So, you think you know what a “Balanced Diet” is and how to choose healthy food?

So, you think you know what a “Balanced Diet” is and how to choose healthy food?

The word meaning of malnutrition is “lack of proper nutrition by not eating enough food”. The word to emphasise here is “enough” and most of the people misinterpret the meaning of malnutrition as “not eating at all”. A person who eats three large meals a day could be suffering from malnutrition and he/she might not even be aware of it.

Malnutrition is not just confined to the “thinnest and leanest” persons. Overeating and obesity are also different forms of malnutrition.

Obese persons, instead of taking a balanced and healthy diet, they consume a large amount of calories in the form of all the tasty foods that they love. Thus malnutrition is not the issue in developing countries alone. It is seen in developed countries too.

Lack of a balanced diet is the root cause of malnutrition all around the world. This article will deal with balanced diet, the quantity and quality of foods to eat, the importance of fruits, vegetables and will cover all the basic steps that you need to follow in order to lead a healthy life and be free from malnutrition.

What is a Balanced Diet?

A diet which contains a variety of foods in such quantities and proportions that the need for energy, vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates, proteins and other nutrients is adequately met for maintaining good health.

A balanced diet should be a source for calories, fats, proteins and adequate amounts of vegetables and fresh seasonal fruits. It should also include at least 2 litres of water for an average adult every day.

All diseases in the world have a direct or indirect relation to the diet. A balanced diet can prevent several diseases and can also alter the course of a disease.

Breakdown of a balanced diet

Now that we know what a balanced diet is, let us learn how to make a diet balanced. We shall do this with the help of the Indian diet example.

In a traditional Indian diet, calories are derived mainly from the cereals and tubers. Examples of cereals include rice, wheat, maize, ragi, oats etc.

Pulses like green gram, bengal gram, soya bean and the dhal provide the protein component of the diet in the case of vegetarians. Non vegetarian persons can use fish, egg, and meat instead of pulses as the sources of proteins.

Fruits and vegetable should also be taken to provide the fibre content, vitamins and minerals in the diet.
The important thing to note is that, all these ingredients should be taken simultaneously in adequate quantities (explained below).

balanced diet idli sambar
Idli with Sambar (curry) – a popular Indian breakfast and a perfect balanced diet.

Tubers like tapioca and potato are used as side dishes and curries in India along with the cereals. This is a wrong practice because tubers are rich in carbohydrates just like cereals and they should be used only in place of cereals and not with them. Poori (made of wheat) with potato bhaji is a popular Indian breakfast which needs to be discontinued. Instead,  potato/tapioca (tubers) with fish/meat/egg (proteins) is a balanced diet. Hope you got the idea correctly!

Fried meat and fish items are very popular in India and should be avoided completely. They contain toxins which are harmful for the body. Fried vegetarian dishes are also to be avoided. The oils which are used for frying in hotels and fast food outlets are being reused.

Importance of water intake together with the food should not be forgotten. Recent studies from the UK have shown that drinking a glass of water half an hour before every large meal (3 times) daily can help reduce the weight by 4 kg in just 12 weeks!

Fruits and Vegetables

The bulk of fibre content in the diet is provided by the fruits and vegetables. Fibre in diet is essential for the normal bowel movements and to prevent intestinal diseases like constipation, bloating, cancers, haemorrhoids, hernias etc.

Apart from fibres, fruits and vegetables provides several micro nutrients, vitamins, trace elements and anti-oxidants which are absolutely essential for the proper functioning of the body organs.

Overcooking vegetables is a common practice in India and this should also be avoided. This can lead to the loss of nutrients contained in the vegetables. Vegetables should be eaten raw whenever possible (make sure that they are not contaminated).

Preferring seasonal fruits can help ensure that they are fresh to some extent. Fruits should be consumed as servings and fresh juices only. Bottled juices, fruit juices mixed with milk and sugar are deficient in fibre content and other nutrients and should be discouraged.

READ : Can Diabetic persons eat fruits safely?

A patient recently asked me at the Out Patient Department about the safety of fruits and vegetables available in the Indian markets. The pesticides and bacterial contamination of the fruits and vegetables is a hot topic in India these days. But, you should not avoid fruits and vegetables only because of this fear of contamination. Cleaning the fruits and vegetables thoroughly before storing them in the refrigerator can help to some extent. Another way to overcome this issue is by cultivating fresh vegetables and fruits at our own backyard!

Quantity of food to be eaten

Now we know what a balanced diet is and how to make any diet balanced. But how much food should we consume daily? That is the question which is going to be answered in this section.

Eating poorly and overeating are the two extremes and both these problems can make the person malnourished. There is no need to calculate the calories, fats and protein content in each and every food item that we take. Instead a person has to understand his own weight, his work pattern, amount of physical activity, his hunger calls, and his body first.

READ : Body Mass Index (BMI) to understand more on your body weight and health status.

I have already written about some of the basic healthy eating tips that a person needs to follow. Here are some more tips regarding the quantity of food that needs to be consumed.

  1. Cereals and pulses should be taken in the ratio of 4:1. For example, if you are planning to eat rice with dhal, make sure that quantity of rice is 4 times that of dhal. You may use tubers instead of rice or use fish/egg/meat instead of dhal provided that the ratio remains the same.
  2. Eat only when you are hungry and not when it’s time to eat!
  3. Do not fill your stomach every time you eat. Fill just one-third or a maximum of half the stomach. This should include cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables together. Do not make a practice of eating fruits after the large meal.
  4. It would be a wise decision to stop eating when your hunger is satisfied.
  5. Do not fall prey to the insistence and hospitality of the person serving the food.
  6. Do not compare the quantity of food with other persons eating with you. Every person is different in terms of the amount of food he/she needs.

The real problem is that most people do not know the real meaning of “balanced diet”. Those who think they know what it means might not have understood the complete meaning and the ones who do know it find it difficult to follow it and implement it in real life. That is why malnutrition is going to be a continuing problem around the world. Hope you find this article informative.


Image Credit – blair_25 & Upendra Kanda

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