Diets can often be confusing and misleading with the quick fixes, detox teas and skinny tablets out there. But, the reality is that your body needs a balance diet to function properly. Each food component is responsible for different functions in the body.
What is a balanced diet?
A healthy balanced diet consists of 7 components. Although it’s important to eat the correct types of foods, it is also essential to eat the correct portions and amounts too. By adopting a balanced diet not only will this boot your immune system and health, but it will also help with weight loss and management.
7 Components of a Balanced Diet
The 7 components of a balanced diet are Carbohydrates, Proteins, Fats, Vitamins, Minerals, Fibre and Water. We will go into more detail below.
Carbohydrates play important roles within our body. They are the primary energy source that our brain and muscles use. Approximately 55-60% of our calories should come from carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are energy foods and provide 4 calories per gram. We need carbs not only to support our growth but to also fuel our activity.
Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which then circulates in the blood. Excess glucose in the blood is then stored as glycogen either in the liver or the muscles. The glycogen stored in the liver is released to help maintain the glucose levels in the blood. Muscle glycogen is used to provide fuel for the muscles to work. If carbohydrates are consumed in excess of the body’s needs then it is converted to fat and stored in adipocytes (fat tissue). Therefore it’s important that you do not consume excessive amounts of carbs.
Protein is used by our body helps us develop and grow properly. Protein makes up our muscles, organs, skin and hair. Protein is broken down into amino acids. The body is able to make 12 amino acids but we need the remaining 8 (essential amino acids) to ensure good health. Protein is used for building, maintaining and repairing body cells and organs. They also make hormones and enzymes which regulate body functions. Antibodies are also made and other important components of the immune system.
In the UK diet, the main sources of protein are animal sources such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy foods. We also obtain important proteins from cereal products, nuts and pulses. Approximately 10-15% of our calories should come from protein. Protein contains 4 calories per gram.
Approximately no more than 35% of our daily calories should come from fat. Fats are a great source of energy: 1g of fat provides 9 calories. Fat protects the internal organs, however, too much fat can be damaging. Fat is also a great insulator and fat stored just below the skin acts to insulate the body from the cold. Females require a minimum level of body fat in order to maintain menstrual function as fat cells secrete and are the store for oestrogen.
It is advised to limit the number of saturated fats consumed as they are strongly correlated with an increased amount of cholesterol in the blood, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Saturated fats can be found in beef, lamb, pork, butter, cream, milk, cheeses, coconut oil, palm oil and cocoa butter. It’s important to replace saturated fat with unsaturated fat. This means eating more fish, avocados, nuts and seeds and plant-based oils and spreads such as flax seed oil and soya spread.
Vitamins are complex organic substances found in our food which support almost every system in the body, including the immune system, the brain and the nervous system. Many of them help convert food into energy and help the body to use carbohydrate, fat and protein. They are also involved in regulating growth, making red blood cells and protecting the body from harmful free radicals. Only very small amounts of vitamins and minerals are needed to enable the body to work properly and prevent illness. Vitamins K and D cannot be manufactured by the body and must come from our food.
To get more vitamins into your diet, try and eat foods as fresh and unprocessed as possible. Choose fruit and vegetables that have been produced locally rather than those that have had to travel across the world. Try cooking vegetables as light as possible, keeping their crunchy texture. Avoid slow cookers and lengthy cooking techniques. Microwaving, steaming or pressure-cooking vegetables is the kindest to vitamins.
Minerals are elemental substances and are found in the soil. They are absorbed by plants, which we eat or are eaten by animals – which we then eat. Therefore we can get minerals from both animal and vegetable sources. Minerals have many different roles, including structural roles, such as calcium in bones and teeth or regulator roles such as sodium and potassium in fluid balance and muscle contractions. Minerals do not deteriorate in the same way that vitamins do because they are ‘elemental’ they cannot be easily destroyed by heat, light or air.
Fiber can be found in plants such as fruits, vegetables and grains. Fibre is made up of two main types: soluble fibre and insoluble fibre, both kinds are needed for good health. Soluble fibre is usually found in plant cells. It assists with digestion which allows the stomach to adopt a slower emptying time. This means the nutrients are absorbed gradually which allows for a steady release of energy. Soluble fibre also assists with lowering harmful LDL cholesterol. Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water and passes through the digestive tract largely intact. Insoluble fibre keeps the digestive system in good working order. It helps to prevent bowel problems.
High fibre foods contain a good source of vitamins and minerals. It also adds bulk which makes them more filling and satisfying. We should be eating around 18g of fibre every day. To get more fibre into your diet you should always select wholemeal foods rather than refined grains, for example, eat whole grain or whole wheat breakfast cereals. Eat more peas, lentils and beans. Potato skins contain a lot of fibre and brown rice contains more fibre than white rice. You should also ensure that you eat at least two pieces of fruit every day.
Water is one of the most important macronutrients along with carbohydrates, proteins and fats. We can live a little longer without food (around 8 weeks) than we can water (only a few days). A 12% drop in body weight through water is always fatal. Our body is made up of around 65% water, it assists with absorption, digestion, excretion and aids circulation of nutrients around our body. Water is also essential for regulating our bodies temperature and distributing heat. Water also lubricates our bodies moving joints and our eyes.
How much water should we be drinking? Individual requirements of fluid intake vary considerably. This is due to various factors which depend on the amount of fluid being lost for example environmental temperature, humidity, individual metabolism, activity levels and the individual’s health and diet. On average a Man (70 kg) should be drinking 2.5 litres a day, a Women (58 kg) should be drinking 2.2 litres of water a day and for children (10 kg Child) 1 litre and a Child (5 kg) should be drinking 0.75 litres a day. Many foods that we eat particularly fruit and vegetables contain high amounts of water. On average most healthy adults should drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of liquid every day.
How does water leave the body? Water is mainly lost from the body by urine, breathing and sweating, we lose around 1.5 litres a day. Dehydration can occur when fluids are not replaced. If we lose even just 1-2% can result in dehydration symptoms such as thirst occurs and dry mouth will start to appear. 3-4% vague discomfort and loss of appetite appears, difficulty concentrating, headache and sleepiness are observed at 5%. Tingling and numbness of extremities can occur at 6% and collapse at 7% dehydration. A 10% loss of water through dehydration is life-threatening. Therefore it is very important that we maintain our hydration levels correctly throughout the day.