A balanced diet is much more than many of us think!
Today there are more diets and contradictory information than ever before. So many different extremes and understanding on what we should and should not eat can be a huge confusion for the lay person, or even the experienced nutritionist.
However, when we look at the time-tested holistic systems rather than the newest diet fads of the moment, they always say that no diet is ever more important than a balanced diet.
So what is a balanced diet and how do we really know if we are living one?
A truly balanced diet is something that is holistic and takes into account all factors of what can move your body in either direction away from the midline. This could include a vast range of categories from vitamins and minerals to qualities and PH.
This is not individual dieting because this article is designed to give you a good understanding of the basic principles that are involved in a balanced diet for the purpose of preventing imbalance form occurring. Although a balanced diet could also be used to gently and slowly encourage the body back to health from an imbalanced state, there are more specific diet understandings that would be adopted for individual purposes.
It is important to state that not everyone of these guidelines needs to be followed, the most important rule when applying new information is listening to your body’s awareness, for you are a unique individual and no one can feel the subtle changes inside you, better than yourself!
The Basics for Everyone
1. Natural Food Is the Easiest Deciding Factor and Everyone Should Start Here
Foods that are as close as possible to their original state provide us with more energy, vitality and nutrition while also lessening the likelihood of leaning towards extremes. This means little or NO PROCESSING, e.g. pasteurised and homogenised or reduced fat milk, vitamin fortified soy milk, adding or taking anything that was not part of the whole in the beginning is no longer a natural food which can be found in nature in that state. Natural foods will always be more balanced for the general population.
2. Seasonal Foods are Natures Balance to the Cycles in Our Environment and Body
Seasonal foods are more often grown locally which makes them more likely to have abundant nutrients and the appropriate nourishment that is specifically needed for that climate. As an example the foods that are being harvested in the summer are the leafy greens (spinach, roquette, dandelion, etc.) and watermelons which are cooling and blood cleansing. They are the perfect counterbalance to the hot and acid forming nature of the summer environment which demands a greater degree of cleansing. The foods that are being harvested in the late autumn and early winter are the root vegetables, nuts and grains which are more growth promoting and insulating to the dry and cold qualities of the winter.
3. Fresh Foods are More Alive & Less Toxic
This principle applies to almost all categories of foods but most importantly fruits, vegetables, meat & dairy which are greatly affected when not fresh or improperly processed. Some exceptions to this guideline are ghee, well stored whole grains and honey which alter very little over time.
4. Sterile Kitchen Means Someone Else Is Fighting Our War and Our Army Goes On Holiday
This title may be a little extreme but I am merely emphasizing the imbalance that our modern society is leading to which creates weak immune systems and excess petrochemicals in our homes. Although to some degree it is important to decrease the growth of bacteria and other harmful microorganisms, the modern fear-driven society has taken this factor way too far.
Human beings have evolved with these pathogens in our midst for centuries and have become accustomed to their invasions which strengthen and prime the immune system for when something more serious may attack. I am not suggesting that we live in filthy environments where our immune system is overburdened with constant onslaught but rather that we decrease the excess use of strong and toxic disinfectants, replace them with mild and natural ones knowing that some small amount of microorganism exposure is actually good for us. These balanced exposures are like natural vaccinations that come through the proper channels without injection, which creates better immune training.
The conclusion here is that a little amount of natural stresses are good, but a lot can still be bad. However I am not talking about the pesticides or toxic chemicals we are exposed to which suppress immune function and are always harmful. All foods should be washed and stored appropriately and their preparation should take place in a clean environment.
5. Pesticides Are Not Just Bad For The Pests
It should be obvious to all that something designed to kill a pest is also going to be harmful to us as well. There is an abundance of research to show that no pesticide has ever tested safe on a human being and these toxins have been linked to an abundance of imbalances and disorders that human beings can suffer from.
On almost all commercially grown and sold food there are pesticide residues still present that the governments will acknowledge as acceptable, even though the level or acceptability will vary from country to country. Although our amazing human body has great resistance and detoxification powers and most healthy people can withstand low doses of pesticides for great lengths of time with minimal imbalance, their residual increase is still affecting us all to some degree.
I am being conservative about my views on pesticides because I am aware that many people do not have access or the means to buy organic produce and I do not believe it is necessary to live in fear of commercial food and create further dietary restrictions for most people. However, organic foods that are home grown where possible are highly recommended because there is less likelihood of toxic pesticide residues.
6. Tasty & Appealing For All of Your Senses Because Your Mind Is Just as Important as Your Body
As our state of mind very much affects our digestive powers and our overall state of health, it is important to make your food enjoyable in taste, smell and appearance. The important thing to remember and assess here is the difference between an addictive enjoyment and a life-affirming enjoyment which is explained in the 6 stages of imbalance. As we discover more about our own bodies and what is our individual purpose and the qualities we want to encourage then it becomes easier to retrain our taste buds and enjoy the simple, delicious and life-affirming flavours that nature provides us with.
7. Variety & Rotation Because Variety Is the Spice of Life
The wonderful and rich variety of foods across the world never ceases to astound me, yet what astounds me more, is that some people become fixated on one specific food or food group. Although we do not necessarily need a massive variety at each meal, it is definitely important to have a varied diet over each week and definitely with each season. Besides making eating more interesting and ensuring we receive a variety of nutrients from different food sources, rotating foods prevents overconsumption of one type of food which reduces the potential to develop accumulation. This accumulation in the body can be one of the main causes of food allergies and digestive system imbalances.
8. Food Groups Are Part of the Whole But Far From the Whole Picture
There are many diet books and systems that consider the balance between different food groups and almost every ratio under the sun has been suggested by some so called experts to be the ideal for everyone. However, unless you have specific dietary needs or concerns then try to eat foods from all the food groups e.g. fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy products and meats.
Although I do not like to give generalisations for everyone, it is a good guideline that vegetables and whole grains—the groups that are more neutral and balancing for most people and seasons— are consumed in greater quantity. On the other hand, meat and dairy are the food groups that lean more towards an extreme and should generally be reduced. It is important to note that many people cannot properly digest certain foods such as dairy or wheat and as such these should be avoided by them until proper digestive capacity is restored.
9. Nutritious Foods Give You More Bang For Your Buck
Although we can assess nutrition from different food groups, inside each group are certain foods that are particularly outstanding and more nutritious which some people label as superfoods. When we are aware we need to increase a certain category we can first look at these superfoods and see if one of them could be our perfect balance, locally produced or even just appealing to our taste buds.
By adopting this principle we will receive a wide variety of vitamins and minerals in their most beneficial and whole food form which has a greater chance of meeting our body’s requirements for nourishment and health.
10. Food Combining or Food Confusing
The amount of conflictive information on food combining is a hazy confusion for both the lay person and experienced practitioner. My research has lead me to believe that although there are many guidelines amongst the food combining literature, the most important factor is individuality and digestive capability, which means when you are imbalanced you are much more likely to need the help of food combining principles.
Even with this lack of consensus about the principles to follow, it is crystal clear that beneficial food combinations ensure that the process of digestion is easier for the body so that maximum bioavailability and absorption can occur. Negative food combinations make it difficult for the body to properly break the foods down to absorbable size. These improperly digested foods become a feeding ground for bacteria, fungi and parasites which lead to fermentation, inflammation, allergies and many other systemic disorders.
11. Moderation and the Pig Out Effect
Although moderation applies to individual foods and food groups that we have already spoken about, the most important element with moderation is the size of our meals. Many traditional medicine systems believe that there is no greater cause of disease than eating more than our body can comfortably digest.
The general guideline is to only eat what we can fit into our cupped hands at each meal. This rule would be adjusted depending on the qualities of the meal and lifestyle demands e.g. heavy and oily foods should be eaten in less quantity, while light foods can be eaten in greater quantities, and people with high nutrient demands and increased digestive power from an athletic lifestyle can usually eat more than others without creating undigested toxins from a poorly digested meal.
12. Flavours Do Much More Than Taste Great
Ayurveda believes that the “ideal” meal should contain all 6 tastes; these are sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. This is definitely not the rule for everyone or every season but as a generalisation there should be a dominance of whole sweet in the diet with the general percentage of mass being 80% sweet, 10% sour, 5% salty, 2% pungent, 1% bitter and 1% astringent.
An example of this would be sitting down for a meal of sushi. The rice and fish make up the 80% sweet, the miso has the sour taste from fermentation, the seaweed nori roll is predominantly salty, wasabi is pungent and the green tea has both bitter and astringent qualities.
13. Sequencing, Because as They Say “It’s All About Timing”
Many meals and foods are eaten whenever and with little or no awareness about the digestive process that they must undergo inside our bodies. However, traditional medicine systems understood that the sequence in which we eat our meals can play an important role in how we digest and utilise them.
As a generalisation we should eat heavy, oily and sweet food (if it is served) at the beginning of the meal because they take the longest to digest and therefore need to stay in the stomach the longest.
Have sour and salty tastes in the middle, and dry, light and bitter foods at the end because they take less time to digest and have the effect of capping off the digestive process. This is completely opposite to the western idea of desert at the end and could be a large contributing factor in the digestive issues and obesity problems that are ramped in those countries.
It is important to note that this guideline does not apply to specific digestive appetisers or fruit which are generally both light and easily digestible. Fruit should be eaten away from meals because it causes fermentation when mixed, but if it is eaten with a meal then 15 - 20 minutes before the meal is ideal so it has the time to be fully digested and leave the stomach before the rest of the meal begins.
However, this will still lessen the strong digestive power that is worked up when not eating for some time which could have been used for those heavy, oily and sweet foods that really required it.
14. Even Junk Foods Have A Quality
Traditional medicine systems of the world place high importance on the qualities of the food that we consume in both balancing a meal and understanding the end effect on the body. This means that by having a balance between the qualities at each meal, we are less likely to aggravate the body in any direction which may create disease.
For simplification I will only list the three most important polar qualities here. They should not be taken as their literal English translation but more as energetic influences or qualities that promote actions. I will go into more detail of their complete understanding, including actions and the other 10 qualities during the individual dieting section. The three most important qualities to balance are heavy and light, hot and cold, dry and unctuous.
15. Make Your Meals Colourful— Your Body Will Thank You for It!
Our foods can come in a wide variety of colours which can reflect their qualities and nutrient content. Most foods can be assigned to the dominant colours of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. Although it is difficult and often unnecessary to have all of the colours present at each meal, it is beneficial to try and include them all during the day and at minimum during the week.
16. Acid Is Not Your Enemy & Yet Alkaline Is Definitely Your Friend
All of the foods we eat will have a dominance of alkaline or acidic substances in them which over time will affect the overall PH of our bodies. As the body needs to operate in a slightly alkaline environment, and most modern disorders including cancer will flourish in an acidic environment, it is important for us to consume a diet that is dominated by alkaline forming foods.
There is now a large following of practitioners that are promoting alkaline diets and to some degree many are making the acid forming foods out to be the enemy which is not the complete picture as many of the acid forming foods have great building and tonifying effects on the body.
Although the ratio changes for everyone, and should also be adjusted with the season and levels of detoxification or tonification needed, the generalisation is to consume 60-80% alkaline forming foods which promote greater levels of detoxification.
It is important to note that foods like lemon and tomato are not acid forming inside the body, because the minerals they contain are alkaline dominant. Always use reliable charts to determine the acid/alkaline content of a food and not the assumption amongst the masses. The easy thing to remember is that almost all fruits and vegetables are alkaline forming.
17. Is Cooked Food Really Poison And Should We All Eat Raw?
The debate of cooked or raw is hot on the lips of many diet experts during the modern times of extreme dieting. For me and the majority of humans trying to live a “balanced life” the answer is both!
However for most people who are not showing signs of cold and weak digestion with deficiency type symptoms then it is beneficial to increase their consumption of raw fruits and vegetables because these help to alkalise, cool and detoxify the body.
Both fruits and vegetables in their raw, unaltered state are generally very alkalising and abundant in enzymes and vitamins which are easily depleted once they are exposed to heat. There are also many toxic by-products that are created during excess heating.
Meats, fats and grains are the food groups that can be easily deranged by improper cooking and should all be cooked at low temperatures that have less likelihood of creating negative by-products, e.g. barbecuing meat creates heterocyclic aromatic amines which are known carcinogenic compounds that were not present in the meat before cooking. In fact, many of the chemicals used to produce cancer in laboratory animals have been isolated from excessively cooked proteins.
Even though there are these possible negatives with cooking, when it is done with awareness and understanding of what foods and at what temperatures then it can be very beneficial for increasing the digestibility of certain foods, especially grains and legumes.
Properly cooked whole grains are only slightly acid forming and very good at building, toning and increasing sustained energy supply. They are some of the most neutral foods available and have been the largest part of the human diet for centuries because of this reason.It is important to remember that I am talking about whole grains and not processed grains, breads, flours, bakery products and other imbalanced grain products which are much further away from the midline.
18. Good Water Is Like Good Oil for Your Car, You Will Go Longer!
Seeing that our bodies are composed of 60-80% water and almost all functions in the body take place in the presence of water, you would have to be crazy to think that what we drink does not matter.
Many of our water supplies in the modern world contain all sorts of negative chemicals from things we purposefully add like chlorine and radioactive fluoride to pollution contaminants like pesticides and pharmaceuticals.
All of these factors which affect our modern water supplies make the importance of purifying water more essential than ever. The best sources of water are natural ones because they are alive with vital energy from Mother Nature and have less likelihood of contamination but should still be tested to be certain.
My favourites are fresh rain water in non polluted (rural) areas and natural spring water which still contains some natural minerals. These should be consumed if possible.
19. Digestive Power, Are You What You Eat? Or Are You What You Digest?
Our digestive capability is our most important factor for maintaining lifelong health. If our digestive processes are not working to their full potential, we will create half-digested, unusable garbage instead of life-sustaining nutrients.
This improperly digested food is then eaten by other bacteria and parasites inside our bodies creating fermentation and toxic by-products. Improperly digested food is a massive contributor to many diseases and metabolic problems.
Although there are many things that affect how strong our digestive power can be, the two most important factors for everyone are:
- Eat when you’re hungry. If you are not hungry in the stomach which is noted by a slight warm feeling and urge to eat, then there is less likelihood your digestive power will be strong and able to fully digest whatever you put in it.
- The time of the day when you eat. Our digestive power rises and falls with the cycle of the sun and because it is on the increasing cycle for breakfast and lunch these meals can generally be much heavier. In the ideal diet plan the dinner would be the lightest meal of the day, especially if it is eaten after dark.
20. Good Fats Won’t Make You Fat But They Can Protect Your Brain Better Than a Sumo Wrestler
Out of all the food groups there has never been anything that has compared to the bad press and judgment that has been placed upon the fats. Our modern society has such a huge aversion to becoming overweight that the mass media and diet fad extremists have dumped their claims on almost every type of fat under the sun.
The truth is that our bodies were engineered with fat in mind, literally, and we really could not live without it. Not only is fat the most sustained and stable form of fuel for long term energy but we all use it to make our brain, nervous system and cell walls. It is true however that not all fats are created equal and that there are some outstanding winners in the race of good fats.
With a huge first place winning margin are the omega threes which are abundant in fish, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds and walnuts.
The fats that come in second place in the race of good fats are the monounsaturated fats which are mainly found in olive oil.
Tying the race in third place are polyunsaturated omega 6 fats and some forms of saturated fats such as stearic acid which is highly digestible, easily utilisable and does not raise cholesterol.
The losers that either kill you during the race or never let you finish are excess consumption of:
- Cooked fats because any of the above fats that were beneficial when raw and cold-pressed become much harder to digest and often turn into free radical toxins after heating.
- Processed, fried fats and trans fats.
- Most animal fats with the exception of good quality ghee. These fats are either toxic or take excessive amounts of energy for your body to utilise and detoxify. In summary, almost all fats are useful in some way but we need to shift our balance and consume a higher ratio of health-promoting fats. If you are fatigued, congested or in a diseased state then you may need to put all your bets consistently on the first and second place winners to restore your health and vitality. When these healthy fats are used raw and uncooked, they will protect our brains, reduce inflammation and cholesterol, act as transporters for fat soluble nutrients, and give us more sustained energy levels than any other fuel source.
21. Three Meals a Day Helps You Work, Rest & Play
There is an abundance of new diet research and mainstream magazines that are promoting lots of little frequent meals throughout the day. Although there is some truth to their research in the sense that it can stimulate a higher metabolism in the digestive tract, it can also have other negative affects in the rest of the body such as not allowing time for utilisation of our long term fuels which are our body’s stored fats and glycogen.
Although there need to be adjustments for individuality and purpose, eating 3 balanced whole food meals each day allows our body to have times of carbohydrate metabolism, times of fat metabolism and times of fasting and purifying the system. This encourages a more balanced system overall and also exercises our body to have better long range energy levels because we can then fine tune and self adjust blood composition based on the needs of the moment rather than needing to always have a steady supply of food.
From this information it is clear that the world of healthy eating has a rich variety of options that can be integrated as we become more aware of aspects involved in creating balance.
It also becomes clear that there is no perfect fit diet solution that is suited to everyone and that when trying to organise a healthy diet that is suited for most people then the number one principle is not to have too many extremes or excesses: as the Buddhists would say “we walk the middle path”.
I hope that this article has also given you enough awareness and common sense that when you come across the next diet fad that says we all need to cut out this specific food or food group, you may regard this information more critically, or at least be able to take a look at it from a different perspective before judging it from only the one angle or direction that dieter may be promoting.
Although their understanding may be true, it may only be one part of the complete picture, and nothing is ever more beneficial to the body as the holistic outlook.
Therefore we as human beings need to start taking more responsibility for our own awareness and education so that we can make more balanced and informed choices based upon the purpose that we want to create. What is your outcome?
Please Remember, do not force anything!
Use awareness in the moment and do not become rigid to specifics. Pay attention to what your body is telling you at all times. This information is not meant to treat or diagnose and instead aims to inform you on how to create a more balanced diet that leads to health and harmony in your life.
Wishing you health and prosperity,
PS: If you'd like me to find out your individualised diet for your unique body type, please click here to be listed on my online consultation waiting list. We will notify you through e-mail, when there's available time in my calendar for an online consult.