With over 50,000 nutrition books and countless “experts” out there, learning about nutrition can be overwhelming. The good news is that the basics are actually pretty simple - so here we go!
Protein Proteins are present throughout our bodies and integral to all our bodily functions. They are large, complex molecules made from only twenty-one different types of amino acids. Enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, structural components, immune functions, transport molecules, alternative fuel . . . proteins do it all!
Since protein is not stored in the body, a healthy diet should provide protein with every meal. Shoot for around 30 – 45 grams per meal, depending on your size and activity level. If you exercise a lot, especially muscle-building, your daily total should be one gram for every pound of your ideal body weight.
Don’t limit yourself to animal proteins! Beans, peas, nuts, grains, and many vegetables are excellent protein sources and can provide all the amino acids we need.
Carbohydrates Carbohydrates are basically fuel or fiber. There are two basic types:
Simple: Think table sugar, milk sugar, honey, nectar, maple and fruit syrups, jams, ripe fruits, sugary drinks, and candies. The simple carbs are single or paired sugar molecules that break down easily into the body’s core fuel – glucose.
Complex: These include starches and fibers, long and complex chains of sugars. Some of these - refined grains and flours, highly processed foods, and some starchy vegetables like potatoes - are metabolized quickly into sugars, so avoid them. Stick with the healthier carbs found in whole grains, most vegetables, beans, peas, and other legumes. These are rich in micronutrients and fiber that contribute to good health.
Fat With fats, the amount and types you eat really matter. Less than a third of your total daily calories should come from fats.
Go for the Good Fats (mono and polyunsaturated fats) that come from plant sources like nuts, seeds, grains, olives, avocados, corn and soy, and also fish. These are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids.
Cut back on the Bad Fats (saturated fats) found in animal products. With animal-sourced foods, the lower the fat content the better.
Don’t eat the Really Bad Fats - the trans fats used in processed foods to increase their shelf life. Look for the words hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated on labels.
Water Water is an essential nutrient. As you age, your thirst diminishes so you’ll have to make a conscious effort to stay hydrated. The recommended amount is two to three liters a day, but that can vary depending on individual circumstances. Please note that with some medical conditions water consumption may be restricted, so check with your doctor.
Some tips to stay hydrated:
Drink a glass of water with each meal and also between meals
Drink water before, during and after exercise
You’ll see many diet plans that tout more energy, better sleep, and weight loss, but it’s important to consider your unique genetics, health history, body type, lifestyle, and environment in finding a plan that works for you. Nutrition is one of the four pillars of good health – it’s important to get it right!
By J. Dan Morris, M.D.
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