When we talk about healthy eating, we usually start with an understanding of basic nutrition—the science of eating healthy. If you take the time to educate yourself about nutrients and how they work in your body, you will go a long way toward knowing what it takes to be healthy.
The important six
There are six general categories of nutrients that make up a healthy diet. The first three categories—Carbohydrates, Fats and Protein—provide energy. In other words, they have calories! In fact Carbs and Protein provide 4 calories per gram, and Fats provide more than twice as much energy at 9 calories per gram.
With so many people focused on being thin, thanks to some very skinny role models, calorie has become a bad word. We do need energy (another word for calories) to survive, however, so a nutrition plan that includes eating these three types of energy nutrients, in moderate and appropriate amounts, is vital to good health. In addition, each of these nutrients has other necessary functions in the body.
The other categories—Vitamins, Minerals and Water—do not provide any calories. That means when you take your multi-vitamin and mineral tablet and wash it down with water, you have not added to your calorie total for the day. Instead of providing energy, these nutrients are required for most of the processes that are constantly going on in your body.
A long-term deficiency in any one of them would have an effect on how you feel and how healthy you are.
One more thing
There is one important dietary essential that is not usually listed as a separate nutrient, but in recent years, it has taken on a new importance. With the evolution of our food supply, to more processed food, the need for a sufficient amount of fiber in the diet has become of major importance. You need to know that a lack of fiber in the diet is associated with an increased risk of colon cancer and other illness.
Variety is the key
Any solid nutrition plan should include a variety of nutrient-dense foods in order to make sure your diet encompasses all of the above-listed categories. If you eat the same foods day after day, especially processed foods or empty calories, you could be missing out on essential nutrients. Keep in mind that any one nutrition category is not more necessary than another, since they all work together to keep you healthy. Fad diets that eliminate any one category of nutrients are also ill-advised if you wish to maintain good health over the long run.
If you are looking for a more specific nutrition plan, here are some guidelines that you can implement on a daily basis.
--Eat a variety of mostly fresh, whole foods.
--At each meal, make sure that you include all or most of the nutrient groups.
--Limit overly processed foods and “fast foods.”
--Focus on colorful fruits and vegetables at each meal since they provide an abundance of good carbs, vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients.
--Drink filtered water as your main beverage.
--Eat 40-50 percent good carbs, 20-30 percent lean proteins and 20-30 percent healthy fats.
--Eat appropriate calorie amounts for your age, gender and activity level. This is generally between 1800 and 3,000 calories a day. There are a number of ways to determine your calorie needs and the subject is somewhat controversial, but over time you will know if you are eating too few or too many calories. If your weight is pretty constant, you are eating the correct number of calories to maintain that weight.
--Eat more plant proteins, such as beans to supplement your lean meat and dairy protein.
--Limit or avoid foods with added sugar, choosing foods that are naturally sweet to satisfy your sweet tooth, and for a treat, choose dark chocolate, with at least 70 percent cocoa.
--Eat whole grains and avoid or limit highly processed white flour products and other overly processed grains.
--Skip foods with high fructose corn syrup, which, despite the propaganda from the Corn Growers Lobby that you’ve heard, is not a real food and may lead to a fatty liver and obesity.
--Choose healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds and avoid the trans-fats found in margarine and other products that list “hydrogenated oil” on their label.
--Eat salmon, sardines, flax seed, hemp seed, chia seed, and Omega-3 eggs to get enough Omega-3 fats.
--Include 35-40 grams of fiber in your diet each day. If you focus on eating fruits and vegetables, you will get plenty of fiber.
I hope you will take this nutrition plan and begin your journey toward a healthy eating lifestyle!