In nutrition, diet is the sum of food consumed by a person or other organism. The word diet often implies the use of specific intake of nutrition for health or weight-management reasons (with the two often being related). Although humans are omnivores, each culture and each person holds some food preferences or some food taboos. This may be due to personal tastes or ethical reasons. Individual dietary choices may be more or less healthy. Having a healthy diet is a way to prevent health problems, and will provide your body with the right balance of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
Your diet is made up of what you eat.
A healthy diet:
- May include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products
- May include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts
- Goes easy on saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars
There are many different types of diets. Some, like a vegetarian diet, don't include meats. Others, like the Mediterranean diet, describe a traditional way of eating of a specific region. And there are diets for people with certain health problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Dieting is the practice of eating food in a regulated and supervised fashion to decrease, maintain, or increase body weight. In other words, it is conscious control or restriction of the diet. A restricted diet is often used by those who are overweight or obese, sometimes in combination with physical exercise, to reduce body weight. Some people follow a diet to gain weight (usually in the form of muscle). Diets can also be used to maintain a stable body weight.
Over the past century, deficiencies of essential nutrients have dramatically decreased, at the same time, rates of chronic diseases—many of which are related to poor quality diet and physical inactivity—have increased. About half of all American adults have one or more preventable, diet-related chronic diseases. The USDA reports that four of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States are directly influenced by diet. These are:
- heart disease
However, a large body of evidence now shows that healthy eating patterns and regular physical activity can help people achieve and maintain good health and reduce the risk of chronic disease throughout all stages of the lifespan.
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What Is a Balanced Diet?
A balanced diet consists of proper quantities and proportions of foods needed to maintain health or growth.
A balanced diet is one that gives your body the nutrients it needs to function correctly. In order to get the proper nutrition from your diet, you should obtain the majority of your daily calories from:
- fresh fruits
- fresh vegetables
- whole grains
- lean proteins
When it comes to a healthy diet, balance is the key to getting it right. A balanced diet is important because your organs and tissues need proper nutrition to work effectively. Without good nutrition, your body is more prone to disease, infection, fatigue, and poor performance. A balanced diet means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, and consuming the right amount of food and drink to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
A diet based on starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, rice and pasta; with plenty of fruit and vegetables; some protein-rich foods such as beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins; some milk and dairy foods or dairy alternatives; and not too much fat, salt or sugar, will give you all the nutrients you need.
To have a healthy, balanced diet, people should try to:
- Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
- Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates. Choose wholegrain where possible
- Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks). Choose lower-fat and lower-sugar options
- Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein. Aim for two portions of fish every week – one of which should be oily, such as salmon or mackerel
- Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and eat in small amounts
- Drink plenty of fluids – the government recommends 6-8 cups/glasses a day
The American Heart Association, World Cancer Research Fund, and American Institute for Cancer Research recommends a diet that consists mostly of unprocessed plant foods, with emphasis on a wide range of whole grains, legumes, and non-starchy vegetables and fruits of different colors including red, green, yellow, white, purple, and orange. This healthy diet is low in energy density, which may protect against weight gain and associated diseases. Finally, limiting consumption of sugary drinks, limiting energy rich foods, including “fast foods” and red meat, and avoiding processed meats improves health and longevity.
The World Health Organization (WHO) makes the following 5 recommendations with respect to both populations and individuals:
- Eat roughly the same amount of calories that your body is using. A healthy weight is a balance between energy consumed and energy that is 'burnt off'.
- Limit intake of fats, and prefer less unhealthy unsaturated fats to saturated fats and trans fats.
- Increase consumption of plant foods, particularly fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts.
- Limit the intake of sugar.
- Limit salt / sodium consumption from all sources and ensure that salt is iodized.
Other recommendations include:
- Essential micronutrients such as vitamins and certain minerals.
- Avoiding directly poisonous (e.g. heavy metals) and carcinogenic (e.g. benzene) substances.
- Avoiding foods contaminated by human pathogens (e.g. E. coli, tapeworm eggs).
The best way to eat for health is to choose a variety of foods from each of the 5 food groups every day. Each food group has important nutrients.
The amount of each food you need will vary during your life, depending on factors such as how active you are and whether or not you are growing, pregnant, breastfeeding and more.
Vegetables and legumes (beans and peas)
Vegetables and legumes have hundreds of natural nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre.
To get the most from this group:
- choose vegetables and legumes in season
- look for different colours:
- greens like beans, peas and broccoli
- red, orange or yellow vegetables like capsicums, tomatoes, carrots, sweet potato and pumpkin
- purple vegetables like red cabbage and eggplant
- white vegetables like cauliflower, mushrooms and potatoes.
Eating your vegetables raw is indeed sometimes the healthier option. However; there are also some vegetables which offer useful health benefits when they’re cooked.
- 2 year-olds, 2½ serves a day
- adults and children aged 9 and over, 5 serves a day.
One serve is ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw.
You can include vegetables at lunch (salads, raw vegies or soups) as well as dinner. Cherry tomatoes, snow peas, green beans, red capsicum, celery or carrot sticks with hummus makes a great snack.
Fresh fruit is a good source of vitamins and dietary fibre. It’s best to eat fresh fruit.
- 2 to 3 year-olds, 1 piece a day
- 4 to 8 year-olds, 1½ pieces a day
- adults and children over 9, 2 pieces a day.
If you want to have fruit juices, do it only occasionally. Half a cup is enough. Fruit juices lack fibre and they’re not filling. Their acidity can also damage tooth enamel. Commercial fruit juices are often high in sugars.
Dried fruit also has a high sugar content. It is only suitable as an occasional extra.
Grains and cereal foods
Grain foods include rolled oats, brown rice, wholemeal and wholegrain breads, cracked wheat, barley, buckwheat and breakfast cereals like muesli.
Wholegrains have protein, dietary fiber, minerals and vitamins. In processed grains, some of these nutrients are lost.
- 2 to 8 year-olds, start with 4 serves a day
- 14 to 18 year-olds, 7 or more serves
- adults, 6 or 7 serves a day depending on activity.
A serve is equivalent to:
- 1 slice of bread, or
- ½ cup cooked rice, oats, pasta or other grain, or 3 rye crispbread, or
- 30g of breakfast cereal ( ⅔ cup flakes or ¼ cup muesli).
Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes (beans) tofu, nuts and seeds
These foods provide protein, minerals and vitamins. Legumes, nuts and seeds also have dietary fiber. It’s good to choose a variety of foods from this group.
- 2 to 3 year-olds, 1 serve a day
- 4 to 8 year-olds, 1½ serves a day
- women and children over 9, 2½ serves a day
- men aged 19 to 50, 3 serves a day
A serve is 65g cooked red meat, or 80g poultry, or 100g fish, or 2 eggs, or 1up legumes, or 170g tofu, or 30g nuts, seeds or pastes (peanut butter or tahini).
Adults should eat no more than 500 g of red meat a week. There is evidence that those eating more than 500 g of red meat may have an increased risk of bowel cancer.
Milk, cheeses, yoghurts
Milk gives you protein, vitamins and calcium. Soy drinks with added calcium can be used as a milk substitute for children over 1.
Some nut or oat milks have added calcium but they lack vitamin B12 and enough protein. Check your child’s total diet with a doctor or qualified dietician before using them.
Children should have full-cream milk until aged 2. Reduced-fat varieties may be suitable after that.
- 2 to 3 year-olds, 1½ serves a day
- 4 to 8 year-olds, 1½ serves (girls), 2 serves (boys) a day
- 9 to 11 year olds, 2½ serves (boys), 3 serves (girls) a day
- 12 to 18 year-olds, 3½ serves a day
- adults, 2½ serves a day.
A serve is 1 cup of milk, or 2 slices of cheese, or 200g yoghurt.
If you use plant-based alternatives to milk, like soy milk, check that they have at least 100mg calcium per 100 mL.
Apart from milk, the ideal drink for children is tap water.
Foods that are not included in the 5 food groups are called ‘discretionary choices’ or ‘extras’. Some of it could be called junk food.
You can eat small amounts of unsaturated oils and spreads. These may be from olives, soybeans, corn, canola, sunflower, safflower, sesame or grapeseed.
Other ‘discretionary choices’ are not needed in a healthy diet. This includes:
- ice cream
- ice blocks
- soft drinks
- cordials, sports, fruit and energy drinks
- lollies and chocolates
- processed meats
- potato crisps
- savory snack foods
- commercial burgers
- hot chips
- fried foods
These foods and drinks often provide excess energy, saturated fat, sugar or salt. They are often described as ‘energy-rich but nutrient-poor’. They also often replace healthier foods in the diet.
A plate rule is a simple and excellent tool, helping you to eat healthier. Following the plate rule, you can be sure that you have right proportions of different foods on your plate. And don’t forget to make sure that you always eat at least five different colored foods.
At each meal, your plate should be:
- 1/2 plate of fruits, vegetables and different salads
- 1/4 plate of proteins, such as fish, poultry, chicken
- 1/4 plate of grainsand extras, such as rice, potatoes, buckwheat, pasta
- Mixed composition foods, such as risotto, lasagne or hotpot, should fill half of your plate and vegetables/salads another half
- Then add a glass of milk, cup of yogurt, or sprinkle of cheese.
Help on Portion Sizes
- 2 cups should fill up 1/2 of your plate
- Choose fruit twice a day, and vegetables three times a day
- 2 ounces should fill 1/4 of your plate
- 2 ounces = 2 slices bread, medium tortilla, 2 handfuls of crackers, 1/2 hamburger bun, 1 cup rice, pasta or oatmeal, 2 cups breakfast cereal
- 2 ounces should fill 1/4 of your plate
- 2 ounces = meat, fish or tofu about the size of a deck of cards, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup beans, 1 veggie burger, handful of nuts
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