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Balanced Diet

Nutrients that we obtain through food have vital effects on growth and development, maintenance of body function, physical activity and health.

Our diet must provide all essential nutrients in the required amounts – too little or too much, both are harmful. Requirements of essential nutrients vary with age, gender, physical activity and states like pregnancy, adolescence etc.

Diet should be balanced with regards to Quantity (Calories) and Quality (Nutrients). 

Balance in Quantity – Calories – To maintain a healthy weight, Calories In = Calories Out

Our body uses calories from food to carry out all bodily functions (breathing, digestion, walking etc). If we consume more calories than we use, body stores the excess calories as fat and we put on weight.  When we consume fewer calories than we need, body uses stored fats and we lose weight. This is the fundamental law of Energy Balance. 

Calories required by a person vary with age, gender, lean body mass & activity level. Men usually require more calories than women, and people who exercise need more calories.  

How many calories a day do you need?

  1. Weight loss         – 24 – 29 Calories * kg body weight
  2. Maintenance         – 31 – 35 Calories * kg body weight
  3. Weight gain         – 40 – 44 Calories * kg body weight

Balance in Quality – 5 types of nutrients in proper amounts make up a balanced diet. 

Macronutrients are those which make up the bulk of diet and are required in large quantities (Carbohydrates, Protein and Fats).

Micronutrients are required in small quantities (Vitamins and Minerals).

Once you’ve calculated your calorie requirement, balance your diet in the following manner: – 

  1. Carbohydrates        – 50-60% of total calories
  2. Protein            – 15-20% of total calories
  3. Fat            – 20-30% of total calories

Carbohydrates – 

The carbohydrates are the major sources of energy in our diet. 

They can be simple: e.g. lactose in milk and glucose and fructose in fruits or they can be complex carbohydrates which take a longer time to digest. 

  1. Starchy – 
    1. Cereals like wheat, rice, bajra, jowar, ragi, maize etc.
    2. Pulses like chole, rajma, chana daal, toor daal, masoor daal, moong daal etc, contain significant amount of Protein also, but predominantly Carbohydrates.
    3. Potatoes.
    4. Fruits like Banana, Chikoo, Mango, Sugarcane, etc.
    5. Sugar, Jaggery, Dates.
  1. Fibrous – 
    1. All Vegetables except potato (Cauliflower, Cabbage, Gourd, Bitter gourd, Brinjal etc).
    2. Fruits like Apple, Pineapple, Watermelon, etc.

Proteins –

Proteins help in maintenance of the structure and function of all the cells in the body. Half of the protein of the body is in the muscles.

  1. Milk & Dairy products like Cheese, Paneer, Yoghurt etc.
  2. Legumes or pulses (contain significant carbs and fats too).
  3. Peanuts (contain significant carbs and fats too).
  4. Soya, Tofu.
  5. Eggs.
  6. Chicken, Fish, Meat etc.

Fats – 

Fats are very energy-dense. They provide large number of calories. The fats perform numerous functions in the body like formation of cells, hormones, bile and help in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K. 

Some fat is present in all foods. So, if carbohydrates & protein requirements are met, there is no need to take in extra fat.

Sources of fats – Ghee, Butter, Sunflower oil, Olive oil, Sesame oil, Walnuts & Flax seeds (Omega 3 fatty acids), Dry fruits, Sunflower seeds etc.

Micronutrients – Vitamins

These are called as micronutrients because they are required in very small quantities only.

  • Vitamin A – needed for good vision, growth & development and immunity. Found in yellow and orange fruits, green vegetables, eggs cod liver oils. 
  • Vitamin B Complex – needed for keeping body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and preventing anemia (B12) and neurological defects in fetuses (Folic Acid – B9). Found in green vegetables, dairy products, seafood and meat. 
  • Vitamin C – Helps in immunity which protects the body against infections. Found in Citrus fruits (Amla, Orange, Tomatoes, Lemon).
  • Vitamin D – required for healthy bones and teeth. It is made in body itself in presence of sunlight or given as a supplement. It can be found naturally in milk and milk products. 
  • Folate – It helps in formation of blood and keeping nerves healthy. Green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and liver are good sources of folates.

Micronutrients – Minerals

  • Iron – is an important component of Hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that supplies oxygen throughout the body. It is found in green leafy vegetables, dates, apples, pomegranates, jaggery, chana etc.
  • Calcium – is required for healthy bones & teeth. It is found mainly in dairy products, also in green vegetables, seafood & pulses. Young children & elderly women require more calcium.
  • Iodine – is required for proper functioning of Thyroid gland. Except for hilly areas, most foodstuff contain some amount of  iodine. Nowadays, most table salts are fortified with iodine.
  • Zinc – helps in building immunity, supplements growth & development. It is found in meat, pulses, whole grains, eggs, dairy products & nuts.

The pyramid below shows which foods should contribute to the diet. (Ref: Dietary guidelines for Indians – A manual, National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, 2011)

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