The Basics of a Balanced Diet

You’ve heard the term before and know how important it is. But what exactly makes a diet balanced? For starters, a balanced diet means regularly eating a wide variety of nutritious foods, including lean protein, plenty of high-fiber vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, low-fat dairy, and healthy, unsaturated fats. If you’re following the South Beach Diet, you’re already on the right track! Making a point to vary your diet to include as many healthy foods as possible will improve your overall health, and keep you on track for sustainable weight loss. Here’s a breakdown of foods and nutrients you should enjoy for a balanced diet.

  1. Lean Protein: Protein is necessary for building strong muscles and regulating your metabolism. It also slows the speed of digestion, helping you to feel fuller longer. Making a point to choose sources of lean protein, such as lean meats, white meat poultry, seafood, beans and legumes, eggs, and soy products, will help you avoid unhealthy saturated fat.

     

  2. Vegetables: Packed with a wealth of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, vegetables have been shown to help prevent cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Cruciferous vegetables in particular — broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, and bok choy, for example, are antioxidant powerhouses that can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, protect against macular degeneration, and reduce age-related memory loss. Enjoy vegetables in a rainbow of colors at every meal.

     

  3. Fruits: Just as healthy as they are delicious, fruits — like vegetables — are chock-full of health-boosting antioxidant vitamins (vitamin C in particular), minerals (like the potassium in bananas), and fiber, and can be enjoyed starting on Phase 2 of the South Beach Diet. Blueberries, blackberries, plums, oranges, and red grapes are some examples of antioxidant-rich fruits to include in your diet.

     

  4. Whole Grains: Recent studies have shown that eating high-fiber whole grains (oats, barley, wheat, wild rice, quinoa, millet, barley, spelt, and rye, for example) can actually lower the risk of diabetes by stabilizing blood sugar and controlling insulin production. The fiber in whole grains also helps prevent artery-clogging atherosclerosis by interfering with cholesterol absorption and because it slows digestion it will keep you feeling satisfied for a longer time after meals. Avoid wheat, barley, rye, spelt, triticale, and anything but certified gluten-free oats if you are gluten sensitive.

     

  5. Beans and Other Legumes: All legumes — from black beans and kidney beans to chickpeas and lentils — are loaded with filling protein and plenty of fiber, as well as disease-fighting phytonutrients. The fiber in legumes can help lower total and LDL cholesterol and it also helps to slow the digestion process, preventing glucose and insulin levels from rising steeply. All this makes legumes a good choice for people with diabetes. While all legumes provide fiber, chickpeas and kidney beans have a whopping 7 grams per half-cup serving.

     

  6. Low-Fat Dairy: Low-fat dairy products contain calcium, vitamins A, D, B12, and riboflavin. There is mounting evidence that something in dairy foods (milk, yogurt, and cheese), perhaps the vitamin D that’s in the cheese or added to fortified milk and yogurt, not only strengthens bones but also protects the heart, reduces blood pressure, and fights breast cancer. The jury is still out about whether dairy can aid weight loss. The South Beach Diet recommends choosing reduced-fat and fat-free dairy products, and avoiding the full-fat varieties.

     

  7. Unsaturated Fats: Fats often get a bad rap when it comes to dieting, but not all fats are bad for you. “Good” fats, also known as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, have been shown to help prevent heart disease and lower cholesterol levels when substituted for saturated fats in the diet. Excellent sources of “good” fats are extra-virgin olive oil, canola oil, avocados, nuts, and omega-3-rich fish and shellfish.

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