What is a balanced diet? London based mobile personal trainers share the secret!
What is a ‘balanced diet’? – the basics
The subject of nutrition can be a confusing one, how do we know what a healthy balanced diet is? What amount of each nutrient should we be eating? How much of this depends on our sex, genetic make-up or lifestyle?
We are told that we should have a ‘healthy balanced diet’, in simple terms this means eating the right quantities of the different food groups, and not forgetting this includes drinking the right amount of water – we are meant drink between six and eight glasses a day.
There are five different food groups, these are carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals.
Here is an overview of why and how they make up a ‘healthy balanced diet’.
Proteins are our building blocks, they are vital in supporting life and there are three different types which help our bodies repair and maintain themselves to a complex degree. The amount of protein we need varies from person to person but we should try and make protein-rich food part of every meal.
The usual recommendation for a sedentary adult is 0.8g of protein per kg of bodyweight. This works out as 56 grams per day for the average male and 46 grams per day for the average female. However, there is debate about whether this is enough given the amount we need depends on activity level, age and muscle mass – if you regularly exercise you should be eating more protein than this.
Protein also provides an active role in loosing weight, it can increase the amount of calories you burn, reduce your appetite and boost your metabolism.
It is worth mentioning the huge number of branded protein supplements heavily marketed to gym-goers. This is because to gain muscle your body must synthesise muscle protein, and when losing weight as part of a calorie-controlled diet, muscle mass can be lost.
Sources of protein: Meat- fish, eggs, dairy products, vegetables, nuts, and grains such as quinoa.
Carbohydrates are a great energy source, but a diet too high in carbohydrates changes the blood sugar levels and therefore our energy levels and our mood. So, it is better to balance carbohydrate intake with protein, fat and fibre.
There are two types of carbohydrate, simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates
Complex carbohydrates are found in whole-grains, legumes and starchy vegetables and take longer to break down, so release energy over time. Simple carbohydrates are broken down quickly and provide an energy spike. They are not all bad, as fruits and vegetables are part of this category however so are cakes, biscuits and energy drinks – which we should limit in our diet.
Sources of complex carbohydrate: Whole wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, potatoes, corn, chickpeas, beans and lentils.
Government guidelines: Adult male 333g per day, adult female 267g per day
Fats are another major source of energy and have many vital uses such as helping us to absorb vitamins and protecting our organs.
Fat has 9 calories per gram, which is more than twice the number of calories in carbohydrates and protein which have 4 calories per gram.
Keeping it simple, there are two types of fats to be aware of, saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Although there is some dispute about the level of harm of saturated fat, foods high in saturated fats can raise the level of ‘bad cholesterol’ which in turn raises the risk of heart attack, stroke and other serious health issues. Eating unsaturated fats can help lower bad cholesterol.
Foods rich in saturated fat: Butter, cheese, high-fat meat, ice-cream, coconut oil.
Government guidelines: Adult male less than 97g per day, adult female less than 78g per day
Foods rich in unsaturated fat: Avocado, olives, olive oil, fatty fish, nuts and seeds.
Government guidelines: Adult male 31g per day, adult female 24g per day
There are 13 vitamins, all playing a crucial part in the day to day functioning of our bodies, particularly in growth and metabolism. Much like protein, most people with a healthy balanced diet should not need to take vitamin supplements.
Eating fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and cereals will give the body the vitamins it needs. Fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K need the presence of fat. Water soluble vitamins like B and C, unlike fat soluble vitamins are only stored for a short period of time so need to be consumed regularly.
Online guides can provide information about which foods are rich in which vitamin but dark leafy vegetables, eggs, organ meats, raw nuts and fresh fruits are a great source.
Minerals are also crucial to helping our bodies function, they are important to building strong bones, teeth, skin and hair, balancing water within the body and many other functions.
Some minerals are needed in more quantities than others. Calcium is essential for bone growth and muscle contraction, magnesium for nerve transmission, sodium for fluid balance, sulphur to prevent infection, and phosphous for bone growth.
Maintaining a balanced diet should provide the right level of minerals, dairy produce, sea salt, nuts, eggs, and green leafy vegetables are a source of most.
The role of a Personal Trainer and your diet
As personal trainers we are only qualified to give nutritional advice based on our training courses, which is in line with government recommendations, reliable studies and evidence.
We are not qualified to give advice on ill-health or manage disease like a dietitian can.