By Caroline Young Bearden, MS, RD, LD, RYT
When you google “fad diet,” the explanation you read goes something like this: A diet aimed at losing weight quickly by following an imbalanced diet. And it’s true – all fad diets share at least one characteristic: imbalance.
Paleo, Whole 30, Low-carb … the list goes on. Fad diets typically exclude some nutrient(s) or major food group and are, therefore, an imbalanced way of eating.
Then, what is balanced nutrition?
A balanced diet includes a variety of foods, which means it has foods from all food groups, including protein, grains, dairy, and fruits and vegetables.
However, a balanced diet is also about flavor, community, fun and pleasure. For example, going out for ice cream with your family sometimes but never having any ice cream is not balance. Traveling to a foreign country or different state, and not trying the local cuisine because it doesn’t fit the diet plan, is also not balance.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a balanced diet includes a variety of protein foods, including seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts, seed and soy products. Proteins are considered the building blocks of the body and are essential for healthy bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. Protein foods also provide the body with essential B vitamins and other nutrients that play key roles in your health, such as increasing energy and lowering depression risk. You can learn more about why you need protein here.
Plus, scientific research suggests but doesn’t prove eating 1.5 ounces of peanuts per day as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. The Dietary Guidelines recommend replacing some animal proteins with plant-based proteins (like peanuts, other nuts and seeds).
Along with protein, eating plant-based foods like peanuts, also provide good fats, or unsaturated fats. Eating more unsaturated fats (in plant-based proteins like peanuts, avocados and olive oil) than saturated fats (in animal proteins) can lower the risk of heart disease and improve healthy (HDL) cholesterol levels. Dietary fats are also essential for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), which are essential for optimal health, including dental, skin and blood health.
And grains are another essential part of a balanced diet and they include foods like oats, pasta, rice and bread. Shoot to eat at least half of your grains from whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat pasta and farro, which are full of fiber that can help lower the risk of heart disease when eaten as part of a healthy diet. The fiber found in whole grains may also help with constipation and keep you feeling fuller longer. And if you’re pregnant or preparing for pregnancy, remember that many grain products are fortified with folate, which helps prevent neural tube defects in the fetus.
Of course, all fruits, along with vegetables from each subgroup, including dark green, red and orange, starchy and legumes are recommended in a healthy, balanced diet. Fruits and veggies, as part of an otherwise balanced diet, may reduce risk of heart disease and certain cancers. They contain essential nutrients like fiber, which can help reduce risk of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. They also contain potassium, which can help to lower blood pressure, and help reduce kidney stone risk and bone loss. Learn about fun and delicious ways to cook your veggies here.
Plus, a balanced diet includes dairy like milk, yogurt and cheese. Dairy is important for building and maintaining strong bones, and it is linked to a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, and lowered blood pressure in adults. 
Balancing nutrition & pleasure
Indeed, nutritious foods (like the ones mentioned above) are essential for disease prevention and for supporting an energized, healthy body and mind. Severe food restriction can actually lead to overeating out of deprivation, as well as social isolation. It can also lead to full-blown eating disorders like orthorexia, which is defined as a “fixation on righteous eating,” or an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. 
Instead of following unsustainable and potentially dangerous fad diets, you can strike a balance between the two. Releasing any rigidity (typically created when following fad diets) will help free space in your mind and life for other important areas of life, like relationships, work, hobbies and leisure activities. By nourishing your body (and mind) with nutrient-dense foods most of the time and allowing space for treats mindfully, you can eat in a way that is healthy physically, and also mentally and emotionally.
Learn more about mindful and intuitive eating here.
Learn the definition of normal eating here.
 Vitamin B12. National Institutes of Health – Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/. Updated February 11, 2016. Accessed July 18, 2017.
 Choose Foods and Beverages with Less Saturated Fat, Sodium and Added Sugars. Choose MyPlate. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/saturated-unsaturated-and-trans-fats. Accessed July 18, 2017.
 A Closer Look Inside Healthy Eating Patterns. Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/a-closer-look-inside-healthy-eating-patterns/#callout-meat-poultry-heading. Accessed July 18, 2017.
 Why is it important to eat grains, especially whole grains? Choose My Plate. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/grains-nutrients-health. Updated June 12, 2015. Accessed July 18, 2017.
 Why is it important to eat vegetables? Choose My Plate. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/vegetables-nutrients-health. Updated Jan 12, 2016. Accessed July 18, 2017.
 Dairy nutrients and health benefits. Choose My Plate. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/dairy-nutrients-health. Updated June 26, 2015. Accessed July 18, 2017.
 Key Recommendations: Components of Healthy Eating Patterns. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/key-recommendations/. Accessed July 18, 2017.
 Karin, Katrina. Orthorexia Nervosa. National Eating Disorders.org. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/orthorexia-nervosa. Accessed July 18, 2017.