A healthy lifestyle is largely dependent on your diet. A Balanced Diet means that you consume the right amount of nutrients in the right quantities: Proteins, Carbohydrates, Minerals, Fats, Vitamins, Water, and Fiber. The amounts of these will depend on your age, sex, activity level, and other similar factors. Care should be taken when planning your diet. Here is the essential information that will get you on your way.

Essential components of a balanced diet:

Carbohydrates: We obtain most of our carbohydrates in the form of starch. This is found in potatoes, rice, spaghetti, yams, breads, and cereals. Our digestive system converts all this starch into another carbohydrate called glucose. Glucose is carried around the body in the blood and is used by our tissues as a source of energy.

Proteins: Proteins are required for growth and repair of body tissues. Proteins can also be used as a source of energy.

Fats: Like carbohydrates, fats contain the carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Fats are used as a source of energy: they are also stored beneath the skin helping to insulate us against the cold.

Vitamins: Vitamins are required in small quantities. The following are the uses of vitamins;

Vitamin A: This is good for the eyes and helps in reproduction;

Vitamin B: Has about 12 different chemicals for better health;

Vitamin C: This is needed by the body to repair itself;

Vitamin D: Needed for absorption of calcium.

Minerals: Although the body only needs small quantities, they remain vitally important.

Iron: Required to make hemoglobin;

Calcium: Required for healthy teeth, bones and muscles;

Sodium: All cells need this, especially nerve cells; and

Iodine: Used to make a hormone called thyroxin.

Fiber: It is also called roughage. Without eating enough, you might end up with problems of the colon and rectum such as diverticulosis. The muscles of your digestive system mix food with the digestive juices and push food along the intestines by contracting and relaxing, which is called peristalsis. If there is no fiber in your diet these movements cannot work properly.

For a balanced diet you will need to include the seven groups: (proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, fats, vitamins, water, and fiber) in your daily intake at the right proportions.

Bread, Potatoes, Pasta, Rice, Noodles, and Breakfast Cereals: These foods mostly contain starch and should consist of only 30% of your diet. If possible, try to choose high fiber varieties. This group of foods is an excellent source of fiber and is rich in vitamins from the B complex.

Fruit and Vegetables: This includes all frozen, fresh and cannedfruit/vegetables as well as salad vegetables. These are all excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber and are naturally low in fat and calories. The USDA recommends that fruit and vegetables everyday.30% of your diet should consist of vegetables and 20% fruit.

Milk and Dairy Foods: These include cheese, yogurt and milk,frais. They are rich in protein, calcium, vitamins and minerals. Eat or drink a moderate amount of these foods – about 2 to 3 servings per day. Thesefoods contain a good source of calcium, which is essential to our diet.

Meat, Fish, Poultry, and Legumes: Eating fish 1-2 times a week is good for you, especially if you eat oily fish (sardines, mackerel and salmon). By contrast, red meat is an excellent source of iron and vitaminB12. Try to choose the leaner cuts and trim off all visible fat before cooking. Lentils, nuts, peas, and beans are also in this food group. Try to use lower fat versions of all these foods whenever possible. You should eat approximately two servings from this category each day.

Foods Containing Fats and Sugars: This group contains butter, margarine, cream, ice-cream, low fat spreads, cooking oils, mayonnaise, salad dressings, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, sugary drinks, sweets, pastry foods, and crisps. All of these foods tend to be high in fat and calories. Try to eat these foods sparingly.

Consider these health tips too:

1) Drink water or non-fat milk instead of sugary sodas;

2) Choose 100% whole-grain breads and cereals. At least half of your servings of breads and cereals should be whole grain and be wary of whole grain products whose ingredient list is whole grain flour. Whole grain flour does not add much more nutrition and certainly no fiber;

3) Avoid highly processed lunch meats and sausages, which are high in saturated fat and calories;

4) Cut back on fatty red meats; choose more fish and seafood or vegetarian protein sources like dry beans and soy;

5) Increase your intake of brightly colored and dark green vegetables; serve fresh fruits and berries for desserts; and

6) Avoid alcohol when you can or take within limits.

Benefits of a balanced diet
A well-balanced diet will provide the right vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to keep the body and mind strong and healthy. Here are some of the advantages of a balanced diet:

Weight Control: Maintaining your weight is just a question of vanity, it also helps prevent a variety of illnesses, including diabetes, gallstones, and heart disease. Eating a wide variety of wholesome foods usually makes maintaining a healthy body weight a bit easier. Eating a healthy variety of these nutrient-dense foods every day leaves less room for those calorie-dense foods that tend to expand the waistline, such as processed foods and fatty or sugary snacks.

Immune System Health: A balanced diet is very important to the immune system, helping to ensure that gets the right vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients necessary function. A balanced diet also has a strong effect on vascular function, since the immune system is dependent on blood flow.

Heart Health: A healthy diet and lifestyle are the best weapons against cardiovascular disease. Unrefined whole grains, fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber and are also low in calories. Including plenty of these in the diet can help control both weight and blood pressure, both of which are risk factors for heart disease. Oily fish, such as salmon and trout, contain omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower the risk of developing coronary artery disease.

Energy: One of the most noticeable benefits of a balanced diet is energy. Healthy carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes are slow to digest, keeping blood sugar and insulin levels on an even keel for a steady supply of energy throughout the day. Healthy proteins are also vital for energy levels.

Carefully planned diets will give you more energy and help ensure a healthy immune system. Properly balanced diets will help provide antioxidants, which help you look younger and control signs of aging. Planning is the first step, you also need to take action and stick with it!

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