Since April is Celebrate Diversity Month let’s talk about Dietary Diversity! Dietary diversity is another name for a well-balanced diet. This means we need to include all five food groups in our meals across breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Our good health requires a balance of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from each of the food groups. Some people may need to follow specific diets, but diversity is required within all of them. MyPlate shows us how to take steps towards this balance.
Importance of a Balanced Diet
Our bodies require a variety of foods in order to get different vitamins, minerals, and nutrients for optimal health. These nutrients are essential for babies to thrive, children to grow, teenagers to succeed in school, adults to maintain strength, and seniors to make the most of their health. A balanced diet provides us with energy, robust immunity, strong bones, and a healthy digestive system. According to MyPlate.gov, healthy eating patterns involve a balance of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.
The chart below shows each food group’s benefits with examples:
|Food Group||Nutritional Value||Bodily Benefits||Examples|
|Fruit||Potassium, fiber, Vitamin C, folate||Maintains blood pressure, lowers cholesterol, aids in the digestive system||Bananas, cantaloupe, sapote, jackfruit, guava, kiwi, berries, citrus fruits|
|Vegetable||Potassium, fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, folate||Supports growth & repair of tissue heals cuts & wounds, supports eye and skin health||Broccoli, sweet potatoes, beets, spinach, acorn squash, kohlrabi, yucca, tomatoes, eggplant|
|Protein||Protein, B Vitamins, Vitamin E, iron, zinc, magnesium||Builds and maintains strong muscles, immune health, energy||Beef, goat, ham, lamb, chicken, bison, deer, rabbit, seafood, eggs, nuts/seeds, legumes, tofu|
|Grains||Carbohydrates, fiber, Vitamin B, iron, magnesium, selenium||Provides energy, controls cholesterol, improved digestive health healthy metabolism||Barley, couscous, oats, rice, popcorn, quinoa, tortillas, whole wheat breads and pastas|
|Dairy||Calcium, potassium, Vitamin D, protein||Strong bones and teeth, maintains blood pressure||Milk, yogurt, low-fat cheeses|
A Day in the Life of a Balanced Diet
We are lucky to live in a place where we can enjoy so many different kinds of foods. Thanks to the rich diversity of people who live here, we are able to explore foods from around the globe. How about some hummus, sushi, or tom yum soup? There are any number of choices that are healthy and delicious! Massachusetts provides numerous ways to access a variety of fruit and vegetables at our many farmers’ markets and farm stands offering a rich diversity of produce. A balanced diet will help protect our health, our organs, and bodily systems.
Some ways our dietary needs may differ:
- Allergies (eggs, dairy, wheat)
- Health (celiac disease)
- Cultural or religious preferences (Ramadan)
- Location to healthy food options (city, suburbs, rural)
What remains the same is that we all need the benefits provided by a well-balanced diet! However, discuss with your doctor if any special diet is required for your specific situation. Here is an example of a day’s meals and snacks:
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with zucchini and mushrooms, side of peaches with granola
- Lunch: Udon noodles with chicken, carrots, and mushrooms
- Dinner: Whole grain spaghetti with lean ground beef sauce, side of sauteed red peppers and onions, and fresh fruit for dessert
- Snacks: Apple slices with the nut butter of your choice or non-fat Greek yogurt with graham crackers
- Beverages: Tea, Water, low-fat milk, 100% fruit juice
Plan your personalized menus using the MyPlate planning tool, https://www.myplate.gov/myplate-plan. It uses your age, gender, height, weight, and physical activity level to provide suggestions for a healthy balanced diet.
Dietary Diversity Tips
- Vary the colors of the fruits and vegetables, the types of whole grains, the kinds of lean meats or proteins, and the low-fat dairy items you choose
- Choose one or two ways to make small changes to your diet (try a new vegetable or whole grain item, transition to non-fat milk)
- Drink plenty of water during the day, aiming for eight 8-ounce glasses
- Remember to include physical activity every day. Start with a short walk but remember to check with your doctor first before starting any new physical activity
- Enjoy your meals and try exercising with friends and family
Take one small step at a time for the best results. These attainable adjustments can turn into life-long habits. No matter your age, gender, ability, or location, your body needs diversity to be healthy. What will you try?
I am going for a walk-Broc