Bestselling author and fitness expert, Jillian Michaels, once said, “Get fit in 30 days or die trying.” While I don’t think anyone should ever put themselves in such a dangerous position, Jillian Michaels makes a valid point—optimal health requires effort. Just as we exercise our bodies to stay physically fit, we must also be mindful of what we put into our bodies to maintain optimal health. What we eat plays a major role in our overall health and well-being.
Creating a balanced diet may seem daunting but it’s not as complicated as one may think. A balanced diet consists of eating the right proportions of foods from each food group. The food groups are: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. It’s important to eat a variety of foods from each food group because each one provides different nutrients that our bodies need.
Let’s break down the food groups so you have a better understanding of what nutrients each one provides and why they are essential for optimal health.
Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy. There are two types of carbohydrates—simple and complex. Simple carbs are found in fruits, honey, and milk while complex carbs are found in starchy vegetables like potatoes and green peas as well as whole grains such as oats and barley. It’s important to eat both simple and complex carbs because they provide different types of nutrients. For example, complex carbs provide vitamins and minerals while simple carbs provide quick energy. Aim for at least 3 servings of complex carbs per day.
Proteins are essential for growth and repairs. Foods like chicken, fish, tofu, legumes, and nuts are all good sources of protein. Proteins help build muscle mass, strengthen bones, repair tissue damage, and produce hormones and enzymes. Our bodies need protein but we can only store small amounts so it’s important to include protein with every meal throughout the day.
Fats get a bad rap but they are actually an essential part of our diet. Fats help us absorb vitamins A, D E & K as well as carotenoids—these are all antioxidants that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals which can lead to chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. Foods like avocados, nuts & seeds, fatty fish like salmon & tuna contain healthy fats that our bodies need in order to function properly. Aim for 2-3 servings of healthy fats per day.
Vitamins & Minerals
Vitamins & minerals are essential for the proper function of our organs & tissues—they basically act like co-workers in the office; they each have specific jobs to do but they also rely on each other to do their jobs properly. Vitamins & minerals can be found in fruits & vegetables (vitamins A & C), meat & poultry (vitamin B12), dairy products (vitamin D), seafood (iodine), and whole grains (selenium). Our bodies need these nutrients to perform basic functions like forming blood clots or carrying oxygen through our bloodstream but they also play a role in more complex functions like metabolism or bone growth. Aim for at least 5 servings of fruits & vegetables per day (this should be easy to do if you’re following the recommendations for carb intake).
Now that you understand the importance of each food group let’s talk about how you can create a balanced diet that will promote optimal health. The key is variety—you want to eat a variety of foods from each food group so that you’re getting all the essential nutrients your body needs. Another key is portion size—you don’t need to (and shouldn’t) stuff yourself at every meal but you also shouldn’t starve yourself either. A good rule of thumb is ¼ plate lean protein + ½ plate complex carbs + ¼ plate healthy fats + 1 cup fruits or vegetables per meal but listen to your body—if you’re still hungry after a meal then eat more! And lastly, cut out processed foods as much as possible—they tend to be high in calories and low in nutrients so they won’t do much to help you reach your goal of optimal health!