A balanced diet is important. Children who don’t get enough healthy foods may face growth and developmental problems, poor academic performance, and frequent infections.
They can also develop unhealthy eating habits that may persist into adulthood. Without exercise, they’ll also have a higher risk of obesity and various diseases such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
A healthy, balanced diet will usually include vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant, carbohydrates, including starches, fibre, protein and healthy fats, taken from fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and protein foods.
Foods to avoid or limit on a healthy diet include highly processed foods, added sugar and salt, red and processed meat, refined grains, alcohol and trans fats.
Fruits are nutritious but they are high in sugar, but unlike sweets and deserts, this sugar is natural and also provides fibre and other nutrients. This of course means they are less likely to cause a sugar spike and will boost the body’s supply of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Vegetables are a key source of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. We should eat a variety of vegetables with different colours for a full range of nutrients. Dark, leafy greens are an excellent source of many nutrients, such as kale, spinach, broccoli and green beans.
Refined white flour is found in many breads and baked goods, but it has limited nutritional value because much of the goodness is in the outer shell of the grain, which is removed during processing. Whole grain products provide additional vitamins, minerals, and fibre and include the entire grain.
Meat and beans are a primary sources of protein, and include poultry, such as turkey, chicken, fish, including salmon and other oily fish. Try to avoid red meats and processed meats as according to some research these may increase the risk of cancer and other diseases.
Beans, nuts and soy products are also excellent sources of protein, fibre, and other nutrients. Examples include beans, lentils, peas. Tofu, and other soy-based products that are healthy alternatives to meat.
Dairy products provide essential nutrients, including protein, calcium and vitamin D. They also contain fat. Many dairy-free milks and other dairy alternatives are now available, usually made from either almonds or oats. These are often fortified with calcium and other nutrients, making them excellent alternatives to dairy products.
Fats and oils
Fat is essential for cell health and energy, but too much fat increases calories above what the body needs and may lead to weight gain. The following is a simple guideline:
- Love: vegetable oils and fish oils;
- Limit: butter, cheese, and cream;
- Avoid: trans fats, used in many processed foods.
Olive oil is a healthy fat, especially extra virgin olive oil, which is the least processed type. Deep fried foods are often high in calories but low in nutritional value, so it is important to eat those sparingly.
The bottom-line is that a healthy diet will combine all the nutrients and foods groups mentioned and is usually one that contains plenty of fresh, plant-based foods, and limits the intake of processed foods.
A handy way to remember how much of each food group to eat is the plate method.
- fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables;
- fill one quarter with grains;
- fill one quarter with protein foods;
- add dairy or a non-dairy replacement on the side.
Finally, a balanced diet supplies nutrients to the body and therefore needs to work effectively. Without a balanced nutrition, the body is more prone to fatigue, low performance, infection and disease.