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What is a Balanced Diet? - Definition, Plans & Examples

What is a Balanced Diet? - Definition, Plans & Examples
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  • 0:03 What's a Balanced Diet?
  • 1:41 Carbohydrates
  • 2:19 Protein
  • 3:01 Fats
  • 3:35 Examples & Meal Plans
  • 5:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb
In this lesson, we'll be covering the much-debated topic of what a balanced diet is. Here, you'll learn to sort through all the fad diets and understand which nutrients really contribute to a healthy, balanced diet.

What's a Balanced Diet?

Your friend recently started a popular diet plan. The diet encourages her to eat lots of lean meat, like chicken, and cut her intake of carbohydrates. Although she claims to have lost a few pounds already, you wonder if this type of diet is really healthy. Every diet needs a balance of three main categories of nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Today, we're going to learn how to create a balanced diet, which contains the correct amounts of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.

Before we look at creating a balanced diet, let's talk a little bit about calories. Calories are units of energy in our food. If you have too many calories, your body will store the extra energy as fat. If you have too few calories, your body will burn fat to make up the difference.

From this perspective, it might seem like fewer calories is better. However, our body always wants to be in balance, including having a specific number of calories and balanced nutrients. Our body spends a considerable amount of energy maintaining these balanced conditions, or homeostasis.

Everyone will need a different number of total calories depending on your sex, age, and activity levels. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that moderately active males between 26 and 30 years old get about 2,600 calories per day, while females of the same age and activity level get 2,000 calories per day. Although everyone's body is slightly different, scientists and doctors recommend a general division of calories by nutrient category for all humans.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are any type of grain or sugar and should make up 45% - 60% of a balanced diet. Although you could get all of your carbohydrates from sugary drinks and candy, these carbohydrates are metabolized differently and have less nutrients than whole grain carbohydrates like wheat pasta, barley, quinoa, fruits, and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are especially good sources of carbohydrates because they contain lots of nutrients and are low in calories. The FDA recommends that about 50% of your plate be filled with fruits and veggies in their model of a balanced diet, My Plate.

My Plate

Protein

Given all the protein shakes and supplements on the market, you might think that the more protein you consume, the better. However, like all other nutrients, you need a balance of protein. Protein sources should only take up 10% - 30% of your daily calories. Although people usually think of meat and other animal products like milk and dairy when it comes to protein, there's good reason to eat plant-based protein instead. Red meat, such as beef, has lots of fat. Farming animals also impacts the environment, polluting waterways and causing global warming. Plant-based proteins include wheat gluten, soy beans, tempeh, quinoa, beans, and grains like barley.

Fats

Your body absolutely needs fat. Fat cushions our organs, makes important hormones, and is essential to immune system functions. However, some fats are better for you than others. Unsaturated fats come from plants and are found in avocado, olives, and nuts. These fats are good for your heart. Saturated fats come from animal-based sources and are found in cheese, meat, and butter. These fats are allowed, but should be used sparingly. Fat should take up about 20% - 35% of your daily calorie intake.

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