The Basics of Balanced Nutrition
The nutrients 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 maintain its natural balance, it’s important to make smart decisions about the types of foods you eat. The more balanced your nutrition, the healthier you’ll feel, and the more energy you’ll have on a day-to-day basis. Here’s what you need to know.
Your body requires a specific number of calories every day to function properly. Individuals with active lifestyles require more calories in their diets 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 3,500 calories consumed beyond the energy needs of your body, you may gain one pound of fat. On the other hand, creating a deficit of 3,500 calories per week can result in the loss of one 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 the body. Here’s what protein does for you:
- Builds and maintains muscles when combined with exercise.
- Keeps your hair, nails, and skin looking good.
Protein is an extremely important macronutrient. High-quality sources of protein include whey protein, red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, yogurt, and cheese. If you’re looking to increase your protein intake, you can add a protein supplement to your diet and exercise plan.
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy, especially in low-fat diets. They are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and are split into two categories: complex and simple carbohydrates. Choose a variety of foods including fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, such as whole wheat bread and whole grain cereals. In addition, try to select unprocessed foods such as brown rice, yams, lentils, and beans. Baked goods, such as cakes, cookies, croissants, and pastries include carbohydrates as well, but most of the original fiber is removed during processing, and they are generally high in sugar and fat. Try to limit your intake of these foods as much as possible.
There are two main types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats (such as butter) maintain a solid state at room temperature and are generally associated with various health problems. On the other hand, unsaturated fats (such as olive oil) maintain a liquid state at room temperature and have positive effects on the body’s health. Try to eat oil-rich fish, nuts, and seeds more often, and limit your intake of things like high-fat meats, French fries, and pastries. Another fat found in our diets that needs to be controlled is hydrogenated fat. To counter the effects of “bad” fats, enjoy a diet full of essential fatty acids (EFAs). Natural sources of EFAs include cold-water fish, olive and canola oils, nuts, seeds, and other supplemental sources like flaxseed or fish oils.
Dietary fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate that passes through our systems 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.
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 digestion. Insoluble fiber can be found in vegetables and wheat bran. This fiber tends to expand as it absorbs. The American Dietetic Association’s recommendation for daily fiber intake is approximately 20 to 30 grams per day.
Your body’s important chemical reactions all occur in the presence of water, which constitutes 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 10 eight-ounce glasses of water per day.
Vitamins & 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, and they help ensure that your body functions optimally during everyday activities. Some of the tasks that minerals perform include maintaining water balance, aiding absorption, digestion, and transport of nutrients. There are 13 vitamins (four are fat-soluble and nine are water-soluble). Vitamins and minerals are vital to our well-being.