Many of you may have heard the term “balanced diet,” but do you really know what it means? As a nutritionist, I will admit it might mean different things to different people. Personally, I have described it over many years to my clients and the media as meaning simply: “Eat a variety of foods packed with nutrients 85 percent of the time and 15 percent of the time not worrying about it so much.”
All Foods Fit
In a balanced diet, there is no discrimination against specific foods. You don’t need to avoid foods that contain carbohydrates or fat, nor do you need to only fill your plate with those foods containing lots of protein. If there are no medical reasons to avoid a specific food, for example, an individual with celiac disease who can’t tolerate gluten, then one should feel free to enjoy all foods.
Choose Healthier Options Within a Food Group
It makes sense from a health perspective to choose foods that are better for you than those that aren’t. In other words, eat plenty of 100 percent whole fruits that include naturally occurring sugar, vitamins, and minerals versus processed fruits with added sugars. Whenever possible, choose lots of vegetables, legumes, and 100 percent whole grains, all rich in fiber. Choose nuts, seeds, and other foods packed with heart-healthy fats. Enjoy dairy, seafood, poultry, and even red meat on occasion for adequate protein. Each of these food groups contains nutrients that have health benefits.
Leave Room in Your Diet for ‘Not-So-Good’ Food Choices
This is where the 85/15 rule comes into play. Eating healthy doesn’t mean eating healthy foods 100 percent of the time. If you never allow yourself to enjoy some of the more indulgent food choices, which vary according to personal tastes, then you are restricting yourself. Restriction leads to feeling deprived, which almost always leads to overeating.
However, if you allow yourself these foods from time to time, they can easily fit into a balanced diet. Chocolate, french fries, pizza, and ice cream can all add a little joy to life.
Check Your Portion Sizes
An important part of eating balanced meals is a balanced plate. What does that mean? One-quarter of your plate should come from protein, one-quarter of your plate from carbs, and one-half of your plate from vegetables, along with a serving of fat. The concept isn’t cast in stone, however. It is unlikely that half of your breakfast plate would consist of vegetables. Rather, it is a guideline to help you think about having carbohydrates, protein, and fat together to achieve satiety while rounding out your meal with extra vegetables and/or fruit where applicable.
Keep an Open Mind
Lastly, a very important part of eating a balanced diet is to keep a balanced state of mind when it comes to food choices. Let go of the “good” or “bad” food notions and embrace the idea that you can really enjoy all foods—just some more than others.