In order to optimize your health a good diet is essential. But, with all the fad diets around it can be difficult to know what is ‘good’. Nutrition science to the rescue! Though some things are still controversial, numerous studies reinforce the following basic information.
A healthy diet requires not just items from the four basic food groups, but in the proper proportion. The average person will need about 2000-2500 calories (sometimes more for larger men, less for women and those looking for rapid weight loss). About 50% of those calories should come in the form of carbohydrates, with 30% from fats (yes, fat is good!) and 20% from protein.
Carbohydrates are the main source of compounds needed for energy. Simple sugars, such as glucose and fructose, are rapidly broken down in the intestine and absorbed. Some processing starts the minute they hit your tongue. Complex carbohydrates – starches, such as those found in potatoes – take longer, but are also healthy in moderation.
Fats are chemically similar to carbohydrates, and contain fatty acids essential to health. Proteins are lysed (split) to make amino acids, that are then recombined to form proteins used in muscles and other structures.
Meat is a valid and healthy source of protein for almost everyone. About 3 ounces per meal is about right for the average sized person. A cup of pasta is a good source of carbohydrates. Two cups of leafy green vegetables supply fiber, minerals and vitamins.
A balanced meal can be made up of a serving of meat or other protein source, starchy carbohydrates such as pasta, rice, corn or potatoes, and fruit. Easy on the butter or margarine, go light on cheese, sauces and anything high in sugar or fat.
Though you could get the basics from a variety of sources, when considering weight control in addition to getting the proper balance, it’s important to know which sources are high in what.
Fat contains nine calories per gram, which is double than other energy sources. Thus, you need to keep those foods high in fat down to modest levels. That also helps control cholesterol levels.
All sources of carbohydrates have four calories per gram. But healthy sources also contain needed minerals, vitamins and fiber. Some examples are fruits (apples, pears, peaches), nuts (walnuts are lower in fat than peanuts or cashews, for example) and grains (for fiber and minerals).
Why is candy bad, unless consumed in very modest portions? Because they are designed to be high in fat, high in sugar with much lower amounts of helpful nutrients. Neither fat nor sugar are harmful in moderation. Indeed, they’re essential to good health. But when consumed in a form that contains an excessive proportion, they provide enormous calories and fewer other nutrients.
A single Snickers candy bar, for example, contains 63g, with 53g of sugar, but only 2g of fiber. A cup of broccoli, by contrast, has only 6g total, of which 2.5g are fiber, 1.5g are sugars. A cup of sweet corn has 31g total, 21g are starch (complex carbohydrates), 3g of fiber.
Making a list of items you consume will show you the relative amounts of helpful nutrients – and how many calories each contains. Putting a little arithmetic into your diet plan will help you reduce the number you obsess over – your weight.