With obesity and obesity-related diseases on the rise in the United States, it is more important than ever to understand what constitutes a balanced diet and why it is so important. It is also important to understand problems such as malnutrition and overnutrition and how they can be prevented.
The term "balanced diet" refers to a diet that provides all of the nutrients your body needs, without too much of any one component. Your body requires two main types of nutrients: micronutrients, which include vitamins and minerals, and macronutrients, which include protein, carbohydrates and fat. Vitamins and minerals support metabolism, nerve and muscle function, bone, muscle and soft tissue maintenance and cell production. Protein is the main component of all of your body's cells, as well as your hair, skin and soft tissue. Carbohydrates are your body's main source of energy. Fats provide energy, store vitamins and synthesize hormones.
Malnutrition is the eventual result of an imbalanced diet. Your body requires a certain amount of nutrients, every day. Consuming too much or too little of any one, no matter how small, can cause malnutrition. Malnutrition can be so mild that a person suffers no ill effects. It can also be so severe that it causes serious illness or death. Malnutrition symptoms vary depending on the specific nutrient imbalance. Some possible symptoms include edema, chronic diarrhea, anemia, goiter, weight loss and decreases muscle mass.
Overnutrition is the consumption of excess amounts of one or more nutrients. Overnutrition is technically a form of malnutrition, and it can have serious health consequences. The overconsumption of calories can lead to excess body fat and a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Consuming excess saturated fat can cause high cholesterol -- a precursor to heart disease. In addition, vitamins and minerals can be toxic in large doses.
Fat, Protein and Carbohydrates Recommendations
To achieve a balanced diet, first make sure you eat an appropriate amount of calories. To find out the calorie recommendations for your age, weight and activity level, consult the USDA calorie guide, or talk to your physician, No more than 35 percent of your total daily calories should come from fat, which translates to a maximum of 78g of fat for the average adult, and no more than 7 percent of your total daily calories should come from saturated fat, which works out to about 15g of saturated fat. The average adult should consume about 60g of protein and between 225 and 325g of carbohydrates each day, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
If your diet is rich in whole grains, lean proteins, colorful fruits and vegetables, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, such as those found in nuts, fish and olive oil, you should have no trouble getting all of the vitamins and minerals you need. Unless you have a medical condition that makes you susceptible to vitamin or mineral deficiencies, it is best to avoid supplements and get your micronutrients from a balanced diet.