Balanced Diet A diet that supplies all essential nutrients in the appropriate amounts for optional health throughout the life span. Food should provide VITAMINS, MINERALS, PROTEIN, CARBOHYDRATE, FAT, OILS, and FIBER to meet individual needs. The CALORIES consumed should match the amount used in order to stabilize body weight. Variety characterizes a balanced diet, which emphasizes fresh, minimally processed, or whole foods. Exchange lists, which can be found in some nutrition books, simplify making healthful food choices by supplying a variety of options; for example, among different protein sources. While not specifically a low-fat, low-CHOLESTEROL diet, a balanced diet tends to have less saturated fat, refined carbohydrate and cholesterol. Diseases like CANCER, HYPERTENSION, OSTEOPOROSIS, diabetes, and CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE have reached epidemic proportions and are linked to unbalanced diets. A balanced diet definitely plays a role in preventing these and other chronic diseases. Those who rely on PROCESSED FOOD, high in fat, sugar, salt, and other FOOD ADDITIVES, run the risk of an unbalanced diet. Consumption of such foods increases the need for other foods in the diet that are nutrient dense. However, the temptation is to eat more of the same processed foods, which may also be less nutritious because of the way they were grown, stored, or processed. People who skip meals without replacing them with nutritious snacks, and who choose a weight loss diet, consuming less than 1,500 calories per day, are likely to have inadequate diets. Individuals at an increased risk include low-income, pregnant, or lactating women; lowincome children and teenagers; elderly persons eating alone; and strict VEGETARIANS, who may not consume enough needed nutrients. Pollution and job-related chemical hazards may increase nutrient needs beyond those supplied by the usual diet. Limiting food choices because of income or strict religious or philosophical preference requires planning to assure adequate consumption of all essential nutrients. Replacing EMPTY CALORIES and sugary foods with more nutritious options represents a major challenge in achieving a balanced diet. Variety simplifies the task. Vegetables supply low-fat energy in the form of starch, vitamins, beta-carotene, minerals, and fiber. Dark green leafy vegetables include baking soda CHARD, KALE, and COLLARD, in addition to spinach. The cabbage family encompasses BROCCOLI, BRUSSELS SPROUTS, CAULIFLOWER, and Chinese cabbage. Winter SQUASH, summer squash, and YAMS represent yellow- colored vegetables. Whole grains are also important: WHEAT, CORN, MILLET, RICE, TRITICALE, RYE, and BUCKWHEAT for starch and minerals, vitamins, and fiber. LEGUMES supply fiber and protein: beans and peas, CHICKPEAS, lima beans, and LENTILS. A balanced diet includes low-fat dairy products: low-fat CHEESE, low-fat or skim MILK, YOGURT, KEFIR, and EGGS for protein and CALCIUM. Nuts and seeds provide plant oils: ALMONDS and SUNFLOWER and PUMPKIN seeds. Lean MEATS, POULTRY, FISH, and SHELLFISH provide trace minerals, vitamins, and AMINO ACIDS. A variety of fruits supply VITAMIN C, POTASSIUM, and fiber.