THE BALANCED DIET and the Coronavirus

PEP – Grades 5 and 6

You would have heard about the coronavirus and how this could make persons sick with the influenza disease.  It is very contagious, that is, it spreads easily from person to person and this is the reason you are now on home study instead of going out to school.  You may also have heard that you should reduce your risk to the disease by practicing many health habits such as washing hands frequently. One important health habit to fight the disease is eating a balanced diet.  This means that even if you should become sick, your symptoms might not be as severe as expected and you will recover more quickly.  So you may ask, what is a balanced diet?

This is a good topic to be learning or reviewing at this time since it ties together many of the concepts learnt in food and nutrition up to the Grade 6 level. Important terms to already understand include: Nutrients; food; food groups; multimix meals; snacks; food portions; portion equivalents or exchanges. These are found mainly in your science and mathematics subject matter.

Balance and Diet Defined

For a healthy body, there must be balance in all the functions to give a steady state. The term balance usually refers to weight or an amount of one or more substances that equals the amount of another. The term diet refers to the way persons eat the foods they have available to them, foods they like to eat, know how to use them and the eating patterns in terms of when they eat the foods as meals and snacks. A balanced diet should ensure eating foods that contain the essential nutrients that are good for you. A balanced diet is when the amount of nutrients you take in from food daily is equal to the amount your body needs to function properly. To nourish the body means: Nutrients in = nutrients used daily – see chart under website Resources www.jamaicanutrition.com/members

 Eating a balanced diet

We know that all the essential nutrients we need daily, can be classified into one of six nutrient classes namely, carbohydrates; proteins; fats; minerals; vitamins; water. The problem is that nutrients cannot be seen with the naked eye. You would have learnt that they are chemicals in food that require chemical tests in the laboratory to identify them.  However, these nutrients are found across a variety of foods. No single food has all the nutrients needed so we must mix and match them so that the combinations of foods eaten complement each other. This means that the nutrients missing from one food will be provided from another and vice versa.  

Foods similar to others in the types of nutrients they contain can be grouped together for convenience. These are named food groups: Staple foods; Foods from Animals; Legumes; Vegetables; Fruits; Fats and Oils. The best simplest advice is to be guided by the six Caribbean food groups.  In other words, don’t leave out any food group daily.  Mix and match foods, known as multimixes, so that you get a variety of foods daily from across all the six food groups. What is meant by variety? Most of us could identify with the variety of colours in raw fruits and vegetables such as green, red, yellow, orange or purple. Meals are usually cooked food so we do not readily identify the range of colours. We should try to select the variety of colours by choosing foods of at least five different colours daily from across all the six food groups.  

If we eat only a few foods all the time or from only 2 or 3 groups daily, then we will miss out on the total amounts of some of the nutrients needed and the diet is said to be imbalanced. We should try to select different foods from one day to the next in exchangeable or equivalent amounts, also known as portions and favour those that are richest in the nutrients.  Foods in a single food group can be substituted one for another to get different quantities of the same nutrients or other medicinal substances – see functional foods chart under website Resources www.jamaicanutrition.com/members 

What about special ‘healthy’ or medicinal foods to boost immunity?

One of the main medicinal non-nutrients is dietary fibre.  Fibre is highest in foods eaten in the raw state as with fresh fruits and vegetables. Strong immune function originates in the bowels of the gut.  Adequate fibre taken along with water daily will act as roughage to keep the bowels clear and healthy for a strong immune system. Some vegetables are eaten cooked and form part of the meals but those not present in the main cooked meals could be taken in between meals as snacks. Raw vegetables that are good for snacks are raw tomatoes and carrots. Now that we have an agricultural glut of tomatoes on the market, you can plan to eat two large salad tomatoes for a snack.

Any sweet fruit can usually be eaten raw and some of the skins are even edible e.g. mango, naseberry and guava. Make sure to wash them properly before eating. If you take fruits mostly as juice, you would be missing out on the dietary fibre which is usually strained away. However, fruits and vegetables alone will not provide all the nutrients needed. The food group chart shown on the website will help you understand how to select food from the Caribbean food groups. There are at least 10 different colours among food groups. Visit the website of the Jamaica Island Nutrition Network (JINN) at www.jamaicanutrition.com to learn more about eating healthily and our resources.

RNutr. Patricia Thompson

Executive Director, JINN

Leave a Reply