The weather is warming and outdoor fun is just around the corner — springtime is here. With spring always comes cleaning, and we at UF Health want to empower and invite individuals and families to spring clean their lifestyle choices and make informed, nutritious choices for themselves and their families. We’re sharing tips on how to eat a balanced diet and why moderation is a great start toward a healthier lifestyle.
A balanced diet provides all necessary nutrients from a variety of foods while staying within a healthy range. Our bodies need healthy amounts of protein, carbohydrates, fats and vitamins to perform everyday functions and protect against illness. Three nutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates) provide calories, or energy, to the body. Your daily needs for each nutrient vary based on your unique caloric needs.
- Protein helps your body repair cells and make new ones. It also promotes healthy growth and development in children, teens and pregnant women. Some recommended protein sources are lean cuts of meat, fish and shellfish, beans, tofu or tempeh and low-fat dairy products. You do not need to source any or all of your protein from animal products. Substituting plant-based protein for animal protein can contribute to a healthy lifestyle when combined with exercise and other lifestyle choices.
- Fat provides essential fatty acids linoleic and linolenic acid, which are not made by the body and must be obtained from food. Fat also serves as important energy storage for your body, insulates your body to keep you warm and helps you absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Avoid trans fats and saturated fats and instead choose unsaturated fats such as olive or sunflower oil. Doing so can lower blood cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Carbohydrates (sometimes referred to as “carbs”) include starches, sugars and fiber. All three are essential for your body’s functioning. Starch and sugars are digested by the body and used as fuel. Fiber is not broken down by the body and helps you feel full, adds bulk to your stools and can help you stay at a healthy weight. Whole grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables are more nutritious sources of carbohydrates than refined grains such as white bread and white rice because whole grains also provide important vitamins, minerals and fiber.
- Vitamins are 13 essential nutrients that perform important functions in your body. A vitamin deficiency occurs when you do not get enough of a certain vitamin. Vitamin deficiency can increase your risk of health problems, including heart disease, cancer and poor bone health. Fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains and fortified dairy foods are sources of daily vitamins. If fresh fruits and vegetables are unavailable, look for canned or frozen options with no added sugars.
A diet with moderation maintains healthy amounts of different foods and nutrients. It’s possible to have too much of a good thing — eating an excess of any nutrient can have negative effects on your health.
Many people enjoy comfort foods or favorite foods that are high in added sugars or trans fats. It’s perfectly OK to treat yourself to these foods once in a while, but not every day. Try enjoying these foods in smaller quantities or preparing versions of them with fewer trans fats and added sugars. Making healthy dietary decisions isn’t about cutting out favorite foods completely; your diet should make you both healthy and happy.
Here are some ways to practice moderation:
- Take food to go when ordering meals from restaurants. Some restaurants serve entrée portions with enough food for multiple people. Instead of consuming the entire portion at once, share the meal with someone else or eat part of the meal now and the rest later.
- When eating at home, focus on the food you eat. Instead of eating meals or snacks from the bag, use the serving size on the package to divide the food into smaller portions. Try not to snack while watching television or surfing the internet. The distraction can cause you to eat more without realizing it.
- Listen to your body for fullness cues. When you feel full, do not continue to eat even if there is food remaining on your plate. Instead, save the leftover food for later.
Read nutrition labels on foods to understand the amount of nutrients you are consuming. Learning about the foods you eat is the first step to building healthy habits of balance and moderation in your diet. Contact your physician or a registered dietitian about dietary changes and how to implement them.