Balance is a buzzword you will hear a lot when talking about diet and nutrition – but what does a balanced diet actually mean?
When on a quest to improve your health and wellbeing, making a stop to look at your diet is often a common step. What you put in your body to fuel it matters – you are what you eat and all that – and the top advice from dieticians and nutritionists always tends to centre around ensuring you have balance to your plate.
That is all well and good to say, but what does balance actually look like, and how can we ensure we are eating balanced meals as often as we can?
Let’s start with the basics
When it comes to diet and nutrition, there is a lot of conflicting advice out there. There are always new fad diets to try, ‘experts’ talking about the new cure-all superfoods and a plethora of other information to thoroughly confuse anyone seeking diet guidance. But if we strip all this back, and look at the basics of nutrition, we can make things far more simple to follow.
According to the Eat Well Guide, there are 5 main food groups; fruits and vegetables, starchy carbohydrates, dairy and alternatives, protein (including plant based sources of protein), and oils or spreads. Each of these food categories has a recommended percentage of your plate or overall diet that they should take up. The good news here is that no foods are neither good nor bad, all foods are welcome in a balanced diet as long as meals over the course of a week or so are just that, balanced.
So what does a balanced plate look like?
Generally speaking, fruits and vegetables should make up at least a third of your diet, however this should lean more heavily towards vegetables – for example, this third could be broken down into thirds again, one part fruit and 2 parts vegetables. This is because fruits and vegetables are nutrient dense foods that offer your body vital vitamins and minerals (although fruits can still be high in sugar) so these should be the foundation of your meals.
The final third of your plate should be protein, whether this is plant-based or not, followed by dairy or dairy alternatives such as soy, and finally the smallest percentage on your plate is reserved for oils or spreads such as vegetable oil etc.
It is important to remember that all of this information is a general guide, and depending on your activity throughout the day, you may need to prioritise certain food groups such as proteins and carbohydrates for energy.
A balanced mindset
Arguably, equally as important when looking at diet is your relationship with food. There must also be space for flexibility, convenience and what can be termed ‘soul food’. While it is recommended to try to get all the food groups into your diet in a balanced way, we must also try not to get bogged down in the details and allow ourselves to be able to consume the foods we enjoy. Food is often used as a way to connect with others socially, or fulfils us in other ways beyond simply nutrition. By not demonising or restricting certain food groups completely, you are far more likely to be able to enjoy them as part of your healthy balanced diet versus craving them leading to binges or overeating.
The end goal for most people on the road to a good diet is being able to eat intuitively – being able to listen to your body for ques as to what it needs and when. Of course this can be easier said than done in some cases, but try to look inwards and listen to what your body is asking for. In order to follow these signals, but also try to maintain a balanced diet, you can make substitutions on your plate to create more balance, for example if you have been lacking in the vegetable department, you can sub in cauliflower rice, courgetti or a number of other tasty veggie based alternatives, while still being able to eat the dishes you crave.
Explore foods, variety is the spice of life!
One of the best tips we can provide is the advice to explore different types of foods and try to get as much variety as you can. By limiting yourself to a small number of meals that you repeat, you are then limiting yourself to the nutrients you consume. By switching up your dishes regularly – even if you aren’t paying too close attention to the makeup of your meals – then you are likely to be getting a good range of the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function at its best. Not to mention it keeps things interesting, who knows what new favourite dishes you could discover!
An entrepreneur and former senior oil broker, Ruari gave up drinking after excessive consumption almost cost him his marriage, and worse, his life. Going alcohol-free improved his relationships, career and energy levels, leading to him founding OYNB to provide a support network for others.