Our body needs nutrients to survive and stay healthy. A proper diet is essential from the very early stages of life for proper growth, development and to remain active. Therefore, a balanced diet can help us to achieve optimal health throughout life. A little learning and planning can help you find a diet to fit your lifestyle, achieve your desired goals and also let you have some fun in the process!
- 54 percent of all deaths before the age of five years in India are related to malnutrition.
- About 33 per cent of Indian men and 36 per cent of Indian women have a BMI below 18.5, indicating a high prevalence of nutritional deficiency.
- The prevalence of overweight/ obesity is higher among women (10.9%) compared to men (7.8%) in rural areas.
Dietary guidelines for a balanced diet
Right nutritional behaviour and dietary choices are needed to ensure a balanced diet:
- Eat a variety of foods to ensure a balanced diet.
- Ensure that your infant is exclusively breastfed for the first six months.
- Feed home based semi-solid foods to the infant after six months.
- Ensure adequate and appropriate diets for children and adolescents, both in health and sickness.
- Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits.
- Ensure moderate use of edible oils and animal foods and decreased use of ghee/ butter/ vanaspati.
- Avoid overeating to prevent obesity.
- Exercise regularly and be physically active to maintain ideal body weight.
- Restrict salt intake to a minimum.
- Ensure the use of safe and clean foods.
- Adopt right pre-cooking processes and appropriate cooking methods.
- Drink plenty of water and take beverages in moderation.
- Minimize the use of processed foods rich in salt, sugar and fats.
- Include micronutrient-rich foods in the diets of elderly people to enable them to be fit and active.
Why do we need nutritionally adequate food?
An adequate diet, providing all nutrients, is needed throughout our lives. Food provides our bodies with the energy, protein, essential fats, vitamins and minerals to live, grow and function properly. Nutrients that we obtain through food have vital effects on physical growth and development, maintenance of normal body function, physical activity and health. A healthy diet helps protect against malnutrition in all its forms, as well as non-communicable diseases.
A healthy diet also plays an important role in preventing/ improving conditions such as coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, obesity, some forms of cancer, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, dental caries, gall bladder disease, dementia and nutritional anaemia.
Types of nutrients important for our body
Nutrients are necessary for physiological and biochemical processes by which the human body acquires, assimilates and utilizes food to maintain health and activity. These nutrients must be obtained through a judicious choice and combination of a variety of foods from different food groups. There are 7 major types of nutrients needed by our body which are known as macronutrients as they are needed in relatively large quantities. These are proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fiber and water. Micronutrients like vitamins and minerals are required in relatively small quantities. Food rich in these major nutrients help achieve a balanced diet:
- Carbohydrates: These are major sources of energy in all human diets and provide 4 kcal of energy per gram. Glucose and fructose found in fruits, vegetables and honey, sucrose in sugar and lactose in milk are types of simple carbohydrates. Starches in cereals, millets, pulses and root vegetables and glycogen in animal foods belong to complex carbohydrates group.
- Proteins: These are structural and functional components of every living cell and are needed for building and repairing tissues. These also provide 4 kcal of energy per gram. More proteins are required by growing infants and children, pregnant women and individuals with infections and illness or stress. Animal foods like milk, meat, fish and eggs and plant foods such as pulses and legumes are rich sources of proteins.
- Fats: A concentrated source of energy providing 9 Kcal per gram act as a vehicle for fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E and K and carotenes and promotes their absorption. Dietary fats are derived from two sources; the invisible fat present in plant and animal foods; and the visible or added fats and oils (cooking oil). Adults should restrict intake of saturated fat (butter, ghee and hydrogenated fats) and cholesterol (red meat, eggs). Excess of these substances could lead to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
- Fibre: It consists mostly of carbohydrates but doesn’t provide energy. However, dietary fibre is an important part of essential human nutrition and is the indigestible part of plant foods that pushes through our digestive system, absorbing water along the way and easing bowel movements.
- Water: It plays a key role in the elimination of body wastes and regulation of body temperature. A normal healthy person needs to drink about 8 glasses (2 litres) of water per day. Water requirements vary between individuals and are closely linked to body size, age, environmental temperatures, physical activity, different states of health, and dietary habits.
- Vitamins: These are chemical compounds that cannot be synthesized in the body and are essential for adequate functioning and processes of the body and for maintenance of the structure of skin, bone, nerves, eye, brain, blood and mucous membrane. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble, while vitamin C and the B-complex vitamins are water soluble.
- Minerals: These are inorganic elements required for maintenance of skin, hair, nails, blood and soft tissues and have an important role in nerve cell transmission, acid/base and fluid balance, enzyme and hormone activity and blood- clotting processes. Sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and sulphur, while zinc, copper, selenium, molybdenum, fluorine, cobalt, chromium and iodine are some minerals which can be obtained with the intake of foods is varied and balanced.
DID YOU KNOW?
Iodine deficiency is very common in India and around 54 million people are estimated to be suffering from goitre and 2.2 million are affected from cretinism.
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- World Health Organization. Accessed Oct 26, 2016.
- Medical News Today. Accessed Oct 27, 2016.
- National Health Portal. Accessed Oct 30, 2016.
- National Institute of Nutrition. Accessed July 28, 2016.