The nutrients found in food can be divided into two classes: macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fat, and water) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). In order for your body to feel healthy and energized, and to function at its best, it's important to make smart decisions about the types of food you eat. The rest of this section will explain the basics of several nutrients and remember, consult your doctor before starting any diet and exercise program.
Your body requires a specific amount of calories every day for your body to function properly. Individuals with active lifestyles require more calories in their diet than those with sedentary lifestyles. If your energy intake consistently exceeds your energy output, you will begin to notice a change in weight. For every 3500 calories consumed beyond the energy needs of your body, you may gain 1 pound of fat. On the other hand, creating a deficit of 3500 calories can result in the loss of 1 pound. To put this in perspective, cutting out a mere 250 calories a day could amount to a weight loss of 26 pounds in just one year!
| ||Protein, which is composed of building blocks called amino acids, performs a number of functions in our body. Protein helps: |
- Build and maintain healthy muscles when combined with diet and exercise
- Support red blood cell production
- Boost your immune system
- Keep your hair, fingernails, and skin healthy
Protein is an extremely important macronutrient and should be eaten frequently throughout the day. High-quality sources of protein include whey protein, red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, yogurt, and cheese. To support and help increase your protein intake, add the protein shakes/bars to your diet and exercise plan.
Carbohydrates are the body's primary source of energy, especially in low-fat diets. They're a great source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and are split into two categories, complex and simple carbohydrates. Choose a variety of foods ranging from fruits and vegetables to whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread and whole-grain cereals.
In addition, try to select foods made with little fat or sugar, such as pasta, lentils, and beans. Baked goods such as cakes, cookies, croissants, and pastries are carbohydrates as well, but most of the original fiber is removed during processing. Try to limit your intake of these types as much as possible.
The two main types of fat are saturated and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats maintain a solid state at room temperature (like lard) and are generally considered to be associated with various health problems. On the other hand, unsaturated fats maintain a liquid state at room temperature (like olive oil) and have positive effects on the body's health. Due to these effects, you should try to eat oil-rich fish, nuts, and seeds more often, while limiting your intake of saturated fats like non-dairy creamers, high-fat meats, french fries, and pastries.
Another fat found in our diets that needs to be controlled is hydrogenated fat/trans fats. To counter its effects, enjoy a diet full of essential fatty acids (EFAs). Natural sources of EFAs include cold-water fish, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and other supplemental sources such as flaxseed, canola, or fish oil.
Dietary fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate that passes through our system without absorption. Our bodies lack the enzymes to break down the various types of fiber into a form that can be absorbed into the blood. Two main classes of fiber in our diet are soluble and insoluble types.
Soluble fiber is found in fruits, legumes, oats, and rye among other foods. This fiber combines with water to form a gel in our intestinal tracts, which softens our stools and slows the rate of food that passes through our digestive systems. Insoluble fiber can be found in vegetables and wheat bran. This fiber tends to bulk in size when absorbing water, thus accelerating the rate at which food passes through our systems. The American Dietetic Association's recommendation for daily fiber intake is approximately 20 to 30 grams per day.
Alcohol (Higher in Calories Than You May Think)
Although alcohol can be part of an enjoyable and generally healthy lifestyle that includes a good diet and exercise plan, it can still have harmful effects on your health and your weight if abused.
Alcohol does not contain fat, but it's still high in calories (7 kcal/g). One note to remember is the more calories from alcohol you consume, the less fat your body can burn (oxidize).
Cholesterol (Fat-Like Compound)
Cholesterol is a fat-like compound that is found in many foods, your bloodstream, and all of your body's cells. The liver creates about 85 percent of your blood cholesterol, while the other 15 percent comes from your diet. Dietary cholesterol comes primarily from animal sources such as meat, eggs, dairy products, fish, and seafood.
The American Heart Association recommends a daily cholesterol intake of less than 300 milligrams, as a higher intake of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat is linked to atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries). As a result of their health effects, you should maintain appropriate levels of the various protein-composed outer coverings that transport cholesterol through the body. There are two main types: HDL (good) blood cholesterol carriers and LDL (bad) blood cholesterol carriers. Always make sure the HDL levels are high and your LDL levels kept low.
Water (Important Element of a Healthy Diet)
Your body's important chemical reactions all occur in the presence of water, which comprises about 60 percent of your bodyweight and 70 percent of your muscle weight. Water helps regulate and maintain your body temperature; transports nutrients and oxygen; removes waste products; and moistens your mouth, eyes, nose, hair, skin, digestive tract, and joints. Limiting water intake can result in dehydration, elevated body temperature, fatigue, decreased performance, and increased risk of heat-related illness. Consume at least ten, 12-ounce glasses of water per day.
Vitamins and Minerals
Micronutrients (more commonly known as vitamins and minerals) are different from macronutrients in that they do not supply direct energy. Rather, they work with your body to help extract energy from the foods you eat, in addition to helping ensure that your body functions optimally during everyday activities. Some of the tasks minerals perform include maintaining water balance; aiding absorption, digestion and transport of nutrients; transmitting nerve impulses; and regulating muscle contraction.
There are 13 vitamins (4 are fat-soluble, and 9 are water-soluble) whose responsibilities include ensuring normal metabolism, growth, and mental alertness. Vitamins and minerals are vital to our health, as deficiency in one specific vitamin or mineral can result in a related illness or disease that usually subsides once appropriate levels are reached again.