Eating a balanced Nigerian diet nowadays is probably not as easy as it once was. The dramatic rise in fast-food outlets, and the increased availability of high-fat and high-sugar junk food means that many of us have diets that are less than ideal.  Many of us need to re-educate ourselves on what healthy eating is, and on how to use this knowledge to develop diets that contains the right balance of healthy foods.

To eat a nutritionally balanced Nigerian diet, you need to eat the right kinds of foods in adequate proportions. But, what are the right kind of foods and what are the right proportions? Let’s figure it out!

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You can eat a diet that provides the right amount of food, but if it is not providing you the correct amount of nutrients, you will not be benefitting much from it. You should therefore focus on ensuring that your diet is nutritionally balanced, rather than merely balanced.

What is a nutritionally balanced diet?

A nutritionally balanced diet is one that provides the correct amount of macro- and micronutrients in optimum proportions. Macronutrients consist of carbohydrates, protein and fat, while micronutrients consist of vitamins, phytochemicals and minerals. Eating a nutritionally balanced diet ensures that you maintain a healthy weight, have enough energy, and a strong immune system to fight off disease.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for your body. You can get them mainly from starches, fruits, vegetables, sugar, honey, and sweets. Unfortunately, the media and the food industry have brainwashed many people into eating lots of sweetened and refined foods.

When you eat food that contains refined sugar, white grains and/or flours, you get a short burst of energy. But, soon after eating, you may start to feel hungry and tired again. This is because these foods lack fibre, which provides a sense of fullness after eating. They also lack essential vitamins and minerals that nourish the body. In essence, you don’t get any nutritional benefit from eating them. You’re better off avoiding these foods since they can increase your risk of developing conditions like obesity and type II diabetes.

You should eat whole, unrefined carbohydrates from starches, legumes (beans and lentils), fruits and vegetables. Carbohydrates should make up about 66% of your meals for the day. On a daily basis, you should aim to eat:

Type of CarbohydrateFood SourcesServing Size
StarchesWhole grain varieties of Rice, Millet, Oats, Sorghum, Fonio (Acha), Cassava, Yam, Quinoa, Buckwheat, Plantain.Three Servings per day. One serving is 45g - 60g of the uncooked starch.
VegetablesGreen leafy vegetables like Ugu (Fluted pumpkin), Soko (Lagos spinach), Ewedu, Efo riro, Ukazi, Spinach, Broccoli, Green beans

Root Vegetables: Sweet potato, Parsnip, Beetroot, Carrots
Three servings per day. One serving is 180g of the uncooked green, leafy vegetable.

Three servings per day. One serving is 45g-60g of the uncooked root vegetable.
FruitsBananas, Watermelons, Oranges, Tangerines, Apples, Pears, Sour sop, Agbalumo and PineapplesThree servings per day. One serving is one small fruit or 150g.

Please note that a serving size depends on your weight, age, and level of activity.  To ensure you’re eating the right amount of food, it may be a good idea to buy a good quality kitchen scale or invest in a portion control plate until you can accurately estimate portion sizes by eye.

Shop Konga for portion control plate and kitchen scales

Protein

You need protein for tissue repair, to make hormones and enzymes, and antibodies to fight infections. Proteins are made up of amino acids, and it is the amino acids in proteins that your body really needs to thrive. Your body can make some of these amino acids (known as non-essential amino acids), but you need to get the others your body can’t make (essential amino acids) through diet.

Plants make all of the essential amino acids you need to stay healthy. The animals that you eat to get essential amino acid, also need to eat plants to make them. Therefore, you don’t necessarily need to eat animals to get essential amino acids, you can get them directly from plants.

Plants are often a better source of protein than animals. This is because animal protein produces a lot of acidity in the body that can lead to excessive loss of calcium. It is for this reason that those who eat a lot of animal protein have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis (weak bones) later in life. Plant proteins on the other hand are more alkaline, and they can help to preserve minerals (especially calcium), thereby keeping your bones strong and healthy.

Proteins should make up 10-15% of your daily meals. To get enough protein, you should aim to eat two servings of a plant-based protein per day or one small serving of an animal protein.

Type of ProteinFood SourcesServing Size
Legumes - Beans and Lentils Brown beans, Black-eye beans, Aduki beans, Kidney beans, Chickpeas, Mung beans, LentilsTwo Servings per day. One serving is 150g - 180g of the cooked legume.
Animal ProteinRed meat including Beef, Venison, Lamb, Pork.
Poultry including Chicken, Duck, Turkey

Seafood - Fish, Mussels, Squid
One small serving per day - 75g of uncooked red meat or poultry.

Two small servings of fish per week. One small serving is 75g of uncooked fish. One serving should be oily fish like mackerel (titus) or salmon.
EggsChicken eggs, quail eggs, duck eggs.One serving per day. One serving is two small eggs.

Please note that a serving size depends on your weight, age, and level of activity.  To ensure you’re eating the right amount of food, it may be a good idea to buy a good quality kitchen scale or invest in a portion control plate until you can accurately estimate portion sizes by eye.

Shop Konga for portion control plate and kitchen scales

Fat

You need some fat in your diet to allow you properly absorb the fat-soluble vitamins that include, Vitamin A, D and E. Fat is also important in your diet because it lines the membranes of the cells in your body and it provides insulation. However, all fat is not created equal. Some fats pose a real danger to your health, while others promote health.

Saturated fatty acids, hydrogenated fatty acids and trans fats commonly found in meat products, dairy products, magarine, pastries, and biscuits are detrimental to health. Unsaturated and polyunsaturated commonly found in olive oil, nuts and seeds are beneficial to health.

The essential fatty acids, Omega-3 and Omega-6 promote proper brain functioning, growth and healthy skin. If you are deficient in these fatty acids, you may experience dry skin and hair. Omega-3 fatty acids are present in avocados, walnuts, peanuts, almonds, and flaxseeds (linseeds). They are also present in oil-rich fish like sardines, pilchards, salmon, trout, herring, and mackerel. Omega-6 fatty acids are present in eggs, nuts and seeds.

There is such no thing as a fat deficiency and there is no illness that results from being deficient in fat. However, it is very important that you get enough essential fatty acids from your diet. You should aim to eat between 2-5g of essential fatty acids per day.

Type of FatFood SourcesServing Size
UnsaturatedOlive oil, Walnut oil One tablespoon (15g) of cold pressed oil per day.
PolyunsaturatedNuts like Cashews, Almonds, Hazelnuts, Walnuts, Macadamia

Seeds like Flaxseeds, Sesame (Bene seed) seeds, Pumpkin seeds, Sunflower seeds
25g of nuts or 25g of seeds or one tablespoon of ground seeds.

If you eat oily fish regularly or take cod liver oil, you should be getting enough essential fats in your diet.

Shop Jumia for cod liver oil

Fibre

Fibre is a very important component of the diet because it promotes digestive health. It also helps to reduce your risk of bowel conditions like appendicitis and bowel cancer.

Fruits, vegetables, and legumes are excellent sources of fibre and you should aim to eat them on a regular basis. You can also take a fibre supplement to boost your fibre intake.  Aim to eat at least 25g of fibre per day.

Shop Jumia for psyllium husks.

Vitamins and Minerals

You need a much smaller amount of vitamins and minerals than you do fats, carbohydrates and fats. That is the main reason they are called micronutrients.

You need vitamins and minerals to boost your immune system, produce energy, keep your skin, hair and nails healthy, balance your hormones and for a plethora of other functions. Some of the functions of the  key vitamins and minerals include the following:

  • Vitamin A: A potent antioxidant that reduces cell damage and toxicity. It also promotes healthy vision, skin, and nails.
  • B Vitamins: Important for converting food into energy, producing brain chemicals that regulate mood and for regulating blood glucose levels.
  • Vitamin C: A potent antioxidant that protects against free radical damage, promotes collagen formation, helps with the absorption of iron, protects the cardiovascular system and combats the effects of stress on the body.
  • Vitamin D: Promotes the uptake of calcium and phosphorus, and the transfer of calcium into the bones;
  • Vitamin E: A potent antioxidant that works in concert with vitamin C to protect the body from cellular damage, and protects against premature ageing. Vitamin E is also promotes reproductive health.
  • Folate: Important for the production of red blood cells, and for maintaining a healthy nervous system. It is particularly important during pregnancy to prevent spina bifida in babies.
  • Vitamin K: Necessary to promote healthy blood clotting after injuries.
  • Calcium: Provides structure and strength to the skeletal system. It also helps to maintain normal blood pressure
  • Chromium: Helps to maintain normal blood glucose and cholesterol levels.
  • Iodine: Helps to maintain a normal basal metabolic rate.
  • Iron: Important for oxygen transport around the body, and keeping immune system healthy.
  • Potassium: Helps to control water balance, and plays a role in regulating blood pressure.
  • Selenium: A powerful antioxidant that helps to protect against cancer.
  • Zinc: Maintains a healthy immune and reproductive system.

Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals like antioxidants. Nuts, seeds and legumes are also good sources of minerals. To get an adequate amount of these micronutrients, eat:

Micronutrient typeFood sources Serving Size
VitaminsDark green leafy vegetables such as Ukazi, Waterleaf, Green, Soko, Ewedu, Spinach, Kale, Cabbage.

Fresh fruits such as Apples, Bananas, Oranges, Pineapples, Watermelon, Guava.

Nuts such as Peanuts, Cashews, Almonds, Hazelnut.

Seeds such as Sunflower seeds, Flaxseeds, Pumpkin seeds, Melon seeds.
Three servings per day.
MineralsDark green leafy vegetables such as Ukazi, Waterleaf, Green, Soko, Ewedu, Spinach, Kale, Cabbage.

Legumes/pulses such as lentils, beans and whole grains.

Dairy products such as Milk, Cheese and Yoghurt
At least one serving per day.

If you’re unable to eat a varied diet, it may be a good idea to take a good quality multivitamin supplement.

Shop Konga for a good quality multivitamin supplement like WellWoman or WellMan.

Water

Last, but not least, you must drink at least 1.5 litres or 6 glasses of water daily. You need water to flush out toxins from your body, to help the digestion process and to keep you well hydrated. Fruit teas also count towards your water intake.

Limit the amount of coffees and caffeinated teas you drink because they are dehydrating.

Sample 7 Day Menu: Balanced Nigerian diet

I’m pretty sure by this point, you want to see what a sample menu of a balanced Nigerian diet should look like. If that’s the case, you’re in luck!

DayBreakfastLunch DinnerSnacks
Monday50g Oats
150ml Plant or Cow's Milk
1 Tablespoon Flaxseeds
1 Medium Apple
50g Sweet Potatoes; boiled
150g Kidney beans
150g Green leafy vegetable
50g Wholegrain Rice
75g Steamed fish
150g Steamed Broccoli
25g Cashews
½ small Cucumber
50g Cherry Tomatoes
Tuesday2 Slices Wholegrain Bread
1 boiled egg
150g Watermelon
50g Boiled Yam
150g Spinach or Green cooked in 1 tablespoon of olive oil
80g Peas
50g baked plantain
150g Kidney beans
150g Soko
25g Almonds
1 small banana
1 small pot of yoghurt
Wednesday 50g Oats
150ml Plant or Cow's Milk
1 Tablespoon Flaxseeds
1 Medium Orange
Quinoa salad
50g Quinoa
75g Chickpeas
50g Cucumbers
50g Cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
50g Fonio (Acha)
75g Brown beans
150g Green beans
150g pineapple
1 small pot of unsweetened yoghurt
Thursday2 Slices Wholegrain Bread
1 poached egg
150g Paw paw (Papaya)
50g Oatmeal flour
Egusi (melon seed) soup made with 25g of egusi seeds and 150g of leafy vegetable of choice.
50g Wholegrain Rice
75g Chicken - Grilled, Steamed or Baked
150g Mixed Vegetables (Carrots, Green beans, Broccoli, Cauliflower)
25g Peanuts
½ a small sour sop (graviola)
Friday150ml Plant or Cow's Milk
1 Tablespoon Flaxseeds
1 small Pear
75g Bulgur Wheat
½ small avocado
1 Red bell pepper
150g Green leafy vegetable
75g Chicken
75g Millet
150g Green leafy vegetables
75g Butter beans or beans of choice
100g grapes
1 small pot of yoghurt
Saturday75g beans (make into akara or moi moi, don't cook in excess oil)
Small serving of ogi/pap
50g coconut
50g Whole grain Rice
150g Tofu
150g Cauliflower
100g Mushrooms
75g Pasta
150g Spinach
75g Chicken
25g Almonds
1 small banana
1 small pot of yoghurt
SundayMeal of ChoiceMeal of ChoiceMeal of ChoiceMeal of Choice

Shop Jumia for good quality food items listed in the sample food menu

There you have it, a healthy, balanced Nigerian diet! I hope you have a better understanding of what a nutritionally balanced diet is. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us via email or the contact form.

 

 

Author

UK qualified PhD Scientist & Nutritionist with a passion for plant-based nutrition and wellness. Midas Naturals' goal is to provide quality health information that enhances and promotes the wellbeing of Nigerians & Africans.

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