What Does A " Balanced Diet" Really Mean?

We all probably remember the food pyramid from when we were growing up, which was supposed to demonstrate a healthy, balanced diet. In the years since that time, however, ideas about good nutrition and healthy eating have changed drastically. Our view of a well-balanced diet is pretty outdated by now, so what makes one up?

Thanks to a better understanding of nutritional science and a broader scope of dietary variety, a new set of dietary guidelines has been released by the U.S. Government to replace the food pyramid of ages past. This plan sets guidelines that can be changed and replaced as needed so that you can figure out the best dietary strategy for you! 

Keep in mind, these dietary guidelines are generally created for policymakers and public health professionals. At an individual level, you may find what works for you is slightly different than the diet guidelines below, depending on dietary preferences.

We’ll go over what the new balanced diet chart looks like, as well as how you can adapt it to fit your needs.

The New Standards

While the pyramid structure is a poor way to represent our daily food intake, the idea of five food groups has remained the same. Ideally, at the core of your balanced diet, there is a variety of whole foods that generally consist of protein, grains, dairy, fruits, and vegetables. These make up the food groups that give us the most complete daily nutrition available.

More important than the food groups, however, is how you choose foods from each category. We’ll briefly go over each food group and talk about all the options available. 

Infographic showing the food groups

Fruits and Vegetables

According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, fruits and vegetables ideally make up half of your daily food intake, making this the most essential food group of the five. Here are some things to consider within this food group:

  • Fruit Recommendations- For the best results when it comes to fruit, try to stick to whole, organic fruits or 100% fruit juice. Unless it is 100% fruit juice, juices contain fewer nutrients and can often have added sugars that aren’t healthy for you. Whole fruits should ideally make up about half of your daily fruit.
  • Vegetable Recommendations- The USDA breaks up vegetables into an additional five subgroups, so when it comes to vegetables, there is a wide array of options and choices for you to choose from. 
  • Nutritional Value- Eating a diet that is heavy in fruits and vegetables can help you in various ways. Fruits are fantastic for giving you vitamins and antioxidants, and vegetables are a good source of fiber and vitamins, making both foods a solid base for your everyday eating habits.

Grains

After fruits and vegetables, grains make up the next most important food group to consider. Most commonly, you can get your grains from things like barley, rice, buckwheat, and oatmeal. Grains contain a variety of different fiber types and vitamins that can help build balanced meals and should make up about a quarter of your daily nutrition, so here are some things to keep note of.

  • Whole vs. Refined- There are two basic types of grains; whole grains and refined grains. Whole-grain foods, such as brown rice, and quinoa, leave the entire grain intact and contain higher levels of nutrients, protein, and fiber than refined grains. On the other hand, refined grains are processed to remove parts of the grain, which reduces their nutritional value. When choosing between the two, try to opt for whole-grain foods!
  • Nutritional Value- Grains are perfect for helping you feel full, which helps you create well-balanced eating habits. This is because grains are a great source of fiber. 

Proteins

Popular amongst gym-goers and fitness fiends, protein is a valuable section of your day-to-day nutrition. At the same time, this is sometimes the most challenging section for people, as vegetarian and vegan diets have to find their protein from less well-known sources. Here’s the low down on protein.

  • Meats and Beans- Protein can look very different depending on your diet, as meat, poultry, and fish make up the most significant part of this food group. However, vegetarians and vegans can also have steady protein sources found in beans, seeds, and soy products. 
  • Nutritional Value- Protein provides protein, naturally, but depending on your source, many protein-rich foods will also have Vitamins B and E, as well as zinc, iron, and magnesium. All of these nutrients play vital roles in your body, so definitely don’t skip the protein!

Dairy

The final category of foods is dairy. Dairy can be problematic for many people, especially lactose-intolerant people, but it is also a great source of some essential vitamins and minerals. The USDA recommends looking for options like low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese to fulfill your dairy needs. Here’s what you should know about dairy.

  • Lactose- Surprisingly, lactose intolerance may be more common than not, as it’s estimated that over 65% of the human population has some form of lactose intolerance. Thankfully, with the advent of lactose-free dairy products and other alternative forms of dairy, people can still get the nutritional benefits without the dairy itself. 
  • Nutritional Value- Dairy primarily acts as a source of protein and calcium, two significant aspects of anyone’s diet. Calcium in dairy helps strengthen and fortify bones, and dairy products may lower blood pressure in adults.

Tying It All Together

Far from the old ideas of food and health, this balanced diet plan can help you figure out what things you might be missing in your diet and what you might want to cut back on. 

That being said, this should by no means be the end of the discussion about balanced diets! Having correctly balanced food groups is important, but finding out what works for you is more important. Everyone has their own nutritional needs, and often, those will deviate from the “norm.” 

For instance, fatty acids often found in avocados, nuts, and oily fish, provide healthy fats that can help absorb nutrients and support your body but don’t have a specific category under the above “balanced diet.” 

A truly balanced diet should be different for everyone, and in the end, it’s far more essential to build a healthy relationship with your food instead of obsessively counting calories or devising meal plans. Good health doesn’t come from a perfect diet; it comes from well-balanced eating habits, physical activity, and knowing what your body needs.

Nuskool

It can feel daunting trying to find what works best for you and your body, but here at Nuskool, we’re committed to helping you be the healthiest you can be! Our MCT Collagen Bars are perfect for any time of the day and are specifically tailored to help you in your journey to good nutrition. 

Check out our blog for more healthy eating tips, snack ideas, and more. 

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