Nutrition 101- The Basics
If you drove a Ferrari, what kind of gas would you use to fuel it? It’s a no-brainer… you would only use premium for your luxury car. Think of your body as a Ferrari. For optimal health, your body requires “premium gasoline”. The “premium gasoline” for your body includes the foods high in nutrient density and low in energy density such as fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and low fat dairy.
With so much information available to you, I decided to take a step back and provide you with the basics of nutrition. Once you understand nutrition at its most basic level, you will be able to begin to see the perplexities to nutribollocks. Nutrition can be divided into 2 major categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. A macronutrient is an essential nutrient required in relatively large amounts, such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, or water. A micronutrient is an essential nutrient required in relatively small amounts, such as vitamins and minerals. An essential nutrient is a nutrient your body requires to function normally but cannot be synthesized by the body, therefore you must consume these nutrients from foods.
CARBOHYDRATES (~50% of your daily caloric intake)
Despite popular belief, carbs are not the enemy. A carbohydrate is simply a sugar. These sugars are stored in the liver and muscle cells in the form of glycogen, which can then be processed by the body to fuel your day-to-day life! Glucose is the preferred source of fuel for your brain. This is why it is important to have carbohydrate be the dominant source of your fuel in your diet. If you’re a number freak like me, a goal you can aim for is to have ~50% of your calories come from carbohydrate.
Healthy sources of carbohydrates include: fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads, brown rice, oatmeal, or whole grain pasta
FATS (~30% of your diet)
Our bodies use fats for many reasons: to transport, absorb, and store the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K; provide insulation and protection to the vital organs, and fulfill your daily requirement of the essential fatty acids (Omega 3 and Omega 6). You want to aim to have about 30% of your total caloric intake come from healthy fats.
There are the ‘Bad Fats’ that we all need to limit. These include saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats can be consumed in small doses but be careful because in excess they can raise your total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol), which can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fats are found in foods such as red meat, poultry, and full-fat dairy products. This is not to say you should never consume saturated fat, but try to consume more of the healthier fat sources.
Healthy sources of fats include: avocado, eggs, olive oil, nuts, nut butters, or ‘fatty fishes’ such as salmon
PROTEINS (~20% of your diet)
Proteins are found in every component of every cell in your body. Protein has many uses within the body including building and repairing tissues, making enzymes, and synthesizing hormones. Our bodies require 12 essential amino acids (proteins) to maintain the complex functions of building and maintaining muscles, organs, skin, and blood; assisting in energy metabolism and cell processes; and helps defend the body against disease through immune function. Few foods contain all 12 essential amino acids; this means you must make complimentary proteins to make a combination of the 12. You should aim for about 20% of your total caloric intake to come from proteins. One of the most common complimentary protein combinations is rice and beans.
Healthy sources of proteins include: lean meat, dairy, quinoa, buckwheat, chia seeds, soy, and rice + beans
When your mother tells you to eat your fruits and vegetables, listen to her! Vegetables are packed full of essential vitamins and minerals. These are termed ‘micronutrients’ because without them our bodies will not function properly but we only need small amounts of each individual nutrient. Some of the micronutrient functions include boosting the immune system, supporting normal growth and development, and helping cells and organs do their jobs. Micronutrients are found within the macronutrients.
To feel confident that I am consuming all of the essential nutrients, I use this simple guideline: a meal can be considered balanced if you are consuming foods from 3 of the 5 food groups (dairy, fruits, vegetables, protein, and grains) and a snack is balanced if you’re consuming food from 2 of the 5 food groups. I recommend following the USDA’s My Plate as a reference when planning what your plate should look like. See the image below:
Healthy sources of vitamins and minerals include: milk, yogurt, fruits, and green leafy vegetables
“Feel the Rainbow, Taste The Rainbow”
Skittles couldn’t have said it any better. Always strive to eat as colorful and varied diet as possible. Generally, foods of similar colors contain similar nutrients. For example, red meats are very high in Iron and green leafy vegetables are high in Vitamin K. When you have an array of color in the diet, you are fueling your body with a mixture of all of the essential vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, and carbohydrates!
As long as you keep your Ferrari fueled with premium gasoline, you will be well on your way to living your healthiest and happiest life!
As always, please comment or email me your questions and feedback!
Until next time.