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What is 'balanced diet' and how do I eat one?! (Nutrition Foundations Part 2)

"Should be consumed as part of a healthy, balanced diet", the label reads. The doctor says we should make sure we're eating a "healthy, balanced diet" and that girl off instagram says insists "it's all about #balance". And whilst it's not bad advice, nor inaccurate, as advice on its own it can be really flipping useless. What is a balanced diet? Should we be eating every food in equal quantities? Does a "healthy, balanced diet" include foods that aren't traditionally labelled as "healthy" like pizza or ice cream? This short blog will hopefully give some clear cut answers, and if you know this stuff already, maybe just a friendly lil nudge back towards eating in a way that's going to do wonders for you body and your brain.

Let's think about it in terms of individual meals to start with.

In each meal you want to aim to include a protein source, a carbohydrate source, a fat source and plenty of vegetables. For most of us, we don't need to concern ourselves with weighing our food. It's a faff and also, weighing everything we eat is kinda weird (this coming from a woman who weighed every morsel of her food for many, many years, so I'm allowed to say so). Instead, we can use these 'hand'-y guides (pun 100% intended)...

Easy measures to plate up our 'balanced' meals:

- a fistful or carbohydrates like grains, bread, potatoes

- a palm sized portion of protein like meat, fish, dairy or plant proteins like lentils, beans, tofu

- a thumb sized portion - or a sprinkle or drizzle - of fats, like plant based oils (olive, coconut etc), nuts and/or nut butter, avocado, seeds

- lots of colourful veggies*, between a third and a half of your plate!

*non-starchy, as the starchy kind like parsnips, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes etc would fall into our carbohydrate serving

So that's our 'healthy, balanced meal' sorted. But what about the kind of balance that means we get to eat sweeties and chocolate and all the tasty stuff without feeling like we've committed a cardinal sin? Well...

The 80:20 Rule

This is where the 80:20 rule comes into play. The idea is that 80% of the time you're eating delicious meals as outlined above, packed with vitamins and minerals and a great balance of protein, carbs and fats. But if 20% of the time you want to eat foods that are, also delicious, but maybe less nutrient dense and possiblyyyyy a little heavier on the fat and carbs, then go for it! No guilt, no shame. It's all balance, baby. If we look at the week as a whole, just assuming we're eating 3 square meals a day, that's 21 meals a week. So 20% equates to 4 meals of our 21 where, a takeaway for dinner, a pastry for breakfast or a brunch out, a bowl of ice cream after tea... is nothing to beat yourself up about.

I hope this, and the first Nutrition Foundations blog (What should I eat?) have helped you form a clearer idea of what a "healthy diet" actually entails. Whilst these starting points may seem basic, they're essential. When it comes to making improvements to your diet and working towards goals like improving overall health, losing weight or gaining strength, these are the things you need to put in place first and foremost. If you're already eating mostly real food and consuming a balanced diet as outlined above, and still aren't moving in the direction of your goals, then we would look at making further changes (such as lowering or increasing food intake depending on goals, or lowering or increasing certain macronutrients such as carbohydrate or protein). More on that to come!

If you need any support with nutrition or personal training in Bristol or Weston-super-Mare, as always, get in touch.

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