Ask most people what the word "diet" means and they describe short-term weight loss goals and countless food restrictions. However, the term "diet" simply refers to what we eat. A good diet promotes positive change and helps you incorporate sensible eating into your daily lifestyle. When designing a practical eating regimen, diet planners often recommend the ABCDMV method -- the six basic principles of adequacy, balance, calorie control, density, moderation and variety.
An adequate diet provides the human body with energy and nutrients for optimal growth, maintenance and repair of tissue, cells and organs. Water, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and some minerals comprise the six nutrient classes relied upon for performance of essential functions and activities. These nutrients must be replaced through diet to keep the body working efficiently. An adequate diet includes foods containing proper amounts of these nutrients to prevent deficiencies, anemia, headaches, fatigue and general weakness.
A balanced diet includes foods containing sufficient amounts of each class of nutrients. For example, while milk is a good source of calcium and fish provides necessary iron and protein, the two are not enough alone. Other essential vitamins, carbohydrates and fats are found in whole grains, vegetables and fruits. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides a great blueprint for a balanced diet with its five food groups -- grains, proteins, vegetables, fruit and dairy. Consuming the proper amount of servings from each category ensures a well-proportioned diet.
Once you know what to eat, the next factor is how much. It is possible to eat healthy foods and still overindulge. Therefore, a reasonable calorie allowance must be established. The amount of energy the body receives from incoming food needs to match the amount of energy needed for the body to sustain its biological and physiological activities. In other words, input needs to match output. An imbalance leads to weight loss or gain.
Eating well without overeating is often challenging. You must select foods that pack the most nutrients into the least amount of calories. For example, 1 ounce of cheese and 1 cup of fat-free milk contain the same amount of calcium. While both foods are adequate sources of calcium, the milk is more calcium-dense than the cheese because you get the same amount of calcium with one-half the calories and no fat. In another example, calorie allowance is not a useful tool by number alone. Although a bowl of grapes and a can of soda contain roughly the same number of calories, the grapes contain far more nutrients than the cola. Designing a nutritionally sound diet requires proper "budgeting" of calories and nutrients so that you eat less while supporting good health.
Socrates once said "Everything in moderation; nothing in excess." Though over 2,500 years old, this adage still holds true. Those who place severe restrictions on what they can or cannot eat often find it difficult to stick to a pattern of sensible eating. Depriving yourself of foods rich in fat and sugar is not necessary. When eaten on occasion, these treats are not detrimental to your health and often provide enough enjoyment to keep one motivated to continue healthy eating practices.
It's possible for a diet to have all the aforementioned characteristics, but still lack variety. While some people are creatures of habit and don't mind eating the same meals every day, most of us crave a wide array of choices and tastes. Good nutrition does not have to be boring. The USDA's food groups allow you to receive the proper nutrients while having a great selection of foods to pick and choose from. After all, variety is the spice of life.