When it comes to diets there is not a “magic pill” you can take to lose weight or a “one size fits all” approach. We are all individuals, and our bodies all work that way. There are common principles that we should follow, but if we all ate the same foods and amounts, we would all have very individual responses. Blood type, genetics, body type, gender are just a few factors to consider. A balanced diet is, therefore, as individual to you as you are an individual. So generally speaking, what is a healthy balanced diet?
A healthy balanced diet consists of the right amount of Macro and Micro nutrients. What are Macro and Micro nutrients some of you may ask? Well Macro nutrients are Fats, Carbohydrates and Proteins and Micro nutrients are vitamins and minerals. A balanced diet therefore should consist of enough of these for our bodies to utilise for health and wellbeing and our total calories should come from the following percentages:
· Carbohydrates – 45-65% of total calories with 1g equating to 4 calories
· Fats – 20-35% of total calories with 1g equating to 9 calories
· Protein – 10-35% of total calories with 1g equating to 4 calories
In a nutshell we require:
· Protein to repair muscle and give strength to our hair, skin, and nails
· Fats keep our cells in good working order and help the body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K
· Carbohydrates give us energy
Due to this I personally do not agree with diets that cut out whole Macro groups. Certain foods over the years have been given a bad reputation and this can be quite misleading. An example of this is the low-fat diet which started to become popular in the 1960s and grew in popularity over the next 30 years or so. Fat was public enemy number 1 in the world of food health; however, fat plays an incredibly significant part in our health and there are different types of fats, some are in fact incredibly good for you. Due to this it is not wise to label all fats as bad for you. Reduce Trans fats and saturated fats yes but remember that unsaturated fats are good for you in the right amounts and necessary for health.
More recently Carbohydrates have become the enemy. The number of times over the last 10 years I have had people say to me “carbs make you fat” or “I want to lose weight so I’m cutting out carbs” or even better when I’m eating my lunch, and someone interrupts me to tell me what I’m eating will make me fat (I am 5’11 weigh just over 11 stone and have a body fat percentage of about 8%). Like fats, there are different types of carbohydrates, simple (sugars) and complex (starches and fibre). Complex carbs and fibre in the right amounts are good for you and vital for health, simple carbs especially refined sugars are not so good for you and should be reduced but labelling all carbohydrates as bad for you in my opinion is wrong.
Micro nutrients are needed in smaller amounts (hence “micro”) but are vital for health and part of a balanced diet. Fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds all are rich in Micro nutrients and it is important for our bodies to obtain these. The more nutrient rich the soil they are grown in is the more nutritious they will be. Micro nutrients help our bodies with hundreds of functions each day, like strengthening our immune systems, repairing cells, strengthening bones, creating blood cells, absorption of other Macro and Micro nutrients are just a few. Our bodies cannot produce these which is why they must be consumed in our diets.
To obtain all the Macro and Micro nutrients our bodies require we must make sure we consume:
· At least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables
· Wholegrain and high fibre starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes, breads, rice, and grains
· Low fat dairy and alternatives
· Unsaturated oils and spreads
· Beans, pulses, meats, fish, and other sources of protein
· Reduce sugar (especially refined sugar) and salt
· Limit fruit juices and smoothies to 150ml a day
· Drink 2-3 litres of water a day
Too much sugar is bad for you, too much saturated fat is bad for you, consuming too many calories will make you put on body fat as our bodies do not waist energy. So, when someone says to me “carbs make you fat” what they should be saying is “too many carbs make you fat” or “too much sugar makes you fat”. Generalising such statements can be very misleading. I am not saying you will not lose weight if you cut out a whole food group because the likelihood is that you will and of course if you wish to partake in a crash diet, that is your choice. All I would say is before you do, please do your research, because there is a difference between loosing body fat weight and lean tissue weight, and malnutrition is bad for your health. I would always recommend a healthy balanced diet consuming the right amount of Macro nutrients, Micro nutrients, water, and calories you require.
You can see more information on balanced diets through the Eatwell Plate Model or MyPyramid.