The healthiest diets are those that both achieve balance between carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats and are nutrient-rich with vitamins and minerals from a variety of whole foods including whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. There are numerous diet plans that provide the nutrients needed for those with particular medical needs, such as a diabetic diet, the DASH diet, or gluten-free celiac diet. However, the majority of people benefit from healthy meals that balance the food groups and provide your body with an array of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients (Berkeley Wellness, n.d.).
Balancing Your Plate
When assessing the health of your meals, take a look at your plate. Dividing your plate into sections can help you visualize the types of foods you should eat. For example, fruits and vegetables should take up half of your plate (United States Department of Agriculture, 2016). A person who needs 2,000 calories per day should aim to get 2 cups of fruits and 2 ½ cups of vegetables every day. This may include fresh, frozen, canned, or dried produce. Whenever possible, eat fruits and vegetables from across the color spectrum. This ensures that you get an array of beneficial vitamins and minerals to support health.
Just under one quarter of your plate should consist of protein (United States Department of Agriculture, 2016). The best protein sources are lean proteins, such as skinless chicken breasts, turkey, eggs, or deli meat. Opt for non-animal proteins whenever you can. Beans, soy products, and lentils make excellent non-animal sources of protein. This keeps saturated fat levels in check and improves cardiovascular health (Szeto, Kwok, & Benzie, 2004).
Finally, the remaining quarter of your plate should be filled with grains. Aim to get 6 ounces of grains each day, with at least half of those coming from whole-grain sources (United States Department of Agriculture, 2016). Whole grains include buckwheat, whole-wheat toast, whole-wheat pasta, millet, oats, quinoa, amaranth, and barley. These foods are high in fiber and help you feel fuller for a longer period of time.
Although oils, butter, and other fats add flavor to food, it is best to limit these as much as possible. When choosing fats, opt for heart-healthier olive oil, safflower oil, or flaxseed oil over butter and animal fats. These oils contain unsaturated fats that decrease cardiovascular risk and may ward of certain chronic diseases (Schmidt & Dyerberg, 1994).
Beyond Meals: Thinking in Days, Not Plates
While the aforementioned advice of balancing plates is a great way to stay healthy, it is not always tenable. Additionally, many of us prefer certain tastes at certain times, and not all foods fit into this selective schema. The guidelines do, however, offer a great way to balance your diet throughout the day- so keep them in mind as you contemplate a dinner that balances the plate provided by breakfast and lunch.
To this effect, we’ve also explored a variety of individual needs and considerations to offer suggestions for keeping a balanced diet throughout the day. Take a look at the selections we’ve provided below.