A balanced diet won't break the bank or take the enjoyment out of food. It will, however, supply your body with the nutrients it needs to maintain proper health and keep you feeling your best. Before you can follow a balanced diet, you need to understand what one looks like. Then you can become mindful of your food intake and watch as your well-being benefits from your healthful choices.
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The Five Food Groups
A balanced diet includes at least one helping from each of the five food groups in every meal to balance your nutrient intake. The five food groups include fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and protein. Having fresh fruits and vegetables is generally best, but frozen, dried and canned all count. Whole grains should make up the bulk of your grains intake, while most of your dairy intake should be low-fat or fat free per recommendations from ChooseMyPlate.gov. Protein foods consist of lean meats, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes, so even if you don't eat meat, you have plenty of choices.
Eat Reasonable Portions
Eating too much can sabotage your health and waistline, even if you are eating all the right foods; portion control is key. Read the nutrition labels on your foods to determine the intended serving size. Measure and weigh your foods to prevent overeating. Don't down several servings of something unless it's fresh fruits or vegetables, which should be the focus of your meals. Be mindful of extra servings that you could miss; for example, two slices of bread count as two servings of grains, not one. Use smaller dishes so smaller portions feel more substantial.
Minimize the Junk
You can still eat your favorite treats on a balanced diet, but need to keep them to a minimum. Cut junk food from your diet entirely -- and then only allow yourself a small serving on special occasions. The key is to think of junk food as a treat instead of a staple in your diet. Sweets, fried foods, fast foods and other junk food don't provide your body with as many nutrients as whole foods. There's no room on a balanced plate of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein and dairy for candy bars, chips or soda.
Balancing your diet also requires balancing your calorie intake. You can ask your doctor for a recommendation of how many calories you need, use an online calculator, or base your intake on average requirements. ChooseMyPlate.gov recommends about 2,000 calories for women ages 19 to 30 and about 2,400 calories for men in the same age group. If you're between ages 31 and 50, subtract 200 from that recommendation, while if you're age 51 or older, subtract another 200 calories from that recommendation. Track how many calories you eat and aim to eat no more than your caloric requirement.
ChooseMyPlate.gov outlines how much of each food group a basic 2,000-calorie diet should contain each day. These amounts include 2 1/2 cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruit, 6 ounces of grains, 3 cups of dairy and 5 1/2 ounces of protein. Divide these recommendations into three meals and your day looks something like 2 ounces of grains, 1 cup of dairy and 1/2 cup of fruit for breakfast, 1 cup of vegetables, 1/2 cup of fruit, 2 ounces of grains, 1 cup of dairy and 2 ounces of protein for lunch, and 1 cup of vegetables, 1 cup of fruit, 2 ounces of grains, 1 cup of dairy and 3 1/2 ounces of protein for dinner.