What’s a balanced diet anyway?

As we close the book on 2020 (thank god!) and begin setting our intentions for 2021, I’m revisiting some of my favorite previous columns that I hope will apply to your New Year’s resolutions for health and healthy eating. Enjoy!

Originally published in Health & Healing in the Triangle, Vol. 22, No. 3, Health & Healing, Inc., Chapel Hill, NC, publishers. Reprinted with permission.

From the Nutrition Corner: What’s a balanced diet anyway?

“Eat a balanced diet.” We hear that from everyone, it
seems; even a TV commercial for a clearly not-so-healthy
food urges you to eat that junk as “part of a balanced
diet.” Whomever you see for health concerns has probably advised
this, perhaps without further explanation—leaving you to either fill
in the blanks or spin in needless confusion.

Balanced eating shouldn’t feel like a too-complicated math
equation, although it may be more nuanced than the diet-du-jour
currently making the rounds on social media. And what about all
those trendy diets—Keto, Paleo, Macros, any-other-O, flexitarian,
Whole30—are they balanced? When considering how to eat to
maintain your balance, remember that needs shift with age and
other factors. What’s “perfect” for your neighbor or fellow gymgoer—
or even for you at a previous age—may no longer be so
perfect now.


NO ONE SIZE FITS ALL


Still, it’s human nature to crave simplicity. When asked for the
nutritional “golden rule,” I point out that breast milk is perfectly
balanced food for an infant, with 50 percent of its calories
derived from fat supporting healthy development. Yet I don’t
recommend 50 percent fat—or breast milk—for adults!

Supporting development and growth is the primary concern
throughout childhood, culminating in adolescence, a time
of even more rapid growth and change. Adolescents require
increased amounts of specific nutrients, particularly the bonebuilding
ones, since most bone density is determined during
adolescence and into young adulthood.

Most people know that pregnancy and lactation bring
increased requirements for specific nutrients and overall energy.
But I also see a lot of perimenopausal and menopausal women
in my practice who complain of belly fat they suddenly can’t lose
with their usual diet and exercise techniques. That’s because
hormones, too, influence how we absorb and metabolize
nutrients, so a balanced diet for a middle-aged woman will look
different than one for her younger self.

Advanced age brings specific concerns, like under-nutrition.
Older adults face a higher risk of vitamin and mineral deficiency.
They also have fewer hunger and thirst cues, so my balanced
diet recommendation to a senior might emphasize cooking or
eating with friends as much as emphasizing any specific nutrient
or so-called superfood.


GUIDES FOR HEALTHY CHOICES

Illness or surgery, heavy physical demands, and bioindividuality
make it impossible to define one-size-fits-all diet
criteria. But for healthy adults in general, a nutritious diet entails
balancing your choices. Michael Pollan’s well-known advice—to
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”—is a pretty good, and
simple guideline. “Food” means unprocessed food; “Not too
much” means moderation. “Mostly plants” means add more
plant-based protein choices like beans, while moderating meat
intake.

And, as you probably already know, an easy guideline to
follow is to consume less “don’ts”: less processed food, trans-fatladen
fast food, less sugar. And to balance less healthy choices
with the “dos.”
• Do eat a wide array of fruits and vegetables—emphasis
on vegetables—which contain fiber, vitamins, and other
phytonutrients.
• Do consume moderate amounts of whole grains, another
healthy source of vitamins and nutrients.
• Do eat sufficient, varied lean protein—lean meats and/or
beans and legumes—while remaining mindful of the high
saturated fat content in some meats. But don’t skimp on
healthy, anti-inflammatory fats such as olive oil, a variety of
nuts and seeds, and avocados..

If all else fails, remember this: eat your vegetables. Trendy
diets may come and go, but that is the one eating pillar proven
to lower your risk for chronic disease. That’s as close as I come
in my practice to one-size-fits-most!

Sharon Price became passionate about nutrition following her own journey recovering from
Lyme disease. She now offers that same personalized counseling to help individuals and families navigate the often-complex interplay between food and health—taking a special interest in gut health, autoimmune conditions, food allergies, and hormone balance. Her approach is simple: take the “heavy lifting” out of wellness, helping individuals
and families savor good health without feeling enslaved to its pursuit. You can reach Sharon at 919-322-8230 or https://notsohardnutrition.com/contact-us/

BY SHARON PRICE, MS (NUTRITION), CNS, LN

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