What is a Balanced Diet and Why is It Important?

What is a Balanced Diet?

A balanced diet is one which provides all the nutrients in required amounts and in proper proportions. It can easily be archived through a blend of the basic food groups. The quantities of foods needed to meet the nutrient requirements vary with age, gender, physiological status and physical activity.

A balanced diet should provide around 50-60% of total Calories from carbohydrates, preferably from complex carbohydrates, about 10-15% from proteins and 20-30% from both visible and invisible fat.

What are Food Groups?

Nature has given mankind a large variety of foods and each food has its own qualities and nutritive values. For convenience in meal and dietary planning, we divide these different foods into different food groups and keep the similar food under their specific group. These food groups are:

1. Cereals and Millets:

This group includes all the cereals and millets like wheat, rice, oats, rye, barley, maiza or corn jawar, ragi, bajra, quinoa. Cereals can be produced and stored easily and therefore are relatively low in cost. They are the staple foods in the diets of most population groups. Cereals have good nutritional value as they contain carbohydrates, fibre or bran, some proteins, little fat and fairly good amounts of minerals and vitamin B complex.

2. Pulses and Legumes:

This group includes all the different types of pulses, whole or split like moong dal, urad dal, massor, channa, kabuli channa, rajma, lobhia and soyabeans, moth bean, peas. Pulses and legumes are good sources of proteins specially for vegetarians. However, the proteins of pulses are not of good quality as they are deficient in essential amino acid – methionine and red gram is deficient in tryptophan also.

3. Vegetables:

Vegetables are classified according to the parts of the plants consumed or color of the vegetable or according to the nutritive values. Nutritionally, they are classified into 3 groups:

  • Green Leafy Vegetables
  • Roots and Tubers
  • Others Vegetables

4. Fruits:

Fruits are produced from flowers and they are the ripened ovaries of a plant. Fruits are fleshy and pulphy in character, generally sweet and juicy with aromatic flavors. There are different categories of fruits like berries, citrus, grapes, melons and tropical and subtropical fruits. Fruits contain a high percentage of sugar in the form of sucrose, fructose and glucose. Fruits are poor sources of proteins and fats. Avocado is the exception containing 28% fat and that too in the form of omega 3 FA.

Fruits contain high amounts of moisture and they are a good source of fibre. Generally, fruits are poor sources of iron. Mangoes are an excellent source of carotene. The citrus fruits like oranges, mausambi, guavas, tomato’s are excellent sources of ascorbic acid. Papaya is also a good source of beta carotene. Fruits contain flavanoids which act as antioxidants.

5. Milk and Milk Products:

Milk is one food for which there seems to be no substitute. All mammals produce milk after the birth of the young ones and man uses milk of many animals as a his food. The cow is the most important of all these mammals as a supplier of milk. Buffalo and goat milk also used.

Milk is a complex mixture of lipids, carbohydrates, protein and many vitamins. Milk has good quality protein and the biological value is over 90. Through milk contains only 3-4% protein, due to the quality of protein and the amount that can be ingested and the presence of other nutrients, this makes milk indispensable. Cheese, khoya and dehydrated milk powders are concentrated forms, hence contain high amounts of nutrients.

6. Egg, Meat, Fish and Poultry:

Although eggs of many birds may be eaten, the eggs of chickens are used more than any other. They nutrition value of egg is excellent, as it contains almost all the nutrients except for ascorbic acid. Eggs contain 12-14% proteins with all the essential amino acids. The yolk contains the fat. Eggs are one of the richest source of lecithin – a phospholipid which forms a part of of the structure of each cell wall in the body. Eggs are a good source of vitamin A, D and E.

Egg fat is in highly emulsified form, hence it is easily digested and absorbed. It contains good amounts of calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, and other trace elements. World over, different kinds of flesh foods are consumed but here we will take up meat, fish and poultry. Red meat consists of mutton, goat meat, pork, beef and rabbit meat. The redness of meat is due to myoglobin.

7. Nuts and Oil-seeds:

Nuts are seeds or fruits consisting of an edible fat – containing kernel and surrounded kernel and surrounded by a hard or a brittle shell. Nuts such as Kaju, piste, badam, akhrot and seeds that provide edible oils such as peanuts, sunflower seeds, sarson, til. Those have rich flavors and good nutritional value. Nuts and oil-seeds are rich in proteins and fat. Nuts are low in saturated fatty acid and high mono-saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

It also helps in reducing cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Nut also contain omega 3 fatty acids, because they are a concentrated source of energy, their intake should be very limited. Nuts are good sources of several other nutrients like selenium, potassium, iron, manganese, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, plant sterols and phytochemicals. Most of nuts particularly almonds are good sources of vitamin E. Most of the nuts are goods source of vitamin B, thiamine, riboflavin and folic acid. Ground nuts are excellent source of niacin.

8. Sugars, Jaggery and Honey:

This group includes the sweeteners. Desire for sweet taste is inherent in every individual. Sugar, Jaggery and honey are used in beverages, puddings, sweets, etc to increase the palatability. Sweets are found in foods as a natural constituent like in fruits, honey and dairy products. It provides only energy to the body and no other nutrient. But jaggery also provides 80 mg calcium, a little iron and good anti-oxidant value per 100 gm.

9. Fats and Oils:

Fat is present naturally in a number of foods, and is often referred to as invisible fat. Foods like meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, oil seeds and milk contain appreciable amounts of invisible fats. Visible fats are prepared from these foods like lard, cooking oils, salad oils, butter and ghee. Fats are important both for cooking foods and as nutrition.

Most oil bearing plants store their fat as triacylglycerols in the seed endosperm such as sunflower, soyabean, ground nut. Red palm stores oil both in the mesocarp (palm oil). Coconut oil is extracted from coconut palm and mustard oil is obtained from mustard (sarson).

10. Spices and Herb:

The spices condiments – dhaniya, mirch, garam masala, haldi and herbs such as methi, neem, tulsi, sainjna, dhaniya, podhina are those natural plants or vegetable products which are used in cooking for imparting flavors. Spices are usually dried roots, barks or seeds used whole, crushed or powdered. Herbs are usually the fresh leaves, stem or flavors or herbaceous plants.

Spices have stronger flavor than herbs. Some spices have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant properties. Some spices help in improving the impaired blood glucose levels in the body and help diabetic patients, whereas some help in reducing cholesterol levels. It may be useful in preventing heart diseases.