Balanced Nutrition

Balanced nutrition is about eating a variety of foods that meet your nutritional needs. Current dietary recommendations suggest that half of your plate should contain vegetables and fruits, a quarter grains, and the final quarter protein.

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Water should be the main source of fluids; however, beverages with sugar or artificial sweeteners should be consumed in moderation.

Fruits

Fruits and vegetables are a vital part of a healthy diet. They provide fibre, vitamins and minerals which help to protect against cardiovascular diseases. They are low in glycemic index and can therefore reduce the risk of high blood sugars. They also boost the immune system and prevent constipation. Aim for at least five portions a day. Try to choose local fruits when possible.

Most countries have dietary recommendations that include fruits and vegetables. These usually divide the foods into categories based on colour such as orange fruits and vegetables which are rich in carotenoids, and dark green vegetables. However, dividing the foods in this way does not always correlate with their nutritional content. Try to avoid consuming too much fruit juice, as it contains added sugars that can contribute to obesity and diabetes.

Vegetables

Whether cooked or raw, vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. They are low in fat, high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Vegetables are rich in potassium, a nutrient that helps maintain normal blood pressure. They are also high in complex carbohydrates, including starch and dietary fiber.

Ideally, a balanced diet should include five servings of vegetables per day. However, the exact number of servings needed varies by age.

Adding vegetables to your meals can help protect against cancer, heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure. Some veggies, such as broccoli and cruciferous vegetables, can even reduce your risk of stroke and heart attack. It is important to get a variety of vegetables from all parts of the plant, including leaves, stems, roots, tubers and bulbs.

Grains

Grains are the seeds from plants in the grass family (Poaceae). True grains include wheat, barley, rye, oats, millet, triticale and corn. Buckwheat, amaranth and quinoa are considered pseudocereals and can be used in place of true grains in recipes but are not nutritionally the same.

The nutrients in grains are important to a balanced diet, especially for heart health. Fiber from whole grains is essential to a healthy digestive system, while B vitamins are necessary for the body to convert carbohydrates, fat and protein into energy. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that half of the grains we consume should be whole grain products.

Dairy

The nutrient-rich package of dairy foods is recognized and recommended as an important part of well-rounded, healthy diets in many international dietary guidelines. Moreover, dairy foods and dairy ingredients provide calcium, protein and other key nutrients often difficult to achieve in low-dairy or dairy-free diets.

NMPF supports programs that help people in need get access to affordable, nutritious foods including milk and other dairy products, fruits, vegetables and grains.

While plant-based options like almond, soy, hemp and oat “milks” may contain calcium, they are not considered a part of the Dairy Group because their nutrition content is very different from dairy milk or yogurt. They are also high in calories and should be consumed in moderation.

Protein

The protein in a balanced diet is provided by animal foods (meat, fish and dairy products) and plant foods (beans, nuts, seeds, grains and vegetables). Both types of proteins provide amino acids that the body cannot make. When the body gets enough protein, it may reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity and other health conditions.

Balanced nutrition helps maintain a healthy weight, controls blood sugar, provides energy and supports normal growth and development. A well-balanced diet includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains and protein and limits empty calories (those that provide lots of calories without many nutrients). A balanced diet also promotes good digestion and a strong immune system.