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Balanced diet

Beispiel Ernährungspyramide

Everyone knows the advice to be on a balanced diet. A balanced diet is particularly important for people who do sports, suffer from an illness or want to lose weight. But what does "balanced" in "balanced diet" or "balanced nutrition" actually mean?

First of all, a balanced diet requires a certain diversity. A varied diet keeps the risk of developing a deficiency in a particular vitamin or nutrient low. A diet that is largely based on seasonal fruit and vegetables ensures a natural seasonal rotation of the menu and thus also an alternating bundle of nutrients and vital substances that we ingest with our food.

A healthy diet must cover a fixed need for certain substances - substances that the body needs to stay healthy. For example, everyone needs a certain amount of fibre (found for example in wholemeal products, vegetables and fruit). The intake of a fixed quantity of unsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is also essential for everyone who wants to stay healthy. The body cannot produce these fatty acids on its own. Therefore they are also called "essential" fatty acids which are found in fish and nuts, for example.

Other essentials are iodine (sea salt and sea fish contain a lot of it), vitamin B12, which is present in large quantities in animal products, and water of course. Water is the basis of every diet - every adult should drink at least 1.5 litres of liquid per day. The vitamins, minerals and secondary phytochemicals found in fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds are also very important for a healthy life. Sailors of earlier centuries painfully experienced the consequences of the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. In the age of discovery, scurvy - a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency - was the leading cause of death among sailors. Superfoods such as goji, aronia or acai berries, the powder of the baobab tree, or chia seeds contain particularly many vitamins and nutrients. Superfoods can be the icing on the cake of a healthy diet.

Another indisputable aspect of a balanced diet is the avoidance of redundant or even harmful foods. Too much salt extracts the water from the cells and raises blood pressure. Refined sugar and short-chain carbohydrates, such as those found in white bread, have a high calorific value, but this is not advantageous in Western societies, where overweight is the norm rather than the exception. The energy provided by sugars and short-chain carbohydrates cannot be provided evenly by the body over a long period of time. A blood sugar peak occurs, followed by a sudden drop in blood sugar levels that causes fatigue. In addition, foods such as sweets or white bread contain nearly no useful ingredients except for short-chain carbohydrates, i.e. hardly any vitamins, minerals, fibres, proteins or secondary phytochemicals. If you eat a banana instead of a pretzel or a piece of cake you provide your body with this to a larger extent. That’s why we speak of "empty calories".

However, the idea of a "balanced" diet goes beyond a varied diet and the consumption of lots of fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. The idea behind this is an optimum diet, an ideal of the best possible nutrition. This ideal is often presented in a striking way, e.g. by the German Nutrition Society in form of a nutrition circle or pyramid (e.g. nutrition pyramid of the Federal Centre for Nutrition). In the nutrition pyramid, the various food groups such as vegetables, meat or carbohydrate-rich foods such as cereals, potatoes and noodles are arranged in the optimal ratio for health. You can immediately see which quantities of the various food groups should be consumed on a daily basis. Most people eat too little vegetables and fruits. If you are honest with yourself, you should skip dessert more often.

For some years now, the ideal of healthy nutrition has been in a state of transition. Followers of different nutrition philosophies have created their own nutrition pyramids. There is a vegetarian pyramid (e.g. from the Vegetarierbund Deutschland), a vegan pyramid, a paleo pyramid and a raw food pyramid. The "American Dietetic Association" bases its opinion that a well-thought-out vegan diet can bring many health benefits on numerous studies. This, of course, raises some questions when looking at the "classic" nutrition pyramid: Like, is milk really so important for a healthy diet when statistically speaking, people who do not eat dairy products at all live healthier lives? Paleo-followers, who try to orient themselves on the diet of Stone Age people before becoming sedentary, eat fat, meat and eggs - foods that are normally considered rather unhealthy in health-conscious or vegan circles. However, there are also studies that seem to support this diet. So how a balanced or healthy diet looks in detail partly depends on your own opinion.


Photo credit: © Robert Kneschke / Fotolia

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