A Guide to a Balanced Diet

The role of protein in a balanced diet has varied greatly in recent years. The most recent trials suggest the need to increase your intake.
A Guide to a Balanced Diet
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 27 March, 2021

Maintaining a balanced diet is one of the foundations of health. Along with the practice of physical activity on a regular basis and proper rest, diet is one of the basic pillars for the proper functioning of the human body.

For this reason, we really need to have a clear idea of how to develop a balanced diet. Failure to do so could lead to mistakes and inefficiencies stemming from misinformation, the power of industrial marketing over food, and the tabloid media.

For a balanced diet you have to adjust the energy balance

Fish is necessary for a balanced diet.
In many diets fish is usually excluded, although it contains abundant protein.

One of the first concerns when preparing a balanced diet is to maintain a neutral energy balance. This means that no more energy is consumed than is expended, nor vice versa – under normal conditions. In this way, we can ensure that the body composition won’t be significantly altered.

However, we need to keep in mind here that we’re assuming the person’s percentage of body fat is at an adequate level. If the person has excess fat levels, then it would be necessary to carry out a hypocaloric adjustment to correct this problem.

Experts have proven that excess weight and obesity negatively affect health. They increase the risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic pathologies and some types of cancer. This is stated in a study published in Circulation Research.

However, if we’re dealing with people with normal weight, then all you need to do is ensure energy balance. In order to do this, the best advice that we can give is that you prioritize the consumption of fresh foods over ultra-processed ones. Avoiding alcohol and soft drinks also allows significant advances in this purpose.

Balanced diet depends on nutrient intake

Another aspect to take into account when designing a balanced diet is the distribution of macronutrients. In this case, there’s considerable disagreement, as not all experts offer a common vision about the percentages of energy that should come from each nutrient.

What is clear is that in recent years the recommendations regarding protein consumption have increased. According to research published in Food & Function, the optimal requirement is to guarantee at least between 1 and 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day, and even to try to reach 2 grams.

In this way, it’s possible to reduce the risk of pathologies associated with lean tissue, such as sarcopenia. Besides this, it’s advisable that half of these proteins are of high biological value. This means that they come from food of animal origin.

In this way, experts recommend that products with a high protein content should appear at least in the main meals. Prioritizing fish over meat is also a good idea.

What about carbohydrates?

In the case of carbohydrates, there has been considerable debate. Many experts claim that they should only be consumed in high amounts in the context of high intensity exercise. However, it’s also necessary to introduce at least a certain amount of complex carbohydrates into the diet.

The most recent analyzes, such as the one published in the journal Atherosclerosis, recommend the existence of certain application frameworks for the ketogenic diet (low in carbohydrates), although they also defend that under normal conditions we should include a certain amount of foods with sugars of low glycemic index.

The importance of fats in a balanced diet

In addition to the macronutrients mentioned, you also have to pay attention to the consumption of fats. In this case, the most important thing is to avoid subjecting them to aggressive heat treatments. By doing so, its change in spatial configuration is avoided, as this would generate trans lipids.

As evidenced by an article published in Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome, the regular consumption of this kind of fat creates an increased risk of developing chronic diseases. The article cites diseases such as the cardiovascular type, diabetes, and cancer as examples here. This is due to their inflammatory nature.

To ensure that the consumption of this class of lipids isn’t excessive, it’s enough to apply mild cooking methods – iron, oven, steam, or cooking with water. You should avoid fried and battered food and limit the consumption of industrial ultra-processed products.

At the same time, it’s a good idea to emphasize the presence of unsaturated fatty acids in the diet, to ensure that you have a balance here. These elements have an anti-inflammatory character. Its maximum exponent is omega 3 since its protective effects with respect to cardiovascular disease have been well studied and documented.

Tearing down old beliefs about fat

Regarding saturated fats, there is less consensus. For many years, they were considered harmful to health, although the most current results put this claim in doubt.

According to a study published in Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases, replacing these lipids with unsaturated ones does not reduce cardiovascular risk.

The key in this regard is to avoid applying aggressive thermal processes, since saturated type fatty acids are more sensitive to trans-type transformation. This is because they don’t have double bonds in their chemical structure.

Therefore, to ensure correct lipid intake, raw vegetable oils, nuts, oily fruits and oily fish should be frequently introduced into the diet. Dairy must always be whole, too.

Micronutrient needs must be covered

Earlier, we discussed the nutrients that are found in a higher proportion, but those called micronutrients also have to be monitored to a certain extent.

We’re talking here about vitamins and minerals, capable of performing important functions within the body in terms of maintaining homeostasis.

To avoid experiencing deficits in these elements, it’s worth highlighting the need to include abundant vegetables in the diet. In fact, a high consumption of plant-based foods is associated with better health.

In addition to this, exposure to sunlight is essential, since this is always the best way to obtain vitamin D. This element is endogenously synthesized through exposure to ultraviolet rays.

Ensuring adequate levels of it through diet is complicated, since few products contain it in the necessary doses.

The constant supply of antioxidants is also necessary

Fruits can be part of a balanced diet.
Fruits, in addition to being very nutritious, contain abundant antioxidants.

On the other hand, the consumption of vegetables not only helps to cover the micronutrient requirements, but also provides antioxidants.

Plants and their derivatives have a high concentration of phytonutrients, substances that act as pigments and are capable of neutralizing the formation of free radicals.

With this action, oxidation and inflammation are reduced at the systemic level, thus avoiding possible mutations in the DNA that negatively affect the state of health.

Avoid toxins in a balanced diet

In addition to everything we have discussed, there’s another factor in the context of a balanced diet that must be respected. This is about the need to avoid toxic substances, often too abundant in our diets.

An example of these is alcohol, which has the peculiarity that it’s accepted from a social point of view. Contrary to what may have been claimed in the past, this element isn’t capable of being beneficial, even in moderate doses. Always, and in any condition, it creates a negative impact on health.

In addition, its presence in the diet of adolescents or young adults is worrying. Their bodies aren’t yet fully developed, and so the effects of the substance are even more negative.

Additives in the diet

To end our article about how to ensure a balanced diet, we must make a special mention of additives. These elements of chemical origin are included in processed products in order to increase their useful life, or to make them more palatable.

The truth is that in the short-term, there aren’t too many problems. However, the same is not the case in the medium or long term, and there are some serious questions here.

One example would be nitrites used as preservatives in processed meats. These substances are capable of increasing the risk of developing some tumors linked to the digestive tract, such as those of the colon.

Something similar happens with artificial sweeteners. It has been possible to show that its regular intake negatively alters the composition of the microbiota in the medium and long term, although the consequences of this phenomenon are unknown.

For this reason, when talking about a balanced diet, it’s best to limit the presence of additives. In order to do this, we insist on the need to prioritize the consumption of fresh foods over ultra-processed foods, since these contain large amounts of trans fats, simple sugars, and additives.

Combine a balanced diet with a good lifestyle to improve health

We do not want to finish our article without commenting on the need to combine a balanced diet with the promotion of healthy lifestyle habits. Exercise has been shown to be one of the most powerful health tools available to humans.

A good night’s rest guarantees the recovery of the body after the stresses of the day and the maintenance of homeostasis internally. If you don’t sleep 7 or 8 hours a day, you may begin to experience inefficiencies in the functioning of your organs.

Therefore, only by properly managing these three factors – diet, exercise and rest – will it be possible to ensure good health in the medium and long term, thus reducing the risk of developing chronic and complex pathologies that condition lifestyle habits.

We hope you’ve found this article helpful!

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