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What is a Balanced Diet?

With so much information available on nutrition, it can be hard to know what to do or whose advice to follow.

You only have to type the words ‘good nutrition’ into Google and you’ll have access to nearly 2 billion results. We know that a healthy, balanced diet is key when it comes to the menopause. So, how can you make sure that you’re getting the right amount of nutrients each day?

CARBS

Let’s begin with the food group with the worst rep: carbs. No, carbs are not the enemy. They’re essential for energy and the right carbs are healthy and high in fibre. Cutting out carbs is not a healthy way to lose weight. In fact, it is recommended that over a third of your diet should consist of carbs, such that over half of your daily calorie count is made up of carbs.

No two carbs are made equally so try to focus on wholegrains, like whole-wheat pasta and brown rice. White versions, like white bread or white rice, are stripped of a lot of fibre and nutrients (though sometimes they are ‘enriched’ meaning some of the nutrients are put back in) and so are considered less healthy. 

You can definitely have a healthy diet by having a few portions of whole grains at every meal. If you’re choosing whole grains, you needn’t worry too much about the calorie count. The majority of your daily calorie count should come from carbs and you’ll keep healthy as long as they are mostly wholegrain sources. That doesn’t mean white bread and white rice should be completely thrown out, but they do have less nutritional value so if you’re set on a healthy diet, try and minimise the number of meals you have that promote white starches over whole starches. 

PROTEIN

Moving on, we need to talk about protein. Of course, this includes chicken, beef, lamb, fish, and also tofu, lentils and chickpeas. Protein is so important, as it can help build muscles which support your bones and can boost your metabolic rate. It is advised that you should eat about 0.75g per every kilo you weigh each day. So, if you weigh 70kg you should eat 52.5g of protein a day. To give you a rough idea of how much this is, 100g of chicken breast contains approximately 30g of protein. With that in mind, if you’re not vegetarian or vegan, you might find it easy to go past the daily recommended amount of protein a day. Although too much of something isn’t good, don’t worry if you do surpass the daily recommended amount, as there aren’t any major risks. That said, do avoid eating a lot of red meats, as they are associated with negative health risks.

If you are vegan or vegetarian, it might be a little bit harder. Animal proteins contain all the amino acids in the right ratio, so if you’re not eating animal-based proteins, you’ll need a bigger variety of proteins. Essentially, to get all the right amino acids you’ll need to have a few plant-based sources of protein. Consider the following: 1 cup of cooked lentils is 18g of protein, 2 tablespoons of chia seeds is 4g of protein, ½ cup of cooked quinoa is about 8g of protein and 1 cup of beans is about 15g of protein. With that in mind, it’s certainly not impossible to get your daily protein in; it just might take a bit more mixing and matching.

DAIRY

The next food group we need to examine is dairy. Yes, dairy is traditionally its own food group and it is recommended that a person has about 3 servings of dairy a day. For example, that could look like 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of yoghurt and ½ cup of cottage cheese. Dairy products are high in calcium and vitamin D. For someone in their 40s-60s, about 1,000-1,200mg of calcium and 600 IU of vitamin D is recommended a day. For a vegan or someone with lactose-intolerance, this might look like: 1 cup of kale and cabbage (270mg of calcium), 1 cup of fortifiedalmond/soy milk (~400mg of calcium), 1 serving of instant oats (100mg of calcium), 1 cup of bok choy (150mg of calcium), and 1 cup of shelled edamame (100mg of calcium). So yes, it might take a bit more effort to get the right levels of calcium daily, but it’s possible. You can also focus on fortified foods (fortified alternative milk, fortified orange juice, fortified breakfast cereals) or, if all else fails, a quality range of supplements.

FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

Another classic piece of nutritional advice is: eat 5 portions of fruits and vegetablesa day. In one day, that might look something like a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice in the morning, a banana and an apple at midday, half an avocado in your salad and a generous side of broccoli and carrots at dinner. 

FATS AND SUGARS

Finally, let’s take a look at fats and sugars. This means butter, crisps, chocolate, sweets, cakes and all the rest of the best. Most of the foods that make up the other groups contain enough fats and sugars to keep us going. The fats and sugars in fruit, cooking oil, nuts, and carbs aren’t necessarily bad, so making room for particularly ‘bad’ fats and sugars typically found in desserts isn’t the best idea for a healthy diet. That said, you don’t need to completely remove a bit of dessert from your diet!

This brings us to our next keyword: moderation. Working a little bit of dessert into your day won’t throw your body or health off and might even help keep cravings at bay so you can get through the rest of your day healthily. It’s just about keeping portions small and, more often than not, focusing on healthier dessert options, like dark chocolate, oatmeal cookies and fruity cakes. Everything in moderation is best and this includes healthy food too! You can’t replace one food group with another, or increase one while decreasing another and expect the same healthy life. All the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals you need will come from a balanced and moderated diet, so if you follow these daily serving amounts well, then you’re definitely on the right path.

Here’s a few quick tips to remember: 

  • Swap the white grains in your house for whole grains: brown rice, wheat bread and wheat pasta.
  • Carry an apple and banana around with you – they’re a quick and easy snack, they’re cheap, and they count for 2 portions of your 5 portions of daily fruits and vegetables!
  • Eat more chicken and fish over red meats
  • If you’re vegan or vegetarian, make sure to eat a variety of foods, and be considerate of your calcium intake as it might be low
  • Don’t overstress cutting out dessert, just try to keep it as healthy as possible, and keep it at small portions

Food is a delight and should be enjoyed as such. A balanced diet doesn’t have to be a boring one and there are many ways to spice up your meals. True, there isn’t always time to be imaginative when you have a million things to do but there are many quick and simple recipes that you can make to keep you on track. 

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