A healthy balanced diet makes us feel good and it helps our bodies to function at their best. No single food provides us with every nutrient we need, so that’s why we should take in a variety of foods, and we should consume them in the right amounts.
To maintain a healthy weight, achieving energy balance is important. This means that calories we take in match the calories we burn off, via the body’s essential functions or through physical activity. Taking in more calories than we burn off over a period of time will lead to weight gain, because extra calories are usually stored as fat. Carrying extra fat increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
- 1 What is a balanced diet?
- 1.1 Fruit and vegetables
- 1.2 Starchy carbohydrates
- 1.3 Low fat dairy products
- 1.4 Protein
- 1.5 Fats
- 1.6 Top tips for healthy eating and maintaining a healthy weight
- 1.7 Base your meals on starchy carbs
- 1.8 Eat plenty of fruit and veg
- 1.9 Eat more fish, especially the oily kind
- 1.10 Cut down on saturated fat and sugar
- 1.11 Eat less salt
- 1.12 Get active and maintain a healthy weight
- 1.13 Drink plenty of water
- 1.14 Always eat breakfast
- 1.15 The importance of breakfast
- 1.16 What happens if you don’t eat breakfast?
- 1.17 Can it really help to control your weight?
- 1.18 Good breakfast choices
- 1.19 Muesli
- 1.20 What goes into muesli?
- 1.21 Packaged muesli
- 1.22 Freshly made muesli
- 1.23 Homemade muesli recipes
- 1.24 7 cup muesli
- 1.25 Basic muesli
- 1.26 High protein muesli
- 1.27 Final thoughts
What is a balanced diet?
A balanced diet means that you are consuming a variety of foods in the right amounts to maintain good health, and a healthy weight. A balanced diet should contain the following foods:
Fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables provide your body with essential vitamins and minerals. Research has shown that people who eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. Fruit and vegetables should make up just over 1/3 of the food you eat each day.
Starchy foods should make up 1/3 of your diet. Meals should ideally be based on starchy carbs, such as potatoes, pasta and rice. Select whole grains where possible, as these provide the body with slow-release energy.
Low fat dairy products
Dairy foods are a good source of protein and calcium, which keeps bones strong and healthy. To avoid taking in too much saturated fat, choose semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, lower fat cheese and plain yoghurt. Low fat yoghurts tend to contain a lot of sugar.
Protein helps the body to repair itself, and it helps the immune system to function properly. Lean meat is a good source of protein, vitamins, iron, and zinc. Vitamin B12 can only be obtained by eating animal products which makes vegetarians prone to deficiency. Choose lean cuts of meat and remove the skin from poultry to reduce fat intake. Oily fish is also rich in protein, and omega 3 fatty acids, which are important for heart and brain health. Eggs and pulses are also excellent sources of protein, as are nuts, but be aware of their high calorie content if you’re trying to lose weight.
Some fat is necessary for health, but most fat should be of the unsaturated kind found in olive oil, nuts, avocados, and seeds. Saturated fats such as those found in cakes, biscuits and other baked goods should be kept to a minimum, as should sugar in the diet. Try swapping sugary foods and drinks for naturally sweet products that will provide your body with useful nutrients.
Top tips for healthy eating and maintaining a healthy weight
Base your meals on starchy carbs
Include plenty of potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, and cereals in your diet. Carbs aren’t the enemy, you just need to choose the healthier whole grain varieties which contain more fibre and provide your body with more sustained energy. It’s usually not these foods that are fattening per se, it’s what you put on them. So, for example, a creamy pasta sauce would really push the fat and calorie content up.
Eat plenty of fruit and veg
Getting your 5 a day is easier than you think. You can top your cereal with fruit, or swap unhealthy snacks for fruit. Fruit juices also count but limit them to 1 small glass per day as they are full of natural sugar and can be quite calorific.
Eat more fish, especially the oily kind
Oily fish is an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids which can help to keep your heart healthy. Oily fish includes salmon, mackerel, and trout. Canned fish counts but remember it can be higher in salt.
Cut down on saturated fat and sugar
Some fat is needed in our diet but it’s the type of fat we eat that counts. Saturated fat, found in cheese, cakes, biscuits, and butter can increase cholesterol and heart disease risk. Choose unsaturated fats instead, such as those in avocados, nuts, and olive oil.
Sugar is health enemy number one. High sugar consumption increases the risk of obesity, tooth decay and a lot of chronic diseases. Most processed foods contain a lot of sugar. We all know that there is a lot of sugar in cakes and sweets, but have you thought about the sugar in pasta sauces, tinned soups, and ketchup?
Eat less salt
Consuming too much salt can raise blood pressure. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Even if you feel virtuous for not adding salt to your food, you still might be eating a lot without realising. About ¾ of the salt we eat is added to cereals, bread, and soup during manufacturing to enhance flavour. Start reading food labels to help you judge how much salt is in a product. More than 1.5g of salt per 100 g of product is a lot of salt. It is recommended that you eat no more than 6 g of salt per day.
Get active and maintain a healthy weight
Diet is crucial in maintaining good health, but exercise also plays a role in managing weight and keeping our heart, lungs, bones, muscles, and joints healthy. Carrying too much weight means that you’re more at risk of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. To reduce your weight, cutting calories from your diet is a good start, but it’s a good idea to take some regular exercise to burn off excess energy.
Exercising regularly doesn’t have to mean going to the gym. Being more active in your everyday life is also important. Take the stairs where possible, or get off the bus one stop early. You only need to do something moderate to benefit your health, so something as easy as taking a brisk walk can help you get healthier and burn off some calories.
Drink plenty of water
Our bodies are made up of 70% water, and water is needed for almost every chemical reaction in our bodies. Even mild dehydration can make us feel tired and sluggish. It is recommended that we drink 6-8 glasses of water per day, and even more if we exercise, or we are in a hot environment. Sugary drinks don’t count; instead choose water, milk or no added sugar cordial. Add slices of lemon or lime to water if you find it boring, and avoid alcohol as it is very dehydrating. Each unit of alcohol you consume leads to a loss of approximately one pint of water from the body.
Always eat breakfast
The final tip for health is always start the day with a good breakfast. It’s not an old wives’ tale. Research has shown that people who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight than those who don’t. People wrongly believe that skipping breakfast will help them ‘save’ calories, when in actual fact, they will probably end up just eating more later on in the day to compensate.
The importance of breakfast
A good breakfast gives your metabolism a kickstart, which helps you burn more calories during the day. It boosts your energy and your concentration too. Research backs this up. Studies have shown that people who eat breakfast are healthier in general, that they have a better memory, they have lower levels of bad cholesterol, and less risk of getting diabetes and heart disease. They also tend to have lower body weight.
What happens if you don’t eat breakfast?
You have slept through the night without food. When you wake up, your blood sugar is usually low and needs a boost. This is where breakfast comes in. If you don’t eat breakfast, you will most likely feel sluggish, and hungrier later in the day. Breakfast allows you to add extra fruit, dairy and grains to your diet that you might not otherwise have, so skip breakfast and you might be losing out on nutrients.
Can it really help to control your weight?
Research has shown that people who eat breakfast tend to weigh less than people who don’t. This could be because consuming protein and fibre in the morning reduces your appetite so you eat fewer calories during the day.
Good breakfast choices
The best choice for breakfast is to have a mix of carbohydrates, protein, healthy fat and fibre. So whole grain cereal, low fat milk and fruit, or a breakfast smoothie made from yoghurt and fruit are a good way to go. Whole grain granola and nuts are also healthy choices.
Muesli is a well-known breakfast staple made from rolled oats and fruits, nuts, and seeds. Recipes often include cow’s milk, almond milk, yoghurt or fruit juice. Muesli was developed in the early 1900’s by a Swiss Doctor called Maximilian Bircher-Benner. He made it as nourishment for the patients in his hospital, as he strongly believed that eating plenty of fruit and vegetables was an essential factor in restoring good health. The muesli he gave his patients, ‘Bircher’ muesli was soaked overnight in water and lemon juice, then eaten with yoghurt.
Muesli can be made from scratch or it is available in a packet in dry form. In Switzerland and Germany, muesli is eaten as a light evening meal.
Muesli became a popular part of the western diet in the 1960’s, which coincided with a rise in popularity of health food and vegetarian cuisine.
What goes into muesli?
This kind of muesli is made from rolled oats or cornflakes mixed with dried fruit, nuts and seeds. It also often contains other grains like rye or wheat. Some varieties have honey, spices, or chocolate in them. Dry packaged muesli can be stored for months. There are many serving options including milk, yoghurt, coffee, hot chocolate, fruit juice or water. You can top it with fresh fruit. Another popular option is to soak it overnight in milk, then serve it with fresh fruit in the morning.
Freshly made muesli
Common recipes for fresh muesli include dry rolled oats or whole grain oats that have been soaked in water or fruit juice. Fresh fruits like bananas, apples, berries, grapes and mango, dried fruit, milk, yoghurt, nuts, seeds, spices, and honey are also commonly added ingredients.
Homemade muesli recipes
7 cup muesli
3 cups oats
1 cup mixed nuts including macadamia if possible
½ cup sesame seeds
½ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup raisins
½ cup dried cranberries
1 cup dried ready-to-eat apricots chopped
Soya or semi-skimmed milk
Chopped fresh seasonal fruit, such as pears, banana, pineapple, papaya, passion fruit and grapes
How to make it
Tip the oats into a large airtight container and add the nuts, seeds, raisins, and cranberries. Stir in the apricots.
To serve, spoon a portion into a bowl, pour over the milk and top with the chopped fresh fruit of your choice.
375g (13 oz) porridge oats
50g (2 oz) wheatgerm
30g (1 oz) wheat bran
50g (2 oz) oat bran
150g (5 oz) sultanas
50g (2 oz) chopped walnuts
4 tablespoons dark brown soft sugar
30g (1 oz) unsalted sunflower seeds
How to make it:
In a large mixing bowl combine all the ingredients. Mix well. Store the muesli in an airtight container. It will keep for 2 months if stored at room temperature.
High protein muesli
1 cup of whole grain oats (you can used flaked rice if you require a gluten free diet)
5 cups of shredded/flaked coconut
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup pumpkin seeds
½ cup sesame seeds
½ cup linseeds
1 cup broken cashews
1 cup roasted peanuts
1 cup of dried fruit (preferably organic)
How to make it
Mix all the ingredients except the peanuts and fruits together in an oven dish.
Bake at about 180 C, making sure to stir it frequently so that it doesn’t burn on the top and bottom.
Allow it to cool and then add the fruit and pre-roasted peanuts. Serve with yoghurt or almond milk for a delicious and filling breakfast.
Healthy eating means eating a diet that is both balanced and includes a variety of foods to provide the body with all the nutrients it needs for optimum health. Eating well also means we stand a better chance of maintaining a healthy weight and we have more energy to do everything that we enjoy.
The amount of food we eat is important too, as if we take in too many calories over time, they are usually stored as fat. Extra body fat means that we have an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
To maintain good health, and stay at a healthy weight, there are certain things we should include in our diet, and some things we should definitely avoid. Our diets should be based on whole grain carbs, fruit and vegetables, lean protein, low fat dairy products, and healthy fats. This combination will give the body all of the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and amino acids that it needs to function at its best. We should cut down on saturated fat, salt, and sugar, as high intakes can cause chronic diseases and increase our risk of obesity.
Taking regular exercise is an important part of staying healthy too. It keeps our heart and lungs healthy, burns off excess calories and keeps our body fat levels in check. Making physical activity part of your day is better for health than doing a bit of exercise then being sedentary for the rest of the time.
Drinking plenty of water and starting the day with a healthy breakfast are other things you can do to stay in good health.
Breakfast is often called the most important meal of the day. Breakfast literally ‘breaks the fast’ that your body has had overnight. Your blood sugar is often low in the morning, and your metabolism needs a jump start. If your blood sugar levels aren’t topped up by eating food, you will most likely feel sluggish. People avoid breakfast because they think that they are saving calories by not eating it; they’re mistaken though, as not eating in the morning will tend to make you feel hungrier later on in the day.
A popular breakfast choice is muesli. Muesli was originally developed by a doctor, who believed in the power of fruits, seeds and grains to restore his patients’ health. He combined rolled oats with dried fruits, nuts, and seeds, then soaked them overnight in water and lemon juice. Muesli is very versatile, and can be bought in a dry packaged form, or you can make your own. The sky’s the limit as far as the ingredients you want to add, just go with what your palate prefers; sweet, spiced or packed with protein. Try the recipes and decide for yourself!