Unlocking the Power of ‘My Plate for the Day’- A Guide to Balanced Nutrition!

The estimates show that 56.4% of total ailments burden in India is due to unhealthy diets. Adopting a healthy diet and engaging in physical activity can significantly lower the risk of CHD, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes by up to 80%. Adopting a healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce premature mortality.Increased intake of processed meals heavy in sugars and fats, combined with decreased physical activity and limited access to different foods, contributes to micronutrient deficiencies and obesity. Research shows that unhealthy, processed, high-fat, sugar, and salt (HFSS) meals are now more affordable and accessible than healthier options.

According to the ICMR-NIN’s ‘My Plate for the Day’, it is suggested to consume macronutrients and micronutrients from at least eight food groups. Vegetables, fruits, green leafy vegetables, roots, and tubers account for around half of the required daily intake.  The plate displays the proportion of meals from various food groups needed for a 2000 Kcal Indian diet. 

What is a nutritious diet, and why do we need one?

 A well-balanced diet contains appropriate calories, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. 

  • A well-balanced diet provides necessary nutrients. It contains numerous nutrients that support multiple bodily activities. 
  • A balanced diet requires a variety of foods, as no single food contains all vital nutrients.
  • A well-balanced diet is essential for healthy growth and development, including brain and immunological function. 
  • Proper nutrient intake requires a diverse range of foods from several food groups. Eating a variety of healthful foods is essential for achieving nutrient sufficiency. 
  • Physical activity promotes proper nutrition utilization from a balanced diet. 
  • Sunlight exposure is suggested to obtain vitamin D.

What constitutes a healthy eating habit?

  • Include non-starchy fresh and green leafy vegetables in every meals. Consume at least 30 grams of fruits in each meal.
  • Consume at least 50% whole grains (minimally polished) for appropriate nutrients and fiber. 
  • Supplement cereal or millet-based diets with adequate pulses or beans for quality protein and fiber.
  • Consuming enough quantities of nuts, oilseeds, fatty fish and restricting cooking oils to 25g to 30g per day. . Limiting meal frequency to two or three times per day.
  • Limit intake of ultra-processed and high-fat, sugar, and salt (HFSS) foods.
  • Avoiding or limiting sugar intake to 20 to 25 grams per day (adults).
  • Avoiding eating in between meals and drinking healthful beverages.

Processed foods, including snacks, savouries, soups, sauces, ketchup, salted butter, cheese, tinned foods, papads, and salted dried fish, as well as salted nuts and dry fruits, can lead to increased salt intake. Preserved meats and vegetables, as well as ready-to-eat foods, are high in sodium. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), baking powder (a combination of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate), and monosodium glutamate are additional sources of sodium. Hence their consumption should be limited.

What is the need for extra nutrients during pregnancy and nursing, and what is 1000-day nutrition?

 The first 1000 days refer to the time from conception to birth (270 days) and from birth to the child’s second birthday (365+365 days). The first 1000 days of a child’s life significantly impact their future development. Pregnant women who eat a balanced diet and obtain appropriate weight (10-12 kg) have a higher chance of having healthy babies with appropriate birth weight and organ development. These newborns are also less likely to experience ailments, morbidity, and fatalities. Infant nutrition is crucial throughout the first two years after birth, as their organs, including the brain, are still evolving.

How much weight gain is recommended while pregnant?

 Pregnant women with a normal BMI (18.5-23 kg/m) at pregnancy ought to strive for at least 10-12 kg. Underweight women (BMI <18.5 kg/m) should increase their nutritional intake and have their weight gain constantly monitored by ICDS or healthcare institutions. Overweight women (BMI 23-27.5 kg/m) and obese women (BMI >27.5 kg/m) should limit their weight increase to 5-9 kg. 

What is complementary feeding?

 Breast milk is insufficient for a baby’s growth and development after six months. Breastfed infants aged 6 to 12 months should receive semisolid foods in addition to breast milk.

Milk consumption is recommended for older children and adolescents to meet calcium and protein needs. Protein-rich options include Bengal gram, tofu, and paneer. Consume nutrient-dense foods like nuts, oilseeds, and marine fish for high-quality lipids, proteins, vitamins, and minerals on a regular basis. 

Consume health-promoting foods, such as fenugreek, amaranth, flax, chia, and basil seeds, three to four times per week. Fresh vegetables and fruits are rich in vitamins, phytonutrients, bioactive compounds, and fiber. Adequate diet of minerals, vitamins, complex carbs, and fiber promotes overall health. Vegetables (<20 Kcal/100g raw) and fruits (<60 Kcal/100g) have low calorie content. However, some roots and tubers, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, tapioca, and yam (70-100 Kcal/100g raw), as well as fruits like banana, are high in starch and give a significant amount of energy. Leafy vegetables provide carotenoids, iron, folate, calcium, and other essential nutrients. Prebiotics found in vegetables and fruits improve microbiota diversity and overall health.

  • Iron is important for producing hemoglobin, the red pigment found in red blood cells. Hemoglobin helps carry oxygen to tissues.
  • Carotenoids, precursors of vitamin A, are found in green, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables, including green leafy vegetables, carrots, tomatoes, capsicum, orange meat, sweet potatoes, papaya, and mango.
  • Vitamin C is abundant in fresh citrus fruits, guava, amla, and various vegetables, including tomatoes. 
  • Green leafy vegetables are high in folates, also known as folic acid. This B vitamin is crucial for the growth and maturation of red blood cells, and a lack of it can cause anemia. 
  • All fats in foods have a combination of three types of fatty acids (SFA, MUFA, and PUFA), known as the ‘building blocks’ of fat. Fatty acids are the main components of all dietary lipids.

How much protein do we need? 

  • Healthy Living men and women have an estimated average need (EAR) of 0.66g of protein per kg/day.
  • The RDA for protein intake is 0.83g/kg/day for healthy men and women, which meets the needs of 97.5% of the population. 
  • A individual weighing 65kg should consume 43g or 54g of protein per day, regardless of physical activity or gender. Regular physical activity, yoga, and moderate-intensity exercise are suggested for overall health and wellbeing.Maintaining desired body weight, muscle strength, bone health, joint flexibility, and proper body mass composition is crucial for overall health.
  • Regular physical activity, including yoga and exercise, lowers the risk of non-communicable chronic diseases.

Diversified meals with pulses, cereals, fruits, and vegetables promote optimum health. However, not everyone consumes every variety. Families can choose approved items and alternate options if needed. For instance, some legumes, such as rajma, require a longer cooking time, making it impractical to cook only a few seeds for the infant/young child. When preparing these foods, the family should ensure that the child receives the recommended amount.



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