We have read about it, studied about it in school, and maybe even taught our kids about it too, but what does a balanced diet really mean? Over the years, there have been many attempts to explain or simplify the concept, like the familiar food pyramid, and most parents understand the idea and need for a balanced diet. There is a lot of truth to the phrase “you are what you eat.” How your child eats today can have a huge impact on their health throughout adolescence and adulthood. The food you eat every day translates to how well your body is equipped for activity and how efficiently it functions. Eating a clean, balanced diet is essential to good health.
We want to demystify the concept of a balanced diet, and explain how you can achieve it by breaking the food pyramid down into 5 simple food groups. A healthy, balanced diet includes food from these five groups in the right quantities:
To make the balanced diet process easy-to-adopt, we have broken down the food pyramid into a simple food plate that you can use to plan your daily food intake for your family. This plate is designed to make healthy eating easier. Eat foods from each group in the correct amounts each day so you can get the balance of energy and nutrients you need for good health. Keep in mind that you do not need to necessarily get this balance right at every meal, but it helps to ensure that your food intake is similar to this plate for the entire day. Vegetables make up the largest portion, followed by grains. Together, fruits and vegetables fill half the plate while proteins and grains take up the other half.
Here is a breakdown of what the five food groups contain:
Grains: 25% of your plate
This is what we would generally know as carbohydrates. Grains include any food made from rice, wheat, oats, millets or other grain. Bread, roti, cereal, and pasta all belong in this group. For a healthier choice of grain, try and ensure that about half of the grains your kids eat are whole grain options like brown bread, chapatti, or brown rice. These have the advantage of more dietary fiber that makes you feel full and can prevent constipation. Refined grains, like white bread, white rice, or maida are processed, which removes many of the nutrients.
Vegetables: Approximately 30% of your plate
Vegetables are stocked with natural nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. It's one of the largest sections on the plate. That's because vegetables provide many of the vitamins and minerals we need for good health. Vegetables are naturally low in calories, and the fiber in them helps us feel full. Vegetables come in a wide variety of colors, flavors, and textures. Dark green vegetables include broccoli, spinach, and kale. Red and orange vegetables are squash, carrots, pumpkin, tomato, and sweet potato. Starchy vegetables are foods like corn, green peas, and potatoes. It is important to choose variety with vegetables to cover more vitamins and minerals. Eating your vegetables raw is sometimes the healthier option, however ensure that they are properly washed and clean.
Fruits: Approximately 20% of your plate
Fruits are an easy, essential part of a balanced diet. They contain necessary nutrients like vitamin C, potassium, and fiber, and are a healthy source of quick energy. We recommend whole fruit since juices are devoid of fiber and have more sugar and calories per serving. Whole fruit takes longer to digest and keeps your tummy full for longer. We recommend choosing fresh, locally available, seasonal fruits.
Protein: 25% of your plate
Proteins form the building blocks for muscles, cartilage, skin, and other tissues. Most protein-rich foods are also high in vitamins and minerals like iron and B vitamins which help blood formation, and play a vital role in the function of the nervous system, aid in the formation of red blood cells, and help build tissues. Protein-rich foods include lean meats, certain seafoods, dry beans and peas, eggs, nuts, and seeds. Soy products like tofu and soya nuggets are also good sources of protein. While non-vegetarian sources of protein are considered higher quality, as they provide all the essential amino acids in right proportions, vegetarian sources such as a combination of cereals, millets and pulses provide most of the amino acids, which complement each other to provide better quality proteins.
Good sources of dairy include milk and milk products, such as yogurt and cheese. These are good sources of calcium and vitamin D, which helps in absorption and uptake of calcium for healthy bones and teeth. In addition to minerals, dairy is also a great source of protein. We recommend choosing unflavored milk, plain yogurt, small amounts of cheese, and other unsweetened dairy foods. Foods such as butter, cream, and cream cheese are not high sources of calcium, and hence are not part of this food group. While dairy is shown as a side to the plate, for example, as a glass of milk; it can also be part of your meal, in the form of a cheese, or dessert.
Most food items that come to mind have been covered, except for the ones our kids (along with us) look forward to most - desserts! They are not included in the plate because they do not need to be consumed daily. While it is fine to eat small amounts of high-sugar or high-fat foods occasionally as part of a balanced diet, you should try to limit these foods to special occasions at your discretion.
To summarize, the objective is to use this plate as an entire day's worth of eating. Keep in mind that as a part of a balanced diet, try and ensure that half of your kids intake should be fruits and vegetables, and the other half largely grains and protein. We hope that this plate provides a handy blueprint to help you make the best eating choices for your whole family!