For years, you’ve heard from experts that eating a balanced diet can provide significant health benefits. But what does that actually mean? How do you actually go about eating a diet that’s balanced?
Here’s a look at some of the foods you should eat when trying to maintain a healthy, balanced diet, why it’s so important to do so, and how to add plenty of variety.
Why Is A Balanced Diet Important?
Eating a balanced diet filled with healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious foods, will support optimal health. It will also provide you with plenty of energy to get through the day and help you ward off weight gain, which can lead to a variety of health issues.
Here are just a few ways getting the right nutrients in your diet can support your health:
- Immune system strength – Ensuring you’re getting enough nutrients such as iron, zinc, and vitamins (particularly vitamins A, B, C, and E) in your diet helps support healthy immune function.
- Heart health – Eating healthy helps keep your cardiovascular system working as it should. Oily fish, for example, are high in a fatty acid known as omega-3, which has been shown to help support heart health. Trout and salmon are high in omega-3 as well.
- Blood sugar levels – Eating foods low in saturated fat and high in dietary fiber can help support healthy blood sugar levels.
- Strong bones – Foods high in calcium can help support healthy bones and strong teeth. You not only get calcium from dairy products, but other foods as well. These include dark green vegetables (such as broccoli), sardines, and foods fortified with calcium (certain cereals and fruit juices are examples).1
The Key Components Of A Balanced Diet
- Fruits – Fruit is always a great alternative to a candy bar or a cookie as a snack. If you want to broaden your horizons a bit, try mixing in more exotic fruits every once in a while, such as kiwi or mango. Dried fruit, or some canned varieties, may contain syrup or added sugar, so avoid these if possible.
- Vegetables – There’s no such thing as eating too many veggies, so fill up on these first. Fresh veggies are a better option than canned, but if you must buy canned veggies, choose a product without any added sauce, sugar, butter, or salt.
- Healthy fats – Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are an essential part of a healthy diet as they support many areas of health including cardiovascular health. They also help you feel more satisfied after a meal so that you are less likely to overeat. Fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, are good sources of polyunsaturated fat. Foods high in monounsaturated fat include avocados, nuts, and olives.2
- Meat – Always look for lean protein whenever possible, including fish or chicken. Instead of frying meats, look for recipes that call for baking or grilling your protein instead.3
- Steering clear of unhealthy ingredients and additives – Do your best to reduce your salt intake, and cut out foods that are high in saturated fats, trans fat, and added sugar.4
- Watch your portion size – Too much of anything isn’t a good thing so just make sure you don’t overdo it. It’s also important to note – you can eat a lot more healthy food without consequences than you can an unhealthy food.
A Guide To Eating A Balanced Diet
Now it’s time to put together a plan of action.
Here are some suggestions to help ensure that each time you eat, you’ll be working toward better health:
- Breakfast – Traditional breakfast foods are some of the most sugary and unhealthy. It may be hard at first, but do your best to avoid cereals, pancakes, waffles, and the like, especially first thing in the morning.
- The foods you choose for breakfast are going to set the stage for the food choices you make throughout the rest of the day. So instead, try to include some lean protein to help support your metabolism, give you energy, and fill you up. That way, you may be less tempted to snack. A scrambled egg on whole grain toast is a great option.
- Lunch – Try to mix in some healthy carbs with lean protein to help you avoid that post-lunch crash. Good choices include smoked salmon, a chicken Caesar sandwich, or a tuna quinoa salad.
- Dinner – Remember to fill up on veggies whenever possible. Make sure your plate is at least half full with veggies. You can mix in some healthy fats (such as avocado or olive oil), protein, and fiber for your last meal of the day.5
What About Healthy Snacks?
You don’t have to just limit yourself to three meals a day. A snack or two between meals is generally okay — just make sure you choose healthy snacks instead of junk. For example, spread some almond butter on some bread for a mid-morning snack, or munch on some carrot sticks. Instead of eating a candy bar during the afternoon, have some unsalted nuts.6
Just remember to always look at the nutrition labels on any snack products you buy from the store. Many have hidden sugars and unhealthy additives.
How To Add Variety To Your Diet
Some people may get into a rut when it comes to eating healthy. After all, who wants to eat the same food meal after meal? It’s good to mix things up once in a while.7
Here are a few ideas to help bring some variety to your healthy eating plan.
- Use some new side dishes incorporating different types of rice, pasta, or noodles. If you really want to get adventurous, try some couscous or polenta.
- Change up the type of bread you use for sandwiches. Bonus points for going with healthy, whole grain breads.
- Add some fresh tomatoes to your breakfast or a handful of nuts to your usual salad.
- Instead of a regular potato, try substituting a sweet potato or corn. Legumes would also be a great choice.8
Are You Up To The Challenge?
Nobody says that committing to eating healthy will be easy – especially if you’re used to following a not-so-great diet. But it might very well wind up being the best decision you’ve ever made in your life. If you need help coming up with the perfect healthy eating plan, consult with your doctor or a dietitian. Together, you can come up with the most effective – and safest – plan possible.