A Balanced Diet

How to ensure you’re eating enough of each food group

“Balanced diet” has become a buzz phrase, with many “experts” promoting their own version of it but few people understanding exactly what it means. Essentially, what the term balanced diet refers to is a regular eating regimen comprised of a range of healthy foods. This includes fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, grains, dairy products and even some oils and fats.

The Elements of a Balanced Diet

A balanced diet must contain all of the following elements, and (here’s the kicker) they must be in the right proportions:

  • Carbohydrates. These serve as your body’s main source of energy. Most carbohydrate intake comes from starches like bread, rice, pasta and potatoes. You also get some of your carbohydrates from sugar.
  • Fats. Fats also provide energy and contain certain vitamins. Stored underneath your skin, fats help to keep you warm.
  • Fiber. This is essential for your intestines to function properly. The body cannot digest fiber; its value is that it helps to “push” food through your digestive tract.
  • Mineral Salts. Needed for healthy and strong muscles and bones, essential minerals include calcium, iron and sodium.
  • Proteins. Proteins give your body the resources it needs to grow and repair itself. Your body turns the proteins you ingest into amino-acids so that they are soluble by your blood.
  • Vitamins. These are vital for overall health. You only require a very small amount of each individual vitamin. But if you don’t get what you need, it can make you sick.

The Food Group Pyramid

You probably remember learning about the pyramid of food groups in your elementary school days. It had the bread and grains group, the fruits and vegetables group, the milk and dairy group and the infamous meat, fish and alternatives group (does anyone really know what an “alternative” is?). Though it has been modified over the years, the philosophy behind the food pyramid is still relevant today, and it can be a helpful tool for balancing your diet.

An active college student should try to eat according to the following table:

Bread and Grains

  • 5 to 12 servings per day
  • 1 serving = 1 piece of bread or 30 grams of cereal
  • 2 servings = 1 bagel or 1 cup of pasta

Fruits and Vegetables

  • 5 to 10 servings per day
  • 1 serving = 1 piece of fruit or ½ cup of frozen vegetables
  • A glass of fruit juice counts as a serving

Milk and Dairy

  • 2 to 4 servings per day
  • 1 serving = 1 cup of milk, 1 yogurt cup or 2 pieces of cheese

Meat, Fish and Alternatives

  • 2 to 3 servings per day
  • 1 serving = a 2-to-4-ounce piece of meat, ⅓ cup of tofu, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter or ½ cup of legumes

Visit http://www.mypyramid.gov to generate your own personalized food pyramid.

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