. These include white flour products, such as white bread, pasta, spaghetti and pastry, and sugary foods such as cakes, biscuits, candy bars, puddings etc.

Wheat can be a problem for a lot of people even if it is not refined, however, as it contains gluten, which many people are sensitive to. In fact it’s estimated that at least 20% of the population could have some degree of gluten sensitivity, and this may be causing all manner of health problems including digestive disorders, fatigue and poor immunity, as well as making it more difficult to lose weight. So if you suffer from any of these problems you might want to give up wheat for a month or so to see if your condition improves.

The Importance Of Healthy Fats

Those who advise eating a low fat diet are misinformed. Certain fats are essential to good health.

You should avoid hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated (trans) fats such as margarine, and also refined vegetable and seed oils (such as soybean, canola, sunflower, safflower and corn oils). But saturated fats are perfectly fine in moderation, and the healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in such foods as oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados and extra virgin olive oil are an essential part of a well balanced diet.

For cooking, saturated fats such as butter or coconut oil are best, as they are not easily oxidized when heated. And olive oil is great for adding to salads or mixing with tuna.

Eat Plenty of Fruit and Vegetables

Apart from the macro-nutrients mentioned above, we also need a wide range of micro-nutrients. Some of these will be obtained from the foods already mentioned, of course, but a variety of vegetables, together with some fruits (preferably local grown), are also essential to ensure you get a full range of vital nutrients.

So try to make sure you eat at least 3 – 5 servings of vegetables and 2 - 3 pieces of fruit each day.

It is, however, an unfortunate fact that most of the food we eat today is not nearly as nutritious as it used to be, due to our modern farming methods. So even if you do eat a good healthy diet, it may still be worth taking a good quality multivitamin supplement each day to ensure against deficiencies.

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Putting It All Together

So, if at each meal you have a protein food, some complex carbohydrates, and some vegetables or salad, you’ll be getting everything you need to give you a good, healthy, well-balanced diet. Much of your fat intake will normally come from your protein foods, but do make sure you are getting some additional sources of healthy fats each day too.

Generally speaking you should eat three meals per day, and if you exercise regularly you'll probably want to have a post workout shake or snack on top of this. If you have a fast metabolism and get hungry quickly you may also wish to add in one or two between meal snacks. But generally it’s best to give your digestive system a rest by only eating three times per day. In fact many people thrive on just two meals per day. So you may want to experiment a little to find out what works best for you.

These then are the basic components that make up a healthy balanced diet. Just follow the advice given here and you will have the basic dietary foundation for a long and healthy life.


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