Healthy Diets

Reviewed: April 08, 2013
By eHealthIQ
Healthy Diets

A Balanced Diet

Eating a balanced diet is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Good nutrition is essential for kids to grow up healthy, and it is equally as important for adults to live a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet. Healthy eating and a balanced diet do not mean that one should always be on a diet. The key to healthy eating is variety, moderation and balance. A balanced diet means getting the right amounts and types of foods to supply nutrition and energy to the body. The body uses this energy to support optimal growth and development and maintain body cells, tissues and organs.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans describes a healthy diet as the following:

  • Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts
  • Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat milk and milk products
  • Is low in saturated fats, trans fasts, cholesterol, salt and added sugars

The Food Pyramid

The Food Pyramid is something that helps individuals to use the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to make smart eating choices, stay within recommended daily calorie needs, get the most nutrition out of calories consumed and find balance between food and physical activity. The food pyramid is dispensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is occasionally replaced as new information about health comes to light. The most recent version of the pyramid is called MyPyramid. In this new version of the food pyramid, food groups are arranged vertically instead of horizontally, as the older versions did. There are six food categories and each is represented by a different color:

  • Grains: orange
  • Vegetables: green
  • Fruits: red
  • Oils: yellow
  • Milk products: blue
  • Meats and beans: purple

Grains
A grain product is any food made from rice, oats, wheat, cornmeal or barley. Common grain products include bread, pasta, cereal and tortillas. There are two types of grains, whole grains and refined grains.

  • Whole grains: These grains include the entire grain kernel and include things like whole-wheat flour, oatmeal and bulgur.
  • Refined grains: These grains have been milled, meaning the bran and germ has been removed to give it a finer texture. However, milling can remove dietary fiber and is thus not as nutritious. Examples of refined grains include white flour, white rice and white bread.

The food pyramid recommends eating three ounces of whole grains every day. Additional examples of grain products include:

  • Brown rice
  • Popcorn
  • Whole-wheat bread, crackers, pasta and tortillas

Vegetables
Any vegetable counts as a member of the vegetable group. In addition, 100% vegetable juice counts as a member of the group, too. Vegetables are categorized into five subgroups, based on their nutrition:

  • Dark green vegetables: broccoli, spinach, bok choy, mesclun, kale, watercress
  • Orange vegetables: carrots, pumpkin, acorn squash, sweet potatoes, butternut squash
  • Dry beans and peas: soy beans, split peas, black beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, tofu
  • Starchy vegetables: green peas, potatoes, corn, lima beans
  • Other vegetables: asparagus, beets, cauliflower, eggplant, celery, onions, artichokes, cucumbers, green beans, green or red peppers, parsnips, tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms

Daily recommended amounts of vegetables vary based on age and gender. For children and teens, the daily recommended amount ranges from 1 cup to 3 cups. For adults, the amount ranges from 2.5 to 3 cups daily. The food pyramid recommends that the most vegetables be eaten from the dark green, orange and dry beans and peas groups.

Fruit
Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as a member of the fruit group. The daily recommended amount of fruit based on the pyramid varies between 1-2 cups, depending on age and gender. The pyramid recommends including a variety of fruits in a balanced diet and limiting the amount of fruit juices. The following are common types of fruits:

  • Berries: raspberries, blueberries, strawberries
  • Melons: cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew
  • Apples, kiwi, mango, plums, apricots, nectarines, bananas, pineapple, pears, peaches, oranges, cherries, lemons and limes

Oils
The oil category in the food pyramid refers to fats that are in a liquid state at room temperature. Oils can come from fish and from various plants, and there are also foods that have naturally high oil contents. Oils contain essential fatty acids, which is why they are included in the food pyramid, despite their high caloric content. Most people naturally get the recommended amount of oils through the foods they eat. The recommended amount is between 3-6 teaspoons, depending on age and gender. Common oils include:

  • Cooking oils: olive, canola, corn, safflower, sesame and soybean oil
  • Foods: olives, fish, avocados, nuts, mayonnaise, salad dressing

Milk products
Fluid milk products and many foods made from milk that retain calcium content, are part of this group. Foods that are made from milk that have little or no calcium are not considered a part of this group. The food pyramid recommends that milk choices should either be fat-free or low fat. Common food choices in the milk group are:

  • Milk: fat-free, low-fat, reduced-fat, whole and flavored milk
  • Milk-based desserts: frozen yogurt, ice milk, ice cream
  • Soft cheeses: cottage cheese, ricotta
  • Hard cheeses: swiss, parmesan, cheddar
  • Yogurt

Meat and beans
Foods made from poultry, fish, meat, eggs, nuts, dry beans or peas and seeds are part of the meat and beans group. Dry beans and peas are technically also a part of the vegetable group. The food pyramid recommends fish, nuts and seeds over meat and poultry because of the healthy oils it provides. Any meat and poultry choices should be lean, or low fat if possible. Choices in the meat and beans group include:

  • Poultry: chicken, turkey, goose, duck
  • Meats: ham, lamb, pork, veal, beef
  • Game meats: bison, venison
  • Dry beans and peas: pinto beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas, white beans
  • Fish: halibut, salmon, tuna, snapper, catfish, cod, sea bass, trout, herring
  • Eggs (chicken or duck)
  • Shellfish: crab, lobster, oysters, scallops, shrimp, clams, mussels, squid
  • Nuts and seeds: sesame seeds, walnuts, peanuts, almonds, cashews

References

  • http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/healthy-diet-mistakes
  • http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/healthy-diet/NU00190
  • http://www.medicinenet.com/disease_prevention_and_awareness/article.htm
  • http://nutrition.about.com/od/nutrition101/a/keepitsimple.htm
  • http://www.nhs.uk/LiveWell/Goodfood

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