“I’m going to be bad and have a little treat tonight.” How often do we hear sentiments similar to this shared, especially around a celebration, or even the holidays? Is enjoying a dessert actually “bad?”
The answer is no. As a registered dietitian, I’m happy to set the record straight on this one. Learning how to eat a balanced diet includes incorporating the foods we love properly.
What Does a Balanced Diet Look Like?
Our bodies have a variety of needs. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, proteins (dairy is included in this category) and healthy fats are five main categories that help us meet nutrient needs. Eighty percent of the time, the balance of those foods are what helps us feel our best. Getting enough of these “everyday” category foods helps promote steady energy levels, balanced moods, optimal focus and brain health, heart health, endurance/stamina, and overall sets us up to put our “best foot forward.” We want to make sure that we are getting everything our bodies need to function well. What does a balanced diet look like in practice? Let’s say it is taco night tonight! Here are some examples on how to conquer all of the five main categories:
- Vegetables: bell peppers, onions, broccoli, squash
- Fruit: tomatoes, avocado, or a fruit salad on the side
- Whole grains: brown rice, whole-grain taco shells
- Protein: chicken, lean ground beef, black beans
- Dairy: cheese, plain Greek yogurt as a substitute for sour cream.
- Healthy fat add-in: avocados (ends up in two different categories), olive oil when you cook or drizzle over a taco salad
Twenty percent of the time, there is room to enjoy some of those foods that we might not prioritize as everyday foods, but can still impact our quality of life. Enjoying favorites is an important part of wellness and balance, especially relationally when enjoying meals with loved ones. Part of having a healthy relationship with food and learning how to have a balanced diet includes flexibility, variety and choosing foods you like.
So there’s no need to throw away the idea of enjoying your favorite sweets. Instead, consider throwing away the mentality that it’s “bad” to enjoy your foods. Aim to meet your nutrient needs with a variety of veggies, fruits, whole grains, protein and healthy fats, and give yourself a chance to savor the foods that don’t fit into those categories but bring you a little more joy.
A Recipe for Your Balanced Diet
Try this recipe for Dark Chocolate Nut Bark. It’s a little bit of both, offering “everyday” foods including healthy fats from almonds, walnuts and pepitas, and fruit in the form of dried apricots. It also has chocolate, as the name implies. Chocolate does have some antioxidant properties. Even more importantly, it’s a tasty option that a balanced lifestyle can definitely have room for.
All you need:
1 tbsp finely chopped Hy-Vee dried apricots
All you do:
- Toast chopped Hy-Vee walnuts, chopped whole salted almonds and raw pepitas in a 350-degree oven for 5 to 8 minutes.
- Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Chop semisweet chocolate baking squares; melt according to package directions. Spread on parchment to ¼-inch thickness.
- Sprinkle nut mixture and finely chopped Hy-Vee dried apricots on top. Chill 15 minutes or until set. Break into pieces.
Looking for more ideas to satisfy your sweet tooth while providing balance at the same time? Reach out to our team of Hy-Vee Registered Dietitians and schedule a Discovery Session. This is a free, 30-minute session so we can chat about your health and wellness goals, and discuss the best program for you.
*The blog articles, recipes and recommendations found on this site are not intended as medical advice and should not replace consulting with your medical provider. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.