A balanced diet focuses on two main aspects:
- Eating the right type of foods.
- Eating in right quantity.
None of the above two are mutually exclusive. A diet which discourages you from omitting a particular food group should never be followed. Each food group contains different kinds of nutrients, and our body definitely needs all of these, but in different amounts, and it varies from person to person. When it comes to adopting a healthy diet, one size does not fit all. Everyone leads a different lifestyle, comes from different backgrounds, has different professions and fitness levels. All food is good when eaten as per your body's needs. Yes! Even fats and carbs. How? Let's see.
We all know that carbohydrates are classified as simple and complex. But what you also need to know is that they are also classified depending upon their glycemic index as fast and slow carbs. Fast carbs are the ones that get converted to fat quickly, while slow carbs don't get stored as fats and provide us with energy. Slow carbs have a high fiber content and a low glycemic index. These are found in oats, barley, whole-wheat bread and pasta, all the lentils, as well as in brown rice. These provide the body with all the energy that it needs for carrying out the day-to-day functions. Fast carbs have a low fiber content and high glycemic index. It is highly recommended that you do not eat these along with a meal, but eat them as a meal by itself. These are found in biscuits, cakes, pastries, white rice, cold drinks, and sugar. Keep these limited to twice a week. However, some fast carbs like fruits, fruit juices, and white bread sandwiches, can be consumed within ten minutes of your workout to boost your energy levels. A well-balanced diet includes ⅓ of carbohydrates in each meal, i.e. about 225 to 325 grams. You need carbohydrates (read: slow carbohydrates) because:
- They regulate the bowel movement due to their high fiber content.
- They keep the hormones balanced.
- They stimulate the functioning of the immune system.
- They generate powerful antioxidants that protect the body cells from getting damaged.
Proteins play various roles in the functioning of our body. Their primary function is to build and repair the body cells. Proteins are as necessary as carbohydrates when it comes to maintaining a proper diet. Not only do they help you lose unnecessary fat, they also help in increasing the circulation and mobilization of the stored fat. They also help in making antibodies that help us fight against infections. Proteins are found in high quantity in eggs, chicken, fish, milk and milk products. You should include about 50 to 175 grams of protein in your daily meals.
Note: A low-protein diet doesn't work, neither does a high-protein one. When eaten in high quantity, protein gets converted to fat by a process called deamination.
The belief that fats are bad for our body is nothing but a myth. They are just as necessary for the body as the other food groups, but only in smaller amounts. Fats protect our vital organs like the heart, kidney, liver, etc. They lubricate the joints and also transport the fat-soluble vitamins A, K, E, D around the body. In short, not just are fats necessary for having a healthy body, they are necessary for sustenance of life itself. Fats are found in red meat, pizzas, and all kinds of oils. One gram of fat contains 9 calories, and hence, should be more carefully eaten to avoid weight gain. You should have only 65 to 85 grams of fat each day. Seafood, nuts, milk and milk products, olives and flax seeds, are good sources of fats (monounsaturated fats) which should be consumed daily. Sources of trans fats or saturated fats like red meat, deep-fried foods, biscuits, cakes and pastries should be avoided.
Vitamins and Minerals:
Like the above mentioned food groups, vitamins and minerals do not provide us with energy, but they are important so that our body can utilize the energy that it gets from carbs, proteins and fats. These are found in large quantities in all kinds of fruits and vegetables. They play a very important role in our body as catalysts and co-enzymes. We need them for various reasons, ranging from the growth and development of the body to regulating the hormones.
Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble vitamins, which are found in milk, green leafy vegetables, all colorful fruits, vegetable oils, oats and whole grain. Since they are fat soluble, they are easily stored in the body, and hence should not be consumed in excess. Vitamins C and B (all of them) are water-soluble vitamins, which should be consumed everyday. We need them to produce hormones, maintain the respiratory system, to protect us against heart diseases, and to aid digestion. These are found in plenty in eggs, cheese, fish and nuts. To ensure that you get enough vitamins, aim on eating fruits with different colors.
Minerals like iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium and copper are very essential for the body. They maintain the health of our bones and joints, regulate blood pressure, prevent acne and wrinkles, etc. They are found in milk and milk products, green leafy vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, and whole grains.
Fiber is that nutrient which helps our body to prevent constipation and promotes healthy digestion. It also enables the intestines to function properly. Not only this, fiber also helps us from overeating. Fiber is found in cucumber, beetroot and carrots. When eaten before meals, these fill the stomach, thereby preventing us from overeating. Focus more on eating unprocessed foods that are naturally rich in fiber, e.g. brown rice, barley, legumes and nuts. Overcooking of vegetables should also be avoided to retain the fiber content in them.
The vegetables and fruits that we buy from the market today go through a lot of processing before reaching our doorstep. During this, the nutrient content of these become comparatively low. The poor storing conditions further aid to this problem. Plus, we add different kinds of seasonings and sausages while cooking them. Hence, the amount of nutrients that our body finally absorbs is very low, thereby leading to nutritional deficiencies. Taking supplements to make up for the same ensures proper nutrition of the body. The supplements that our body needs regularly are vitamin A, B, E and C supplements, and mineral supplements of zinc, calcium, chromium and selenium. However, it is always necessary to consult your doctor before starting on one.
Water is the most essential nutrient that our body needs. Without water, all the carbs, proteins, vitamins and minerals that you consume are a pure waste. The basic reason why our body is dehydrated is the lifestyle we all lead today. We eat too much of processed food, drink a lot of aerated drinks, and consume a lot of caffeine - all of which leaves the body dehydrated. We drink water only to quench our thirst and not to meet the body's requirements. If your body is not hydrated, your muscles contract, your joints start hurting, and the skin loses all its glow. Plus, it also interferes with the proper functioning of the heart, lungs and kidneys. Drinking up to 10 glasses a day is a must. But remember, you should always sip water from time to time and not gulp a lot of it. Gulping too much water at the same time leads to water retention.
Disclaimer: It is recommended that you consult a dietitian or a nutritionist before starting out on any kind of diet. A personalized diet will be more beneficial for your overall health.