Healthy Balanced Diet

What is a Healthy Balanced Diet?

A balanced diet is a diet consisting of a variety of food, providing adequate intake of energy and amounts of nutrients necessary for preveting nutritional deficiencies.

This diet is the combination of different foods that contains fiber, carbohydrates, protein and fat required by your body to work properly.

The healthy plate is the visual guide you can follow in order to create balanced and healthy meal.

Eat regular meals

Divide the daily food intake into 5 meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner and 2 snacks) this prevent the hunger pangs, allows you to digest food better and you can maintain regular blood sugar level (constant energy) throughout the day.

Don’t skip the meals, it’s a very bad habit and this mechanism drives you to eat larger quantities of food in the subsequest meal. Furthermore, your body goes into starvation mode and your metabolism slows down in an attempt to burn as little energy as possible to keep you alive, thus it is then easier to store extra body fat.

Half plate of fruits and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are fundamental in our diet as they contain vitamins, minerals, phytochemical, dietary fiber and water. They protect the body reducing the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia and they have a key roles in several body functions and processes. The fiber can help you in weight management because you can feel full faster and you can control your food intake during the meal.

  • 2-3 servings of fruit and 2 servings of vegetables every day.
  • Please use as much fresh fruit and vegetable as you can and try to reduce frozen and canned products because they may contain preservatives, sugar and salt.
  • Tubers (potatoes, yam..) are considered carbohydrates, while legumes (e.g. beans, lentils, chickpeas..) are considered proteins so don’t use them as vegetables.
  • Variety is important, choose fruits and vegetables of different colours every day.

 

A quarter plate of charbohydrates (whole grains)

Charbohydrates are essential in our life because they are the first source of energy that our body does use every day. Choose the whole-grain option because they contain more vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber. These nutrients can help you reducing the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

  • 1 serving in every meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner).
  • Choose wholemeal product instead of refined one (brown rice, wholemeal noodles, pasta or bread, use other cereals like barley, quinoa, oats, teff, rye, buckwheat, millet …).
  • Choose sweet potatoes instead of the normal one.

A quarter plate of protein

Proteins are essential to the structure of red blood cells, for the proper functioning of antibodies resisting infection, for the regulations of enzymes and hormones, for growth, for the muscles and for the body tissue repair.

  • 1 serving in every meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner).
  • Proteins are contained in animal products and also in the vegetable one, here below the list with the weekly frequencies:
    • pulses (beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas..), Tau Kua (tofu), Tempeh à 2-3 times a week;
    • skinless lean poultry (chicken or turkey) à 3-4 times a week;
    • red meat (beef, mutton and pork) à 1 time a week;
    • processed meat (ham, parma ham..) à 1 time a week;
    • fish such as salmon, sardine, cod, spanish mackerel, tuna, seabass. They contain omega-3 fatty acids, a beneficial fats that deliver big health benefit. à 2-3 times a week;
    • normal eggs, avoid the processed one (century eggs, salted duck eggs…) à 1 portion (2 eggs) 1-2 times a week;
    • low-fat or non-fat cheese instead of full-fat dairy products to maintain a healthy weight à 1-2 times a week.
  • For breakfast you can use low-fat or non-fat dairy product (milk, yogurt) or alternatives calcium-fortified (soy milk, rice milk, almond milk). For specific cases, to ensure your body the daily amount of calcium and protein, refer to a dietitian to identify the right diet plan.

Use healthier fat

Fat is needed for certain metabolic functions in the body. However, a high intake of saturated fat is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. The monounsaturated and polyunsaturated are considered healthier because they decrease the risk of developing heart disease.  Even if some oils are healthier than other, they should be consumed in moderation because they are high in calories, and an excess of them can lead you to increase your fat mass.

  • Increase the quantity of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acid using: seeds (sesame, flax, chia, pumpkin, sunflower..), dried fruits (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, peanuts), good oils (olive, sunflower, canola, peanut, corn), fish (tuna, sardine, salmon, mackerel) and avocado.
  • Reduce the amount of saturated fat and trans fat avoiding bad oils (palm, coconut, hydrogenated and refined), animal product (meat, processed meat, eggs, lard, skin of poultry..), high-fat dairy products (full cream milk and cheese, butter, ghee), coconut milk, industrial product (cakes, biscuits, breadsticks, crackers, chips, snacks, icecream, dressing,…).
  • Limit deep-fried food to no more than once a week or better once every two or three weeks.
  • Reduce the consumption of high-fat bakery products (e.g. pastries, cakes and cookies)
  • Remove visible fat and skin from meat and poultry.
  • Ask for less oil and gravy in food.

Choose Water

Every day we lose water through our breath, perspiration, feces and urine, consequently it’s important to introduce losses with the right amount per day.

  • 1,5 – 2 liter a day, if you practice a lot of physical activity you can increase the quantity of water.
  • Choose water (cold or warm) or herbal tea and infusion without sugar, without milk or cream.
  • Avoid the consumption of instant beverage and other beverages that contain sugar (cola, fruit juice and tea in bottle, some yogurt and flavoured milk, energy drink….)
  • Drink one glass of warm water with lemon juice after waking up, it is very beneficial because it helps the body to eliminate the toxins that we don’t need, through urine, and activate your internal organs.

Less salt

Salt, sauces and monosodium glutamate (MSG) are the main sources of sodium in the diet and we have to reduce their intake because an excess of them can increase the level of blood pressure, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

  • Recommended amount of salt is 1 teaspoon a day = 5g a day = 2000 mg of sodium a day (check the label of products).
  • Use natural herbs and spices like onion, oregano, ginger, garlic, chilli, parsley, spring onions, cinnamon and cloves to make your food more tasty.

Less sugar

Beverages and food with added sugar usually provide empty calories. Added sugar refers to sugar that is added to food or drinks during manufacturing, cooking or at the table. Based on the new reccomendation of the WHO the maximum daily intake of sugar is 25 g for adults. In order to maintain your daily intake in the correct range, please do as follows:

  • Reduce the intake of industrial product (cakes, biscuits, chips, snacks, icecream, dressing,…).
  • Reduce the consumption of instant and other kind of beverage that contain sugar choosing water, herbal tea, and water flavored with herbs or vegetables (mint, cucumber, celery, ginger….)
  • Reduce the intake of sauces (mayonnaise, ketchup, BBQ..)
  • Don’t drink alcohol

Nutritional myths and beliefs

  • Can I replace fruit and vegetables with fresh fruit and veggie juice/centrifugate?

Actually the healthier choise is eating the whole fruit and vegetables because in this way you can benefit from fruit and vegetables skin, pulp and fiber content. Fruit juice elevates blood sugar more quickly than whole fruit, and the level of sugar that can be obtained from fruit juice is higher than the level found in whole fruit.

  • Can I follow low-carb diet to lose weight?

Low carbohydrate diets are based on ketosis, the mechanism where the body produces ketones in the liver using fat to produce energy. Using fat instead of carbohydrates is not a physiological mechanism and in this way you can stress your kidneys and liver for the overwork they are subjected to and you can experiece asthenia, headache and constipation. Furthermore in a low-carb diet you usually eat less then your basal metabolic rate and your body will turn into a starvation mode and you will start to save energy and store fat.

  • Are there “fat burning” foods?

The only way to burn fat is to move your body doing exercise. There are foods that facilitate digestive processes but this is far from burning calories.

 

  • Is the “zero fat diet” the solution to lose weight?

It’s a common knowledge that a diet rich in fat and cholesterol can lead you to obesity and cardiovascular disease, but on the other hand a right amount of fat is essential in our body because it has a structural and metabolic role. You need to find a good compromise without eliminate it from your diet.

  • Can I replace an entire meal with a dessert to satisfy the sweet desire?

A balanced meal can be made up in different ways but still provides adequate nutrients of the various food groups. Replacing it with a dessert rich in fat and simple sugars can never be equivalent in terms of satiety: with a balanced meal you can feel full till the following meal, with a dessert after short time you need to eat again.

  • Why even if I’m on diet I’m not losing weight?

There are different reason affecting your body weight during a diet:

  • lack or insufficient phisical activity
  • eating lower amount of food compare to the amount of calories in the diet
  • sometimes it is the body itself to stop the slimming process due to hormonal mechanisms that take place in order to maintain homeostasis. This is a physiological mechanism where your body try to maintain the equilibrium.

If you have experienced this condition you can ask to a dietitian to review the diet helping you to continue your weight loss jurney.

How to determine your daily calorie intake?

 

To keep an healthy body, energy ingested needs to be balanced with energy expended, this means that you need to eat the same amount of calories that you body consume every day. When there is a surplus of energy than expended, weight will be gained and vice versa. Remember that your body can only use a certain amount of energy at a time and the excess is stored in the form of fat. Another important thing you need to consider is that age, gender, physical activity level and body size determine your daily energy expenditure. To find out how many calories your body use every day you can follow the steps below.

Step 1: Find your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

MEN: kcal/24h= 66+(13,7 x weight)+(5 x hight)-(6,8 x age)

WOMEN: kcal/24h= 655+(9,6 x weight)+(1,9 x hight)-(4,7 x age)

Step 2: Determine your Activity Level

SEDENTARY (little to no exercise) à 1,2

LIGTHLY ACTIVE (1-3 days per week) à 1,375

MODERATELY ACTIVE (3-5 days per week) à 1,55

VERY ACTIVE (6-7 days per week) à 1,725

EXTRA ACTIVE (twice per day, extra heavy workouts) à 1,9

Step 3: Determine your Calorie Intake

 

BMR x Activity Level = Calorie Intake

These are the number of calories you should consume daily to maintain the current weight. Remember that a good balaced diet has to stay whitin your body’s basal metabolic rate, don’t go lower becasue your body will turn into a starvation mode.

How do we count calories?

1 gram of protein has 4 calories

1 gram of carbohydrates has 4 calories

1 gram of fat has 9 calories

1 gram of alcohol has 7 calories