There are many different components to eating well. It isn’t just a matter of eating healthy foods, trying a superfood or ticking all the food group boxes each day. You have to get enough of the various nutrients to really be healthy. But it can be hard to tell if you’re getting enough of the nutrients you need. This is only made worse by the everyday things that can rob you of vital nutrients. Are you sure your diet is truly balanced? Here are a few ways to know if it is balanced and what to do if it isn’t.

What Does a Balanced Diet Look Like?

You won’t get a healthy, balanced diet by consuming a lot of the latest superfood. Instead, it means eating enough protein (whether meat, fish or vegetarian sources), complex carbohydrates, healthy fats in moderation, and at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. You should have several servings of oily fish each week to get enough omega 3 fatty acids. The ideal diet provides several servings of dairy each day, though you can get enough calcium from fortified plant milks if you don’t drink dairy milk.

All of this is consumed in three balanced meals each day, though you can snack when you need the extra nutrition. However, you don’t want to eat too many calories. The solution is to eat enough to feel full but not stuffed.

Things That Can Sabotage a Healthy Diet

While you may think you have a healthy balanced diet, other factors may affect the absorption of nutrients and how much of these key nutrients you need. Women need more iron when menstruating or pregnant. Medication like the birth control pill and hormonal changes can affect how well your body absorbs calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. Lifestyle choices like drinking coffee can alter the way the body processes nutrients.

Health problems like irritable bowel syndrome interfere with the absorption of certain minerals, namely calcium and iron. The amount of stress you have to deal with on a daily basis can also have an effect on nutrient absorption. Chronic stress can be due to your environment, but the degree to which it drains you could be made worse from a lack of proper nutrients in your system. You can mitigate this by using substances known as adaptogens.

But you may be wondering what are adaptogens and why they’re important? Adaptogens, or adaptogenic substances, are plants that help your body adapt to stress and return to a balanced state when it is out of whack. You’ve probably already had adaptogens before without knowing it when a friend gave you a cup of ginseng tea. Or you could see the benefits by eating Thai holy basil chicken, since holy basil is an adaptogenic herb.

Warning Signs You Aren’t Eating a Balanced Diet

A common warning sign of an unbalanced diet is fatigue. This is often due to iron deficiency, and it can happen despite a healthy diet, since the iron in plant-based sources isn’t absorbed as easily. A lack of complex carbohydrates can cause fatigue, too. If you’re both tired and cold, then the likely culprit is a lack of iodine in your diet; the alternative is thyroid problems.

A chronic mental fog could be due to a lack of sleep, but if it is constant or occurring throughout the day, it is more likely due to a lack of B12. Chronic irritability may be written off as fatigue, but if it regularly lasts a long time, you may have a deficit of B6. B6 is used by the body to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates your mood.

Thinning hair can indicate a dietary deficiency. It may represent a lack of iron, vitamin D, biotin or protein. Ironically, it can be because you’re consuming too much vitamin A as well. Brittle hair can be traced to the same nutritional deficiencies.

Eating a proper serving size of various foods at each meal can help you get a balanced diet. However, we need to listen to our bodies to determine if we’re falling short of any critical nutrients and take action as necessary.

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