1. What is a Balanced Diet?

I am sure you have heard before that dietary balance is important, but do you know why? Is it because you’ve been told that “we are what we eat” and so you don’t want to become a human mass of pizza, steak, or corn? Let’s hope not. A balanced diet is a combination of foods that provides a proportional amount of nutrients to allow proper bodily function. The majority of one’s daily calories should be obtained from fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and lean proteins.

The average person should consume about 2,000 calories daily to maintain their weight. However, this number is generalized and there are many factors that vary from person to person—age, sex, genetics, and physical activity level. This caloric guideline provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), while it can be helpful, can also be misguiding. If a person consumes a Starbuck’s venti caramel frappuccino (510 calories) and a McDonald’s double cheeseburger (440 calories) for lunch, he or she will have consumed almost half of the USDA recommended caloric intake of 2,000. However, does that mean it’s a healthy meal? No. Unfortunately, in the typical American diet, empty calories (calories that come from sugars and solid fats) are very common, such as cheese, sports, energy, and fruit drinks, bacon and sausages, cookies, cakes, doughnuts, and ice cream. (Yes, unfortunately our favorite food probably falls into that list of dangerous and delicious ways to get diabetes or heart disease.)

2. Importance of Dietary Balance

While lack of exercise also plays a large role, poor nutrition and dietary imbalance are the main factors of the rapidly rising levels of obesity, and other weight related health issues (heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke) in the United States. In fact, according to the USDA, four of the top 10 leading causes of death in the US are largely influenced by diet: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes.

Dietary balance is crucial for healthy bodily function. If we don’t consume a balanced diet, our body’s tissues and organs will not receive what is necessary to function properly and effectively. Common effects of poor nutrition are fatigue, weakened immune systems, and increased risks of various diseases or infections. Healthy and balanced diets are also extremely important for child growth and development. A balanced diet filled with fresh, natural foods and low-processing can prevent disease and infection, aid in weight control, promote healthy bodily growth and mental health, as well as enhance beauty—without the use of a dozen hair and skin beauty products!

3. How to Achieve a Balanced Diet

When one thinks of the word diet it’s easy to think of some sort of strict dietary regimen allowing you half of the USDA’s 2,000 caloric intake and is followed for a month to lose weight. However, this is not always the case. In fact, in order to gain all of the important vitamins and nutrients to ensure effective bodily function, it is easy to consume more food, than less. If we don’t fill our diet with empty (and yes, often delicious and easily-filling) calories, we can actually eat more, without gaining weight! While it can be overwhelming to think about changing one’s diet, especially in this day and age where there is little time to prepare food in our busy lives, the changes will be worth it! Many simple and effective tips to begin changing one’s diet are listed here (http://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/healthy-eating.htm), such as preparing more of one’s own meals, thinking of diet in terms of color and variety (instead of counting every calorie), reading labels, and learning more about how your body feels after eating healthier foods—all of these can help you take the necessary steps to change your diet and lead a healthier, happier, and more colorful life!