Back to the Basics in Nutrition
Everyone knows that they should eat healthy. Most people have a pretty good idea of what a healthy diet looks like. Every now and then, it’s good to re-evaluate your diet and hit the refresh button, and see what’s going well or what could be… alittle bit better.
Read on for a quick overview and re-evaluate as needed so you stay on track to meet your healthy lifestyle goals and feel your best!
Macronutrients are your proteins, carbohydrates and fats; three necessary life-sustaining nutrients that your body requires to function at it’s best. Your lifestyle and preferences will determine how much of each you should consume, but they will make up the largest amount of nutrients you eat daily.
- Protein: Protein is an essential nutrient for your body. It’s found in all tissues and cells, playing a critical role in a vast number of processes of the body to maintain life (the most well known is building, maintaining, and repairing muscle). Whether you eat meat or are vegetarian, there are many options available. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes, nuts and seeds, and meat alternatives like tofu are good sources of protein. Choose quality over quantity and if you’re eating vegetarian, combine incomplete proteins as well complete proteins to get the essential nutrients.
- Carbohydrates: Carbs get a bad rap, but they are the main source of energy for your body and brain. They provide fuel for your cells to use instead of protein stores, so you maintain your muscle mass. Carbohydrates include grains (choose whole grains vs. refined/processed), fruits and some vegetables (starchy vegetables like potatoes and peas), sugar (limit added sugars), and dairy options. Choosing whole grains will keep you full longer, and won’t cause such a spike in your blood sugar. Many store bought grains have added sugar and other ingredients in them, so check the ingredient list and sugar content.
- Fat: The good news is not all fat is bad for you. In fact, fat is essential for healthy cells, a healthy brain and a healthy heart. It protects vital organs, providing insulation and helps in maintaining your energy reserve. The key here is to choose healthy fats over unhealthy options. Sources of fat include meat, fish, oil, dairy, avocado and nuts and seeds.
- ‘Bad’ fats: saturated and trans fats.
- Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Think fats like coconut and palm oil, butter, lard, cheese, dairy and red meats. Saturated fats increase your LDL (bad cholesterol), thereby negatively impacting heart health, so eat these in moderation or limit as you can based on your cholesterol levels and family history.
- Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat. There are two types of trans fats- naturally occurring (found in small quantities in meats and dairy, and considered safe in moderation) and artificial trans fat, also known as partially hydrogenated oils. Artificial trans fats have been linked to numerous negative health outcomes, and are tied to high levels of inflammation, driving disease development and even cancer. Artificial trans fats or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are found in bakery items, some microwave popcorn brands, fast foods (fried), vegetable shortening, margarine and chips, as well as other common day food items, possibly even that nondairy coffee creamer you used this morning! The best way to avoid artificial trans fats is to read food labels, looking for partially hydrogenated oils listed as an ingredient and limiting processed or fast foods. Avoiding artificial trans fats will provide numerous health benefits and decrease the high levels of inflammation that drive the development of disease.
- Healthy fats: Healthy fats are essential, and help to maintain or boost energy levels, mental clarity and decrease inflammation. Healthy fats include unsaturated fats including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and omega 3 fatty acids. Examples include olive oil, peanut, canola and vegetable oils, fatty fish like salmon, sardines, nuts, seeds and avocados. Choosing unsaturated fats improve heart health, and help to maintain a healthy brain and immune function.
- ‘Bad’ fats: saturated and trans fats.
Micronutrients are another group of nutrients that are essential for proper body function and disease prevention. Micronutrients consist of vitamins and minerals, and almost 30 of them are considered essential, meaning you must consume them in your diet since your body cannot make them (with the exception of vitamin D). Unlike macronutrients, where you need large amounts to meet nutritional requirements, a small but steady amount of micronutrients are required to maintain health. Micronutrients include fat and water soluble vitamins, trace minerals and macrominerals. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, and a balanced diet will help in meeting the daily requirements of micronutrients. Aim to eat fruits and vegetables of all the colors of the rainbow to get the most variety and try to fill half your dinner plate with them.
Whether your diet is on par with your goals or far from it, you absolutely can change it today. A healthy, nutritionally balanced diet will help your body function properly, increase immunity, provide stable energy levels, and prevent disease. As the old saying goes, “One must eat to live, not live to eat”. -Jean Baptiste Poquelin. Will your next meal or snack reflect that?