A Balanced Diet

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A balanced diet is one that provides an adequate intake of energy and nutrients for maintenance of the body and therefore good health. A diet can easily be adequate for normal bodily functioning, yet may not be a balanced diet. An ideal human diet contains fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, water and fibre all in correct proportions. These proportions vary for each individual because everyone has different metabolic rates and levels of activity.

Malnutrition results from an unbalanced diet, this can be due to an excess of some dietary components and lack of other components, not just a complete lack of food. Too much of one component can be as much harm to the body as too little. Deficiency diseases occur when there is a lack of a specific nutrient, although some diet related disorders are a result of eating an excess.

An adequate diet provides sufficient energy for the performance of metabolic work, although the energy food is in an unspecified form. A balanced diet provides all dietary requirements in the correct proportions. Ideally this would be 1/7 fat, 1/7 protein and 5/7 carbohydrate.

Energy is provided by carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Proteins are a provider of energy in an emergency, but are primarily used as building blocks for growth and repair of many body tissues. These energy providing compounds are needed in large quantities in our diet so are described as macronutrients.

We also need much smaller amounts of other nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. Because much smaller quantities are needed for a balanced diet these are known as micronutrients. Despite the small quantities needed these are essential to provide a healthy diet as they have specific roles in metabolic reactions and as structural components.

Within the cells of our body, the nutrients ingested are converted to other compounds which are then used for metabolism and other cellular reactions. Starch, a major carbohydrate is converted to glucose which can be then synthesised into fat for storage, proteins are synthesised from amino acids, and phospholipids are made from glycerol and fatty acids. However there are some organic compounds which despite being essential for a healthy diet cannot be made by cells so must be provided by diet. These are essential amino acids, essential fatty acids and vitamins.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are a rapid source of energy, they are the body's fuel. The bulk of a balanced diet should be made from carbohydrates. If eaten in an excess of the dietary requirements carbohydrates are easily stored as fats in the cells, although carbohydrate is the first source of energy in the body.

An average adult requires about 12,000kJ of energy a day, most of this is supplied by the respiration of carbohydrates in the cells.

Carbohydrates are used principally as a respiratory substrates, i.e. to be oxidised to release energy for active transport, macromolecule synthesis, cell division and muscle contraction. Carbohydrates are digested in the duodenum and ileum and absorbed as glucose into cells.

Sources of carbohydrates such as starch are rice, potatoes, wheat and other cereals. Sugars are also carbohydrates, sources of sugars are refined sugar - sucrose, which is a food sweetener and preservative and fruit sugars - fructose.

If the diet lacks carbohydrate stores of fat are mobilised and used as an energy source.

Lipids

Lipids are a rich source of energy in the diet, they can be greatly reduced in metabolic reactions and therefore release much energy. They are easily stored in the body and can form a layer beneath the skin of adipose tissue. As lipids are such a rich source of energy they are often not needed for respiration if there are adequate quantities of carbohydrate for the energy output of the body.

Meat and animal products are rich in saturated fats and cholesterol, plant oils are rich in unsaturated fats.

As lipids are digested in the intestine into...
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