You might have heard people boosting about the importance of consuming a healthy, balanced diet all around you but do you know what exactly does it encompass? If not, you’re at the right place – keep on reading and you’ll have this questions answered by the end of this article.
A healthy diet consists of 5 basic food groups, namely proteins, carbohydrates, fats, milk and dairy, and fruits and vegetables, all of which aim to provides a balanced mix of nutrients needed by the body to perform optimally. The categorization of foods into each group is based on the similarity of key nutrients they contain and to meet the daily nutrient requirement of the body, it’s essential to eat a variety of foods from each of the group as per the recommended amount. On this page, we will take a closer look at each one of these food groups so that you can truly understand what makes a healthy diet.
Proteins from the food we eat are used by the body in a wide range of processes. As the main component of the cells, proteins allow the body to constantly repair, rebuild, and maintain itself and allow you to grow and function properly. For instance,
The foods in this group include lean meat and poultry, eggs, fish, tofu, seeds and nuts, and legumes – all of which are considered rich sources of proteins. However, they also provide an array of important minerals and vitamins such as vitamin B12, iron, and zinc along with some essential fatty acids. For instance, red meat is rich in iron which is crucial for infants, pregnant women, and menstruating females. Also, keep in mind that both iron and zinc from animal sources are better absorbed by our bodies than those from plant foods such as nuts and legumes but an intake of vitamin C (from fruits and vegetables) helps in the absorption of these minerals from plant foods.
It’s recommended that you consume 1-3 servings of foods from this group depending on your age and weight but during pregnancy, 3-4 servings per day are recommended. A standard serve of proteins provides between 500 to 600 KJ of energy which is roughly found in
•65g of cooked lean meats
•80g of cooked poultry
•100g of cooked/canned fish
•2 large eggs
•1 cup/150g of cooked legumes
•30g of nuts and seeds
Carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet as they essentially provide the body with the energy to do work. Depending on molecular sizes, carbohydrates can be classified as simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates such as those found in processed and baked goods are small molecules that can be broken down and absorbed quickly within the body to provide instant energy. On the other hand, long chains of simple carbohydrates join together to form complex carbohydrates, which need to be broken down into simpler forms before than can be absorbed to yield energy.
The carbohydrate food group contains starchy foods such as bread, pasta, rice, oats, potatoes, cereal, and barley, etc. which are also a good source of B vitamins and calcium. Moreover, whole grain carbohydrates are also a rich source of fibers that aid in digestion and keep you full for longer. A healthy diet consists of 3-5 portions of carbs spread throughout the day, making up between 45 to 65 percent of your daily calorie intake. For your ease, the following are single-serving amounts of some of the foods from the carbohydrate group:
•1 slice of white bread
•4 slices of whole-wheat bread
•6 tablespoons of cereal, pasta, rice or couscous
•2 small potatoes
The fats food group constitutes margarine, butter, oils, and salad dressings, etc. They're essential for the cell growth, hormonal synthesis, and maintenance of skin, hair, and joints. Moreover, fats also help in the absorption of vitamins in the bloodstream but remember that some forms of fats are healthier than the others and over-consuming them can result in many health problems increasing high cholesterol levels.
Unsaturated fats found in vegetable oils, fish, avocados, nuts, and seeds are the good ones while saturated fats found in cheese, ghee, cakes, and fatty-meat cuts are those you might want to avoid. Hence, it’s recommended to limit your fats intake to 1-2 servings per day, making up no more than 30% of your total calorie intake in a day. You should also try to replace saturated fats with unsaturated ones by, for example, using olive oil instead of fattier vegetable oils.
1 serving of fat gives 45 calories, which can be consumed from:
•1 tablespoon oil, butter, margarine or salad dressing
•1 tablespoon seeds
•6 almonds or cashews
•4 tablespoon avocados
Milk And Dairy
This food group primarily contains milk, yogurt and cheese choices that are all rich in proteins, calcium, vitamin A, B and D. The body can readily absorb calcium and other nutrients from dairy products which play a vital role in maintaining bone health. However, keep in mind that many of the dairy products are high in fats so it's recommended to choose their low-fat variants.
The recommended daily intake of milk and dairy products is between 2 to 3 servings for adults but this may vary according to your age and lifestyle. For toddlers and infants, this is limited between 1-2 servings but reduced-fat varieties of milk are not suitable for children under the age of 2.
Following are the standard serving size of some food choices from this group:
•250ml of fresh, reconstituted powder milk
•120ml of evaporated milk
•2 slices/ 40g of hard cheese, such as cheddar
•120g of ricotta cheese
•200g of yogurt
Fruits And Vegetables
This food group consists of fruits, vegetables, and their variants. Besides being a great source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibers, they are generally low in fats which also makes fruits and vegetables the perfect snack.
The nutrient distribution in most fruits and vegetables is based on their type and color so it’s important to eat a variety from each of the color group such as green, red, yellow, orange and white to get the entire range of nutrients they have to offer. Aim to eat at least 5 servings of fruits and veggies in a day, where one serving may include the following:
•A dessert bowl of fresh salad
•1 medium-sized apple, orange, banana
•2 small fruits such as plums or kiwi
•A handful of grapes, cherries, and berries
•A slice of melon/pineapples
•3 heaped tablespoons of raw, frozen or cooked vegetables.
You can consult a professional nutritionist for a detailed meal plan so that you can follow a healthy diet to reach your health and fitness goals. You don’t necessarily need to follow the diet plan once you get a clear idea of what, when and how much to eat since you can make your eating decisions smartly. And remember, a healthy you is a happy you!
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