Nutrition

What is a balanced diet?

Food. Something so omnipresent in our lives. Sometimes we take it for granted, we eat whatever we feel like without really appreciating a meal or even reflect of what we are eating. We not only follow our hunger, but the food choices we make – if we can call it an active choice – are driven by so many more factors.

Most of us are convinced to know enough about our diet. It is easy to believe that our diet is something we understand, that we are in charge of and control. We believe to know what is appropriate for us. Often enough we see ourselves on the right path. We take the right choices for ourselves. Within our confirmation bias we find always a good statement that underlines what we are doing and why it is good for us.

You can ask 100 people about their diet, and most of them might claim their diet is good and balanced. It is almost comic when you see two people with two different standpoints getting into an argument. You can put any two types of person into a ring and let them verbally fight. Arguments that support their standpoint fly like fists from one to another. Whereas one see’s himself right, the other feels attacked, misunderstood and in the urge to respond strong on their standpoint.

So how can it be, that what we believe is right can have so many shades? If there is one right thing, why are there so many distinct standpoints? Is there even a right way and a wrong way when you ask yourself what you eat?

To find that out lets look at what a healthy diet is.

a healthy diet is balanced.

To live healthy, you need to take care of two things: Not to damage yourself, whether by injury or by poisoning yourself through alcohol, drugs and other harmful influences and to provide your body with everything that it needs to sustain itself and stay in shape.

We need energy to function, protein to build up cells and muscle, fats for the brain, hormones and many other functions. Besides that we require both minerals and vitamins in all those processes. Those nutrients are essential for our body to function properly.

Of each nutrient we require a certain amount, depending on our age, sex, phase of life and activity levels. If you lack one of them for a longer time, you can get many things from symptoms like weakness, tiredness and so on, up to permanent severe damages that also can cost lives.

A healthy diet therefore has no deficits of any nutrient.

On the other side, there are nutrients you can have too much of. Too much can lead to obesity, diabetes, cancer, choral heart disease and more.

Not all nutrients can be consumed too much: there are some of which the body just doesn’t store any, like water-soluble vitamins. Others come in such small amounts that it’s just not realistic to gather enough of one substance for it to become toxic in our body.

The ones that our body does store however, can become harmful if taken in excess. Some substances have a direct impact, like for example an overdose of a vitamin, others have a long tail effect, if the excess is slowly accumulating.

A healthy diet also does not excess.

The ideal intake of a nutrient therefore lays in the range between the required amount to not be deficient and the maximum amount that is neither harmful itself nor can accumulate through excess.

To sum it up: a healthy diet makes sure that you cover the required amount of all nutrients while making sure not to overload yourself by avoiding giving your body more than it needs.

The question that can be asked here is “How can we archive a balanced diet?”. Yet, instead of jumping right into the topic, I first want to get further to the basics. To be able to better understand the why and how we need to supply a nutrient, it helps to get a broad overview of what is needed.

This is going to be part of the next topics.

unsplash-logoAnnie Spratt

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