Have you ever been on a weekend bender and ate total junk during and after to cure that dreaded hangover, and then wondered why you developed a streaming cold immediately after?
The answer is simple: you’re not feeding your body with the nutrients it needs to function properly and recover. While McDonald’s and KFC may taste finger-lickin’ good at the time, they are lacking in micronutrients (found in vitamins and minerals) and therefore leave the body feeling hungry and deprived.
So although your weekly cheat night takeaway might leave you feeling full and satisfied because it’s calorie-dense and full of carbs, all the nutrients needed for body functionality have been refined out of the food.
If the thought of chucking away the chips and diving into a salad sounds daunting, there's no need to worry. Here's the simple way to achieve a balanced diet—all without compromising on delicious flavours.
The importance of good nutrition
Alongside sleep and exercise, getting sufficient nutrition is one of the fundamental pillars of good health.
A well-rounded, balanced diet includes all seven food groups; carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, fibre and water (yes, water is just as important as the others!). If your body is deficient in any of these food groups, it simply won’t function as well as it could—becoming more prone to all sorts of undesirables such as fatigue, disease, infection, cold and flu, etc. A balanced diet is essential for good health, and some scientists argue that it can prevent diseases like cancer altogether.
Our body takes energy from all these different food groups, breaks them down and uses them to function in lots of different ways.
In a nutshell:
Carbohydrates give us energy.
Proteins help build and repair tissue.
Fats give your body energy and support cell growth.
Vitamins and minerals are essential for so many different functions of the body and help protect the immune system.
Fibres help with digestion.
Water keeps us hydrated.
So with that said, it’s probably no surprise that if we don’t have one or more of these in our diet on a regular basis, our bodies will lack the energy to properly function.
Getting a balanced meal
If you want to improve your diet, the good news is that you don't necessarily have to give up your favourite foods. As with anything, moderation is key, and it's important to ensure you give your body the nutrients it needs and deserves.
The easiest way to achieve a balanced meal is to have a meal consisting of:
¼ protein foods
By following this simple guideline, you’ll ensure that the old saying “let food be thy medicine” rings true for you—regardless of any allergies or dietary restrictions that you might have.
Instead of having meat as the centrepiece of your dish, think of all the elements of your meal as being of equal importance. Chicken, turkey, and fish are generally easy to digest foods (white meat). Shredded meat (pulled pork/chicken), poaching and baking are a few ways to cook the meat to ensure it can be easily digested. Frying and grilling on the other hand can often make the meat harder and therefore harder to digest. A top tip would be to make sure you chew your meat thoroughly before swallowing to allow your body to break the nutrients down quicker and easier.
Vegetarians & vegans
Vegetarians and vegans can easily find nutrients from a range of non-meat and dairy-free sources of protein to ensure maintaining a balanced diet. A great way to have a protein-packed plate of veggie goodness is to include beans and pulses in your meal. A useful tip is to use as many colours of the rainbow as possible in your meal—not only do they look nice, but different coloured foods contain different phytonutrients, which are vital for human health.
If you are gluten intolerant, it’s still possible to maintain a balanced diet. Brown rice, gluten-free multi-seed breads and many pulses are all suitable for coeliacs. Most supermarkets now have a whole section dedicated to gluten-free eaters and other dietary requirements, meaning it’s easier than ever to make balanced meals with limited ingredients.
If you want more inspiration for your meals—breakfast, lunch or dinner—check out my recipes!
Food for thought
Of course, diet is a very personal thing that takes some trial and error to work out. However, if you stick to your five-a-day—and then some—you won’t go far wrong.
With this all being said, it doesn’t mean you have to become an obsessive killjoy. We’re only human, after all; so it’s totally fine to devour a plate of naughtiness from time to time, no questions asked. However, having better knowledge and understanding exactly what we get out of the foods that we put into our bodies can be extremely beneficial to our long-term health.
As the old adage says, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”.