Is there a single secret to a healthy diet?

balanced diet

By Haley Adel, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

Unfortunately, there is no one miracle food that creates a healthy diet. There is technically not even one “correct” healthy diet. A diet is simply the composition of foods consumed in a regular pattern. Each person has a style of eating that is appropriate for them. What is good for one person may not be as satisfying or effective for another. Therefore, typical word associations with diet including restriction should be placed aside. Instead the word diet should be associated with simply a pattern of eating. Even though people may have different diets, there are types of foods to include to create a healthy pattern of eating. So, there is no single secret!  Rather, there many options to optimize diet.

Growing up, many kids lament over the consumption of fruits and vegetables, but if your parents “encouraged” you to eat them, they were helping you in ways you may not know. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are published every 5 years to provide “recommendations about the components of a healthy and nutritionally adequate diet based upon scientific evidence.” And the guidelines stress what we were told as children: eat more fruits and veggies! A variety of both is preferred. From red to orange to dark green, beans and peas, and other vegetables; the rainbow is the goal. Eat fruits, especially in whole fruit form, of a variety of colors. Whether fresh, dried, or canned, fruits and veggies as a backbone to the diet will provide great health benefits.

Carbohydrate plays a significant role in the healthy eating pattern and tastes pretty too! A nutritious diet contains grains, which are composed primarily of carbohydrate. About half of the grains consumed should be whole grains. From whole wheat bread to brown rice, the vitamin and fiber benefits help to boost nutrient content.

And, of course, no meal is complete without protein. Again, think variety. Alternate lean means, beans, dairy products, nuts, seeds, seafood and soy, to mention a few. Even if you prefer one type of protein, try to mix it up occasionally to diversify nutrients.  Protein requirements for a healthy individual are around 0.8g protein/kg body weight.

As important as it is to get in the fruits and grains and all the rest, portion sizes are significant as well. A balanced plate demonstrates the proportion of carbs, protein, fruits/veggies, and fats that is most ideal for a healthy person. Look at the graphic. What grade does your plate get?  Do you come close to the balance recommended?

Finally, it’s important to remember that a diet is a food pattern. It is fine to have a slice of pizza or a cupcake for dessert. It is overall intake that is important in the long run. Be sure to include vegetables with meals when possible, and aim for whole grain options when available. Enjoying the process and what you are eating is important.  Do what you can to balance it out and remember there is no miracle answer.

balanced plate

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