Well, today I’ve decided that what I want to spend a little time writing about is food and nutrition in general. I’ve had many conversations with people that are looking to lose some weight, look healthier and feel healthier, but they just don’t seem to properly understand what a good healthy diet looks like. With the modern society that we live in, especially in North America, good information about proper eating can be hard to come by because so much is influenced by the profit of big corporations. So big corporations will always try to sell you on some miracle ingredient, fad diet or expensive supplement, and in the grocery stores, even the foods that are marketed as diet foods are not always the best choices for improving the health of your body.
So where do we begin?
Well, let’s start with the basics and cover the 3 macronutrients which we as humans consume on a daily basis for nourishment and sustenance. For anyone that’s unfamiliar with what a macronutrient is, well, this is typically broken down into 3 categories; carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Let’s talk about these in a little more detail.
Carbohydrates are a staple of the modern human diet. Carbohydrates are converted by the body into glucose which is then used to support bodily functions, the brain and it can also be stored within your muscles to provide fuel to the muscles during strenuous exercise. The National Institute of Health recommends that the average human’s diet consists of 45-65% carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can come from a number of very healthy and very unhealthy sources, so making sure that you are eating healthy sources of carbohydrates is actually way more important than just trying to eat a certain quantity of carbs. Every gram of carbohydrate that is consumed is equal to 4 calories of energy for the body.
Healthy Carbs – Healthy carbs are generally fibrous carbs that are slow to digest within the human body, therefore releasing energy slowly over time rather than in one big energy spike. A slower absorption of carbohydrate will create a smaller spike in insulin levels and less of the digested carbohydrate will be stored in the body as that hard-to-lose fat. It also facilitates better overall health because insulin resistance will be minimised this way and you will have a much lower risk of developing debilitating chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes. Some examples of wholesome and nutritional carbohydrates include; brown rice, sweet potatoes, whole oats, whole grain cereals and pasta, lentils, legumes (beans), fruits and vegetables.
Unhealthy Carbs – Unhealthy carbs, on the other hand, are digested by the body far too quickly because they have usually already gone through some sort of processing in a factory and have been stripped of most of their fibre and nutrition. This ends up spiking the glucose levels in your blood and your insulin levels, leading to further insulin resistance over time and weight gain. White bread, white flour and white rice can all be just as hard on your body as sugar, although sugar is by far the one carbohydrate that everybody should strive to minimise within their diet as much as possible. Even fruit juices are hard on the body because all of the fibre that was in the fruit has been stripped away and it’s essentially just the sugar from the fruit that is left within the juice. It’s far better to eat your fruits than to drink them.
Fats, like carbs, can be both a good and a bad thing for the human body depending on the type of fats that you are taking in and the quantities in which you are consuming them. There are healthy, heart-friendly fats that are beneficial to both your cardiovascular system and your brain. These fats are mainly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that are found in fish, nuts, avocados and certain oils like olive oil. Also, there are unhealthy fats such as Saturated and Trans fats which, in abundance, can lead to cardiovascular issues, cholesterol problems and plaque build up within the arteries. Trans fats are artificial fats that are created within the food industry by adding hydrogen to vegetable oils to make the oil more solid. It is sometimes used to improve the texture of certain foods. Saturated fats are often found in foods such as butter, red meats like beef and pork, and peanuts. Unlike carbohydrates and protein, fat is very calorie-dense and contains 9 calories of energy per 1 gram of fat and this is why fat foods can really put you over your daily calorie goals.
The best way to manage your fat intake for optimal health is to stay clear of the bad fats as much as possible and to indulge in some healthy fats to make sure that your body is getting the fat that it needs to operate efficiently.
Last on the list is protein. Protein is found throughout the human body in abundance. It’s in our skin, muscle tissue, organs, hair, bones, etc. Protein consists of a group of amino acids which are required for many important functions within the human body, including muscle and tissue repair, but also maintenance of the bodies haemoglobin that accommodates proper oxygen circulation in the blood and other chemical reactions within the body. Protein can also come from good and bad sources, just like the other two macronutrients that we’ve covered already. This is mainly because of the fat content associated with certain types of protein. Like carbohydrates, 1 gram of protein will provide the body with about 4 calories of energy.
The healthiest options for protein sources are lean meats such as poultry, eggs, low-fat dairy, and healthy sources of protein can also be found in beans and lentils along with some carbohydrates.
The least healthy options for protein would be sources that come with a lot of unhealthy fats, such as deep-fried meats, big cuts of red meats like steak, and way too many eggs. This doesn’t mean that these sources can’t be enjoyed in moderation, but being aware of what you eat and how much you eat of it is the key to maintaining a healthy balance in your diet so that you can live a healthy life and feel great also.
Fibre, Micronutrients and Staying Hydrated
Last but not least are a few other components of a healthy diet that are worth mentioning so that nothing is left out.
Fibre – It’s very important that adequate fibre is consumed on a daily basis to not only ensure that what you consume is moving through your body easily, but also because it helps to clean out the intestinal tract and it can help improve the body’s cholesterol levels. 1 gram of fibre is recommended for every 100 calories consumed in a day, so an individual that consumes 2700 calories on a daily basis should aim for 27g of fibre in their diet to go along with that. This will help to keep the body operating efficiently.
Water Intake – This actually pairs well with fibre recommendations because the more fibre that you take in the more water you need to keep everything moving properly also. For Men, about 3 litres of water is recommended daily for proper hydration and for women it’s slightly less at about 2.2 litres of water. Staying hydrated is important for all areas of function in the human body. Digestion, cognitive thought, detoxification and physical exercise. If you don’t think that water is important for keeping the body clean and operating efficiently, just try washing your dishes without water one night and see how far you get.
Micronutrients – Now lastly, micronutrients. These are your vitamins and minerals which the body needs to operate at its best. Some of these can be acquired through vitamin pills and supplements, but everyone should aim to acquire a good portion of these nutrients through their daily food intake. This means vegetable and fruit sources. Also, it’s important to vary these sources to ensure that you’re receiving a variety of micronutrients. Try eating vegetables and fruits of all different colours and tastes. If you’re a person that doesn’t like to eat too many veggies on a daily basis, well today is always a good day to start, and after a few weeks or months of putting in that effort, you might actually grow a taste for them. I know that when I was a kid I couldn’t stand vegetables and avoided them at all costs, but now as an adult, I feel a little cheated if my meal doesn’t include some nutritious vegetables in the mix.
Finally, it’s important to remember that just because you want to make a change to eat healthier does not mean that you have to cut out entirely those foods that bring you so much pleasure right now. Creating a sustainable and balanced diet that you can carry on following for the rest of your life requires a bit of flexibility from time to time. A great sustainable diet does not need to feel like a chore. Make little improvements week to week so that the transition to healthy eating feels natural rather than a shock to the system but keep in mind your ultimate goal of where you want to be. Always remember the benefits of eating clean for both yourself and your family, so that everyone in your life can enjoy life to the fullest. Eating doesn’t have to taste bland, but it should provide the body with the energy and nutrition that it needs to operate at it’s best.