Nutrition is a basic prerequisite to sustain life. Nutrients that we obtain through food have vital effects on physical growth and development, maintenance of normal body function, helps to maintain a healthy body weight, and reduces the risk of chronic disease leading to overall health and well-being. Nutritious food is, thus needed to sustain life and activity.
An adequate, well-balanced diet combined with regular physical activity is a cornerstone of good health. Poor nutrition can lead to reduced immunity, increased susceptibility to disease, impaired physical and mental development, and reduced productivity.
WHAT IS A BALANCED DIET?
A balanced diet is one which provides all the nutrients in required amounts and proper proportions. It can easily be achieved through a blend of the four basic food groups.
A diversified, balanced and healthy diet will vary depending on:
- degree of physical activity
- cultural context
- locally available foods
- dietary and food customs.
A balanced diet should provide around 50-60% of total calories from carbohydrates, preferably from complex carbohydrates, about 10-15% from proteins and 20-30% from both visible and invisible fat.
In addition, a balanced diet should provide other non-nutrients such as dietary fibre, antioxidants and phytochemicals which bestow positive health benefits.
Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, riboflavin and selenium protect the human body from free radical damage. Other phytochemicals such as polyphenols, flavones, etc., also afford protection against oxidant damage. Spices like turmeric, ginger, garlic, cumin and cloves are rich in antioxidants.
VARIETY OF FOODS ESSENTIAL FOR A BALANCED DIET
Nutritionally adequate diet should be consumed through a wise choice from a variety of foods.
A diet consisting of several food groups provides all the required nutrients in proper amounts.
1.Eat a variety of foods to ensure a balanced diet.
2. Cereals, millets and pulses are major sources of most nutrients.
3.High protein foods should be consumed in the form of lean chicken, fishes, eggs, pulses and legumes, soya, milk and milk products, nuts & oilseeds, etc.
4.Inclusion of eggs, flesh foods and fish enhance the quality of diet.
However, vegetarians can derive almost all the nutrients on cereal/pulse/milk-based diets.
5.Vegetables and fruits provide protective substances such as vitamins / minerals / phytonutrients.
6.Prefer fresh, locally available vegetables and fruits in plenty.
7.Try to consume at least 3-4 servings of vegetables & 2 servings of fruits on a daily basis.
8.Ensure moderate use of edible oils, ghee/butter/vanaspati.
9.Restrict salt intake to a minimum.
10.Minimize the use of processed foods rich in salt, sugar and fats.
11. Drink plenty of water.
12. Avoid alcohol and refrain from smoking.
13.Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.
14.Avoid overeating to prevent overweight and obesity.
A Food Pyramid is essentially a guide to healthy eating. It outlines the types of food we would require on a regular basis to maintain a healthy lifestyle and good eating habits for the same.
The pyramid is divided into four levels of foods according to recommended consumption: cereals and legumes/beans at the base should be eaten in sufficient quantity, vegetables and fruits on the second level should be eaten liberally, animal source foods and oils on the third level are to be eaten moderately, and at the apex, highly processed foods high in sugar and fat to be eaten sparingly. Accompanying the pyramid there is a recommendation to do regular physical activity and warnings against smoking and drinking alcohol.
"Let food be thy medicine, thy medicine shall be thy food.” – Hippocrates
(Registered Dietitian, Chief Dietitian, HOD- Department of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics- Holy Spirit Hospital)