Guidelines for a balanced diet at each stage of life

A balanced diet is one that covers the nutritional requirements necessary for our body to be able to effectively perform all its functions. In other words, it consists of providing our body with a wide variety of foods that, together, manage to provide all the essential nutrients to carry out all our activities and keep us healthy.

As you can imagine, throughout our lives, nutritional requirements will change, since the nutritional needs of a child are not the same as those of an adult. So how can we have a balanced diet adapted to our personal circumstances? Take note of the guidelines that we explain in this article!

What is a balanced diet? 

As you have been able to read, eating a balanced diet is essential for our well-being.

But what exactly does a balanced diet consist of? Well, the key to eating in a balanced way is to consume, in its proper proportion, all the variety of nutrients that our body needs to function correctly according to our particular circumstances. That is, although there are some general recommendations, these must be adapted to each specific moment of life. 

Conventional diets and the advice that we will give below are based on generic recommendations that are effective in many people, however, thanks to genetics we know that it is now possible to go one step further in customizing our needs. This is because we are all unique and have different metabolic characteristics, lifestyles and individual circumstances, which also influence our diet. 

The food wheel for a balanced diet

In the food wheel of the SEDCA (Spanish Society of Food Sciences) you can see represented the different food groups where they explain the role they play in our body. In addition, according to the colors, this wheel indicates the foods that we should consume to a greater extent (with a green background) and to a lesser extent (with a red background). 

At the time of consumption, it is important that the variety of foods within each group be as large as possible, since each food is unique and provides us with certain nutrients, thus achieving a more complete contribution.

 Next we are going to review the food groups that appear on the wheel,  to see what each one of them contributes to us and, once we have these clear concepts, we will explain which ones must be prioritized in some specific stages of life. 

Regulatory Foods

 They are the groups that are colored in green, among which we find fruit, vegetables and vegetables. They are called regulators because thanks to these our body can conveniently use the rest of the food we eat (those found in the other groups). They are essential for our body to function properly. Within this group, it is worth noting:

Fruit, at least three pieces a day

Fruit is a food that has to be present in our daily diet, due to its contribution in water, sugars, vitamins, minerals and fiber. The World Health Organization recommends consuming at least 5 pieces of fruit a day. In addition, the fruit has multiple possibilities when it comes to taking it, since it can be whole, chopped or crushed, however, the whole fruit is the most recommended, since, for example, if you make a fruit juice or the fruit in syrup, decreases its fiber intake. It is also important to know the different properties of each fruit, and that you include pieces of fruit that are rich in antioxidants in your diet, since they have multiple health benefits, such as strawberries, kiwis or blueberries.

Vegetables, essential in main meals 

Vegetables are another group of foods that cannot be missing from your meals due to their important contribution of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) it is recommended to consume more than 400 grams of fruits and vegetables per day, since this improves the general state of health and reduces the risk of certain non-communicable diseases such as those that affect the cardiovascular system. . 

If a priori you find it difficult to incorporate so many vegetables into your diet, we give you several options. You can eat them raw in salads or in multivitamin shakes along with fruit, which are easy to eat. You can also opt for cooked vegetables, ideally boiled or steamed, which are easier to digest.

Forming foods

Within this group are the foods that appear with a red background and owe their name to the fact that they allow the development, growth and maintenance of the essential structures of our body, such as muscles and bones. All these foods are rich in protein, although their daily consumption should be moderate, as we explain below. 

Dairy products: source of protein, lactose, calcium and vitamins

Within the dairy group we find milk and its processed derivatives such as yogurt or cheese. As we have mentioned, they contain a large amount of protein and it should be noted that these have a high biological value (high biological value proteins are those that have all the essential amino acids). In addition, it is one of the main sources of vitamin D, A and E and among its fatty acids those of short chain stand out, which facilitate the digestion of milk. As you may have heard, milk contains a high calcium content, which is essential in numerous processes in the body, such as forming part of bones and teeth and participating in their maintenance, as well as participating in the transmission of nerve impulses. 

Despite all the beneficial characteristics of dairy products, they contain a high level of cholesterol, which is why low-fat dairy products are recommended for people with overweight or obesity problems, and their main carbohydrate is lactose, therefore , those people intolerant to this component have specific dairy products that do not contain. 

Meats, preferably lean 

Meat, in addition to being a food rich in proteins of high biological value, also contains vitamin B12 and minerals, among which zinc, phosphorus, iron and potassium stand out, depending on its origin. However, it is also high in saturated fat, whose excessive consumption can increase “bad” cholesterol levels and the risk of cardiovascular disease. We can consume meat, yes, but always prioritizing lean cuts that contain less amount of saturated fat. It is recommended that meat consumption does not exceed 3 servings a week. 

Fish and shellfish, 3 or 4 servings a week 

If you do not consume it regularly, it is important that you consider including fish in your diet, since it is an important source of high biological value protein, vitamin B, and oily fish is also rich in vitamins A, D, and E. In addition , most of them are also rich in minerals such as iodine, calcium, phosphorus and selenium and, especially oily fish contain omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, whose health benefits are increasingly being demonstrated . The general recommendation is to consume between 3 and 4 servings of fish a week, although these data may be modified in population groups such as children or pregnant women, in which it is important to avoid the consumption of fish with a high level of mercury such as it can be swordfish or bluefin tuna.

As for shellfish, it shares many properties with fish and also contains high levels of water, vitamins B1 and B12 as well as minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, iron, iodine, fluoride and zinc. 

Eggs, a food of great nutritional interest

Eggs provide proteins of high biological value, are rich in vitamins such as B12, biotin and vitamin D and also contain minerals such as phosphorus or zinc. In addition, they contain choline, which is an essential molecule for brain development and the functioning of some organs. That is why the recommendations for balanced diets recommend an intake of up to 7 eggs per week, however, in people with high cholesterol, they should reduce this number from 3 to 4 per week, being able to consume more egg whites. 

Legumes, 2 to 4 servings per week

It is recommended that you incorporate legumes into your regular diet, consuming 2 to 4 servings per week. Legumes provide carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals and other components that make them essential. In addition, there is a wide variety of them (chickpeas, lentils, beans, etc.) and you can cook them in many different ways: cooked, in hummus or added to salads. 

Nuts, source of energy 

Nuts can be considered a healthy snack that provides multiple benefits. Among many of its properties, it should be noted that, although they have a high fat content, these are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, which help reduce “bad” cholesterol levels. In addition, they are rich in fiber (which helps control appetite and regulate intestinal transit), an important source of vegetable protein, they are rich in vitamins such as B1, B3 or folates and they are rich in minerals such as phosphorus, calcium, iron, in addition to have antioxidant properties. It is important to opt for natural nuts, avoiding fried or toasted nuts with added salts, and always controlling the quantity, since they are very caloric. 

Energetic food

Within this group are included the foods that we could consider the “fuel” of our body, since they provide us with energy for our daily activities. They are those that contain carbohydrates and fats and in the food wheel we find them on a yellow background.

Cereals, better integral

Another essential for a balanced diet are cereals, since they contain carbohydrates, proteins, minerals such as calcium, iron and magnesium and vitamins, among which B1, B12 and B2 stand out. Within cereals, there are various ways to manufacture them and, although their daily consumption is recommended, it is important to always favor whole grains or those made with whole grain flour, which are richer in fiber, vitamins and minerals than refined ones.

Sugars, sweets and sugary drinks, consume in a limited way 

In a balanced diet, it is important to limit those foods rich in rapidly absorbed sugars, such as table sugar, since these are quickly transformed into glucose and released into the blood. Although they provide the body with energy very quickly, they are not recommended for people with diabetes and there are more and more medical indications that prefer the consumption of slowly absorbed sugars even if people do not present previous pathologies. In addition, sweets and sugary drinks have been linked to the appearance of being overweight, cavities and other pathologies

Oils and fats, essential but in moderation 

Fats are essential to keep us healthy, since, among other functions, they play an essential role in the formation of membranes, which are part of all our cells. In addition, they provide the body with a high energy level, which is why they must be consumed in moderation and always prioritizing fats of vegetable origin that are not refined, such as virgin olive oil with a high content of omega 3 fatty acids and 6, beneficial for cardiovascular health. Whenever possible, it will be preferable to choose these types of fats over those of animal origin, such as butter. 

Guidelines for a balanced diet in childhood

A balanced diet plays a fundamental role in health at all ages, but also, in the case of children, it is essential for their physical, cognitive and psychomotor development . It has a great weight in terms of being able to prevent on some occasions the risk of developing overweight, obesity or other diseases . In addition to the recommendations for a balanced diet that you have been reading in this article, in the case of children we can include some more:

  • In the case of infants , the World Health Organization recommends that  during the first six months of life they feed exclusively on milk , and that this continue to be supplied, at least, until two years of age. In addition, the Spanish Association of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, among others, recommend breastfeeding, whenever possible, since various studies have shown the existence of antibodies in this milk that formula milk does not contain, helping the correct functioning of the immune system. When you start to supplement your baby’s diet with other foods, it is important to follow the recommendations of the experts and avoid foods high in salt and added sugars. 
  • It is important that children eat breakfast , since studies show that children who do not eat a full breakfast are more likely to suffer from obesity in the future. Making breakfast a habit will be easier if they start taking this habit from a young age. 
  • Do not abuse processed products! Although sugary drinks are the preferred choice for children, it is important to offer other products that are healthier and may seem just as palatable, such as swapping carbonated drinks for kombucha, a fermented tea-based drink that has been shown to be beneficial. for digestive health. 

Nutritional needs of the elderly

In addition to all the tips that we have seen above, following this series of tips can help improve the quality of life and even prevent certain pathologies during old age.

The nutritional requirements of the elderly, in most cases, are characterized by needing a lower energy intake, mainly due to the decrease in physical activity and the loss of muscle mass that occurs at these ages. However, there are other nutrients whose contribution should be emphasized during this stage. Next, we are going to see a couple of them, although there are more recommendations:

  • Minerals: Calcium absorption decreases with age and also in the case of women, menopause favors the loss of bone mass, so it is essential to introduce it into the diet. In addition, some diseases and medications such as diuretics can cause a magnesium deficiency , which increases the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis, among others.
  • Vitamins: There are some common diseases at this age that cause a decrease in vitamin B12 levels , and, in addition, in the case of taking certain medications, its interaction with vitamins can increase the needs of some of them, as is the case with the vitamin C. 

Special needs during pregnancy and lactation

In the development of the fetus, the mother’s diet is very important, as is a healthy lifestyle.

The diet must be adapted to the physical and physiological changes that occur during the 9 months of pregnancy, and be as varied and complete as possible. 

In addition to the recommendations that we have seen throughout the article, it is important to ensure a correct intake of some specific nutrients for this important moment: 

  • Calcium : during pregnancy it is important to increase the intake of calcium since the developing baby also needs it to do so correctly. Calcium can be found in a high concentration in sources such as dark green leafy vegetables like spinach or kale. 
  • Iron : it is essential for the synthesis of hemoglobin, a component of red blood cells that carries oxygen. It is very important that the iron intake is appropriate, and even more so if you are pregnant. When a person does not have adequate levels of iron, he does not synthesize enough red blood cells and his organs and tissues do not receive enough oxygen so they do not function properly.

Some of the foods richest in iron are: lentils, salmon and dried fruits.

  • Folic Acid : It is recommended that women planning pregnancy take a folic acid supplement. Numerous studies have shown that taking it at least one month before conception and during the first 3 months of pregnancy reduces the risk of the baby being born with a neural tube defect, which can lead to spina bifida.

As you have seen in this article, in a balanced diet there are food groups that must be prioritized to lead a healthy life, while others a moderate intake is recommended due to their high content of saturated fat or sugar.

We hope you liked this article and, above all, that it is useful for eating a balanced diet depending on your circumstances.

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