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Achieve Balance in Your Diet

Por Eleazar Lara-Pantin, MD, MSc.* -

Consumers often hear about the importance of eating a daily balanced diet, but not everyone understands exactly what this means.

A balanced diet provides nutrients in the amounts that a body needs to be healthy and function properly. When the body digests food, it receives energy (calories) and vitamins and minerals to help it carry out its important functions. 

Identifying nutrients

There are various nutrients in each of the foods we eat. Carbohydrates, fat, protein, and alcohol provide all of the energy supplied by foods and are generally referred to as macronutrients (in contrast to vitamins and minerals, usually referred to as micronutrients). Some micronutrients, such as selenium, copper and magnesium, are required in such minute quantities, that they are grouped under the word "trace elements."

No single food product in its natural condition is the source of one specific nutrient. For practical purposes, there are foods that can be grouped together, based on the predominant nutrient they provide.

  • Products of animal origin are an excellent source of high-quality protein.
  • Fruits, vegetables, and grains provide the largest amount of carbohydrates.
  • Oil, butter and margarine mostly provide fat.
  • In addition to providing protein, food of animal origin also can provide a significant amount of fat. Typically, foods of animal origin provide a large ratio of saturated fat, and thus should have the visible fat cut off, and/or be prepared in such a way that the fat content will be diminished.

How much do you need?

To best estimate how much of each nutrient your body needs, it isn't necessary to sit at the table with a scale and a food composition table. It is very useful to visualize the food on your plate divided into three equal parts:

  • Foods rich in carbohydrates (rice, pasta, or roots).
  • A high-quality protein source (meat, chicken or fish).
  • A good serving of fresh vegetables or fruit.

For example, a bowl of cereal with skim milk and a glass of fresh fruit juice is a good, balanced breakfast. A serving of grilled fish with steamed potatoes, or a baked potato and fresh vegetables is a colorful and satisfying lunch. A tuna sandwich with lettuce and tomato and a piece of fruit is a wholesome and tasty dinner.

Rationing your food in this manner will help ensure you are eating a balanced diet. Keep in mind that the portion size that is appropriate depends on a person's age, weight, and level of physical activity. 

Prepare foods with the healthiest cooking method, such as baking, broiling, steaming, or grilling. As a general principle, use added fat in moderation when cooking or at the table (such as butter on bread, or oil on salads). Many recipes need just a small amount of oil to infuse them with flavor. To achieve a balanced intake of micronutrients, try to vary the type of fruit and vegetables you eat each day. If your plate is colorful, that is a good sign that you are getting a good balance of each nutrient.

Two priceless tips

Many times, an unbalanced diet results from eating excessive amounts of certain products. In the intestines, at any given moment, a disproportionate amount of one vitamin or mineral can affect the absorption of others.

In conclusion, the best way to achieve a balanced diet every day is by:

  • Eating a variety, and avoiding excess portions of any one food.
  • Practicing healthy cooking methods.

*Dr. Lara-Pantin, a nutrition specialist, is Vice President of Product Development for DrTango, Inc.


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